Eiri, Right to Remain’s Director, shares her thoughts as we end 2022.
While my personal life is characterised by extreme inertia and timidity, I have a tendency to nonchalantly stroll into, or even create, a daunting work assignment. And I did it again in 2022.
Right to Remain was, for me, a fantasy group, like an “idol” poster in any teenager’s room that lingers on. I have known about it for many years, starting from when it was still known as the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns. For a period of time, I also intensely worked with them on a daily basis – the period which was filled with joy and laughter, though we were working together to challenge immigration detention, one of the darkest corners of this Hostile Environment.
So it feels both weird and natural to be penning this piece as 2022 ends, on behalf of Right to Remain. It’s been nine months since I took up the newly created post of Director earlier this year – but I have been too busy to say much in public about Right to Remain, let alone communicating what Right to Remain is really thinking. Well, this piece is one of the beginnings.
Although we were all smiles, Lisa Matthews’ long-planned departure from Right to Remain at the end of April caused a gut-wrenching anxiety for us. Truth be told, I frequently wondered what the fate of Right to Remain in 2022 might be without Lisa.
While I loathe that forced chorus of achievements that echo in the NGO industrial-complex at the end of each year, I am genuinely proud that we pulled through as a team, and we are still here.
I think we are still here for a lot of different reasons, no doubt helped by Lisa’s meticulous preparation for Right to Remain’s future.
Our These Walls Must Fall campaigners were bouncing back, after an extremely – I mean extremely – scary, challenging and isolating period of the pandemic and the lockdown. We saw them on the stage of Manchester Pride Vigil, being loved by thousands of people who came to support them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMItz5EKRG4 watch from 11:30 onwards). We saw them constantly demonstrating against the Rwanda deportation policy and outside many detention centres. We were inspired and challenged by their lively These Walls Must Fall network meetings both on Zoom and in person. This all took place while we rejoiced with the news of some of them getting refugee status after many years of struggle and sent each other moral support and courage when some had to go to a reporting centre – being immersed in that oft-hidden complexity of being lived-experience refugee and migrant campaigners. Their energy, grace and determination pulled our team through during difficult times.
By launching our regular Knowledge in Power online workshops, we are scaling up and deepening the reach of public legal education work. Seeing how the workshops connected people who are navigating this increasingly hostile asylum and immigration system and communities who are accompanying them in so many places (the beauty of this new Zoom culture!) all at the same time galvanised us to do more. We know our Toolkit is used online by more than a quarter of a million of people per year – but we definitely want to go beyond that, focussing more purposely on building radical solidarity. In a world where the availability of legal advice will not be increasing in the foreseeable future, we have a duty to urgently boost legal support that is available in our community. And we started our not-so-secret Rapid Response Plan to get our community ready for the impact of the Nationality and Borders Act and bring more people together to fight against the system.
We started exploring finding our own voice, the voice that refuses to be reduced to words or trite slogans. We began experimenting with graphics and images to convey who we are, what we are feeling and how we want the world to be. These come from our shared experiences of struggles so we spent a lot of time talking, thinking and dreaming. We had various moments of reflection to locate where and who we are in that long history of struggle, via National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns to Right to Remain and These Walls Must Fall. In doing so, we revisited and affirmed our ethos and approach: foregrounding people with experience of the injustice of immigration control, anti-racism, solidarity and people-power – which we hope will shape everyone else’s approach, to bring down the walls that divide us. In a nutshell, we are beginning to feel who we are.
Before we start looking forward to 2023, including our much awaited Toolkit 10 Year Anniversary celebrations and sharing our ideas for our future, I’d like to thank some people who deserve special mention.
Behind the scenes, I was a lucky recipient of the wise counsel offered by Catherine Hurley and Tom Gee, two of our Management Committee members, who guarded my sanity. Without the financial support and encouragement from our funders and individual supporters, we could not have done our work. Many groups worked with us to disseminate the Toolkit and advised us what our legal education work should be addressing – thank you. Our allies helped These Walls Must Fall’s power to grow – you gave us courage and confidence. And everyone in this migration justice movement and migrant community – I salute you, solidarity and more power to us.
I firmly believe that we must and can create a society that protects everyone. My amazing colleagues, Michael, Vee, Maggy, Yumna, Sundus and Leah helped me to hold on to that rather ambitious belief this year. When I work with them, I believe that it is possible to create such a society, despite a deafening crescendo of catastrophes that surround us.
Ending a rambling piece usually requires throwing in something cheesy at the end – so, here’s what I said on this year’s International Migrants Day.
On International Migrants Day, I dream of a world where everyone has the right to remain where they want to be – not because they are deserving, not because they are hard working, not because they are made vulnerable, not because they are exceptional, but because they love, they live and they are human. Actually, I am not dreaming – I am building that world today, right now, by being here.
For those who are marginalised, oppressed, exploited, violated, dehumanised – including migrants and refugees – existing is a form of resistance and a source of possibilities. We don’t need to accept a script that has been given to us. We need to survive and thrive in 2023 and beyond, and we will rewrite our future.
Eiri Ohtani, Director, @EiriOhtani
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