Manchester GMCA / Step Change Consortium event: Advocacy in the face of diversity

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Maggy Moyo, These Walls Must Fall Organiser, was invited to co-chair an event hosted by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Step Change Consortium. Here’s her account of the day.

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As we wrap up the month of November, our These Walls Must Fall campaigners have been actively engaging in various activities and meetings to foster a sense of unity and purpose. A stand-out event that deserves special mention is the local event organised by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Step Change Consortium. The event was a resounding success bringing together organisations and groups working with people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants across the Greater Manchester area. It was an insightful and impactful experience for our team.

These Walls Must Fall campaigners were honoured to be invited to actively participate in a session run by Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) and Asylum Matters. It was truly humbling to contribute to the opening and be part of the team alongside Jennie Corrbett, Strategy Principal at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Patrick Masebo, EBE Coordinator at Manchester Refugee Support Network and Monica Reeves, Programme Coordinator at Step Change Greater Manchester.  

The preparation meetings highlighted the overwhelming response to the event, with 100 tickets sold out. It was impressive that diverse organisations from various sectors, including migration support groups, homeless and destitution support groups, and legal sector workers, filled the hall to its capacity.

Jennie and Monica effectively communicated the event’s main objective – to strengthen support for migrant communities in Manchester, a timely initiative given the confusion and overwhelm surrounding asylum issues. Julian from Asylum Matters provided a sobering overview of the deteriorating situation in Greater Manchester since 2019, emphasising the increased hostility within the system, homelessness, and destitution affecting individuals with and without leave to remain.

The subsequent session, hosted by the dynamic Fatou Jinadu, a community organiser from GMIAU, brought a fresh and energetic perspective to the discussion. Her “nothing about us without us” mantra resonated strongly as we listened to the voices of people with lived experience in Manchester. Having people with lived experience in discussions about migration, especially asylum seekers, is crucial because they provide firsthand insights into the challenges, hardships, and complexities of the migration process. Their narratives humanise the issues, fostering empathy and understanding among policymakers and the public. This direct perspective helps create more informed and compassionate policies, ensuring that decisions are grounded in the reality of individuals facing displacement and seeking asylum.

The “Broke but not Broken” campaign shed light on the challenges faced by young GMIAU campaigners, particularly in relation to visa fee hikes affecting their education. The young campaigner passionately spoke about their education campaign, the long waiting period for them to attend college and the quality of education they are offered. This, coupled with the increased visa fees, had created an added burden on them, diverting their focus from education financial stress. 

Instead of enjoying a typical childhood, they find themselves grappling with the pressure of high visa costs, hindering their ability to pursue higher education. For some, the inability to regularise their stay in the UK means they are prevented from accessing university education altogether.

These Walls Must Fall members , led by campaigner Teresa, provided a deeply moving account of the struggles faced by asylum seekers. Teresa’s mention of organisations like Lesbian Immigration Support Group, George Trust, Women Asylum Seekers Together, and Manchester No Borders which time to time accompany those reporting at Dallas Court, showcased the collaborative efforts in Manchester to support those affected by the system. Her recounting of the unreasonable demands on LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers, prolonged waiting for a decision, and the heartbreaking choice between buying hygiene items and food left a lasting impact on the attendees. Teresa mentioned that the process is dehumanising and affects their self-esteem. It leaves many with lifetime scars so deep that even by the time people are granted their refugee status, they will be destroyed beyond repair.

Ven’s chosen topic focused on the effects of accommodation conditions on asylum seekers, shedding light on their mental health challenges and the pressing need for improved screening. Ven passionately articulated the frustrations experienced by asylum seekers, particularly those sharing accommodation with individuals facing extreme mental health issues. The talk underscored the significance of screening to create safer living environments for all involved.

Despite the myriad of challenges, including detention and deportations, Ven’s message was one of collective strength. He highlighted success stories in campaigning achieved with working with allies, emphasising the importance of prioritising humanity and understanding and illustrating that those seeking asylum are already an important part of our community.

Breakout sessions

The breakout sessions covered a range of crucial topics, including legal advice, accommodation, campaigning strategies, mental health and wellbeing. These Walls Must Fallattended the session on strategic campaigning led by Patrick Masebo from Manchester Refugee Support Network. It was incredibly informative, catering to both new and experienced campaigners.

Patrick emphasised the significance of having our voices heard in the advocacy landscape. The session delved into effective strategies and provided valuable insights for anyone involved in campaigning efforts. Being strategic in campaigning is crucial because it helps in effective resource allocation, message targeting, and goal achievement. Strategic campaigns consider the audience, timing, and channels to maximise impact. Recognising successful campaigns and campaigners provides valuable insights and inspiration. It offers a roadmap for effective strategies, motivates others to engage, and fosters a culture of continuous improvement within the campaigning community. Successful campaigners serve as role models, showcasing what can be achieved and motivating others to contribute to positive change.

The wellbeing session was remarkably impactful, shedding light on the pressing challenges of migration problems in Manchester. It was evident that volunteers and service providers are currently facing overwhelming levels of burnout.

The session offered a valuable opportunity to identify local organisations and support groups providing counselling, talking therapy, and other mental health services. This information will empower local organisations to signpost individuals in need of such support.

During the session, we candidly discussed the challenges we face and the exhaustion felt by everyone involved. Despite these hurdles, there was a shared commitment to fighting for a better Manchester. It wasinspiring to witness the collective determination to transform our city into the best version it can be.

This Greater Manchester ombined Authority event served as a crucial platform to shed light on the pressing issues within the immigration system. It reinforced the importance of collaboration and advocacy in the face of adversity. In closing, wemade a call for all attending organizations to play their part and collaborate for the betterment of Manchester for asylum seekers and migrants resonates with our ongoing efforts. As part of Right to Remain and These Walls Must Fall, we are committed to doing our best, but we are also exploring additional avenues for impact.

One such initiative is the introduction of monthly solidarity sessions with local organizations. These sessions aim to provide a platform for sharing information, discussing the use of the Right to Remain Toolkit to improve our understanding of the legal system, and exploring various topics such as detention and deportations. We believe that by working collaboratively with like-minded organisations, we can make a more significant impact on creating a better environment for those seeking asylum and migrants in Manchester – that was also one of our main takeaways from the Illegal Migration Act workshop that we hosted in Manchester in October.

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