On 15 December we launched our Solidarity Sessions programme with an event in Manchester. The series offers an opportunity for local community organisations and groups to build knowledge, share information, and discuss our work together.
The idea for the Solidarity Sessions was born at our event in Manchester in October 2023 on preparing our communities for the impact of the Illegal Migration Act. 2023 was not a good year for migrants rights. The Illegal Migration Act which will abolish the right to claim asylum, the Rwanda deportation plan, the floating prisons, the detention camps, and the daily barrage of hate-filled messages and half-baked plans from the government have left us all frightened, confused and exhausted. However, we are determined to step up to the challenges.
Fearless commitment and determination
This beyond-hostile environment has instilled in us an urgent drive to work together, often on different issues than we are used to, and with new people and groups and organisations. Our North West Organiser, Maggy Moyo spoke of the resilience of our community, a determination to work together, and the need to build a bigger tent:
The Solidarity Sessions aim to provide a regular space for sharing information, networking and collaboration. At the first event, Legal Education Officer, Yumna Kamel, introduced particpants to the Right to Remain Toolkit, our online user-guide to the asylum and immigration system.
Community-based legal support
With fewer than 50% of people seeking asylum having a lawyer these days, self-help and community support is more important than ever. Many community organisations are wary of helping people with the legal process, and for good reason – unless you are an accredited immigration adviser it is an offence to prrovide what is classified as “immigration advice”. However, there is so much that you can do to help. The key is to know the differences between legal advice and legal support. We broke into groups for an interactive workshop on the differences between advice and support, using real examples of real cases. You can download the handout here.
We also looked at providing letters of support for a person’s immigration or asylum application, something that community groups and organisations often help with. We’ve put the key points of that session into a handout too, which you can download here.
Manchester Refugee Support Network
In the final section of the day we heard from special guests Manchester Refugee Support Network. Their mission is to help asylum seekers and refugees across Greater Manchester get the basic support they need to live with dignity.
MRSN was founded in the same year as Right to Remain, 1995. We’re pretty sure that, like us, they have never faced greater pressures in carrying out their work than at the present time.
In general, MRSN has focused on support for people after they been through the asylum process and are facing the challenges of moving on from asylum support to find housing, employment, education, and all the other things. They provide advice and support on a wide range of issues, by appointment or at drop-in sessions in Moss Side. You can find out about these services on their website, here.
Pressures on services
Recent changes in law and policy at the Home Office have made moving on from asylum support much harder. Thousands of new refugees have become homeless, after being forced to leave their accommodation with only seven days notice. Manchester is one of many towns and cities affected. In November, a Big Issue investigation revealed the extent of the crisis, estimating 6,900 people to made homeless by the end of 2023, and reporting that voluntary services are facing unprecedented demand, running out of food, and turning destitute refugees away. The evictions were paused over Christmas, but have restarted this week.
This refugee homelessness crisis is a stark warning of the impact of the Illegal Migration Act, if and when it is fully enforced. Refugee Council research predicts tens of thousands of people each year to banned from claiming asylum, and forced into destitution or held in detention. For the latest developments on the Illegal Migration Act, see this post. Right to Remain has been running a series of events to facilitate local discussion and preparation for the impact of the Illegal Migration Act. You can read reports from these events here, and look out for more coming this year.
At the session we also heard news of MRSN’s new advice service for people seeking asylum, opening in the new year. We wish our MRSN friends well in this new endeavour, and look forward to hearing more about it.
We were really pleased with how the first Solidarity Session went. Thank you so much, everyone who came and participated on the day. There is a lot of uncertainty and worry at the moment. For many of us, just having an opportunity to talk these things over with colleagues is a comfort. The determination to go further than talking, to face these challenges and to present an alternative vision of solidarity was inspiring. We can’t wait for the next session.
Upcoming Solidarity Sessions
Our next session will be in Liverpool, on 30th January, and following that, back to Manchester. Look out for details to be published soon on the website and our social media. And if you haven’t already, you can sign up to our newsletter for updates straight to your inbox.
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