On the 31st January we ran the first of our Solidarity Sessions in Liverpool, part of a series of events on Merseyside and in Greater Manchester.
The idea is to hold a regular space for local migrant support and solidarity groups and organisations to meet each other, share information, and discuss how we are responding locally to the government’s increasingly beyond-hostile environment.
Look out for news of the next session, scheduled for 27 February. Details coming soon via our newsletter and social media. And if you can’t wait that long for some more solidarity talk, sign-up for the first of our online Radical Solidarity Hub meetings on 14 February!
Thank you so much to Ahmed Nadi, a volunteer photographer, for the brilliant photos of the event!
The event was opened by Manono, a founding member of the local These Walls Must Fall group since 2017, and a key activist in Merseyside Solidarity Knows No Borders. Manono is still struggling for her right to remain, after almost 20 years of living in Britain, and is well-known locally as a fearless leader of campaigns for migration justice.
The Right to Remain Toolkit
In the first section, we introduced people to the Right to Remain Toolkit, our unique user-guide to the immigration and asylum system. We explored how to use it, how to use the search function and the translation tools, the videos and the pdf downloads for printing and offline use. Much of what we covered about using the Toolkit is covered in this article, including important tips for sharing the Toolkit with others.
Providing legal support (not legal advice)
For the next section of the day we broke into groups for an exercise to explore the ins-and-outs of legal advice: what it is, who is allowed to provide it, what to do if you can’t access it, and the line between legal advice and legal support.
This workshop exercise uses real life scenarios, and always stimulates a lot of debate because, guess what – it’s complicated!
The immigration and asylum legal process is complex, and the best thing is to have a good lawyer to represent you. Government cuts to legal aid have made it impossible for many people to access good-quality, free legal advice. Only an accredited immigration legal adviser is allowed to give legal advice, but you can still help people with the legal process, with information and support. You can read about this in detail here, and you can download the handout from the day here.
Presentation from local groups
Manono kicked off this section, highlighting why she is an activist with These Walls Must Fall, and touching on some of the key issues that are important to her, particularly the immigration bail reporting system (often known as “signing”), and the threat of being taken to a detention centre that accompanies every reporting appointment.
Manono described her own experiences of being locked up in detention centres, and the ongoing struggle of having to report every week to the Home Office reporting centre in Liverpool. At every one of those appointments she is threatened with detention and deportation. “It takes five days to recover from the stress, and then the worry about the next appointment starts”.
A small group of volunteers has recently been accompanying people to the Reporting Centre for moral support, and offering information, tea and friendship to others with signing appointments. To know that someone is there waiting for you, and ready to take action if you are detained, can really help with stress levels.
The Right to Remain Toolkit has information on detention and reporting, with actions you can take if you or someone you know is at risk of detention.
Refugee Women Connect
Comfort Etim, Director of Advocacy for Refugee Women Connect, spoke about the support they give to women accessing their services – mainly around selfcare for those who are still in the immigration and asylum system. She appreciated the Solidarity Session and she said a lot is changing and the government is becoming more hostile but it is important to work together and support each other. She mentioned that they have a lot of voluntary positions in RWC and everyone is welcome to go and help.
Comfort, a woman with deep personal experience in the asylum system and now working as a Director for RWC , emphasises her ability to empathise with and support other women. She draws strength from their journeys, using it as motivation to prevent others from facing the challenges she went through. Her support system includes her children, friends from church. Comfort also founded a local football club, Comfort Angels, which serves as a safe space for people seeking sanctuary, aiming to improve their mental and physical health through playing football. Despite her dedication to helping others, Comfort stresses the importance of self-care for those supporting refugees, highlighting that their well-being is crucial to effectively assisting those in need.
“I gain my strength from them, actually. They give me the strength to want to get up from my bed and say, you know what, I’m not going to let anyone do the same thing that I went through to those women. So my strength is from them”Comfort Etim, Director, Refugee Women Connect
Sisters not strangers
Comfort highlighted an exciting upcoming event in Liverpool, the SistersNotStrangers Conference on 16 February. SistersNotStrangers is a coalition dedicated to supporting asylum-seeking and refugee women. It is made of seven groups: The Women’s Group (Swansea), DEWA (Sheffield), Women for Refugee Women (London), CARAG (Coventry), Refugee Women Connect (Liverpool), Women Seeking Asylum Together (Manchester), Women With Hope (Birmingham).
The event will feature live music, poetry, and personal stories from individuals who have lived through the asylum system. It’s an opportunity for networking, collaboration, and fostering connections with like-minded individuals and partners. Find out more here.
Asylum Link Merseyside: Action Asylum project
Our final speaker was Rory Goldring, who works on the Action Asylum project, housed at Asylum Link Merseyside. It’s about creating activities and volunteering opportunities that bring together people in the asylum process and local people. They have a full timetable of activities, each day they have got a few things on, things like board games, clubs, bike clubs, women’s yoga, lots of different things on each day. All of these are free and open to everyone, regardless of their migration status or your needs.
Action Asylum often holds partnership events with other places in the city and in the region. The other Sunday they were out in Princes Park with a whole group of local people planting trees and surveying bird populations, which was great. Some partnership events with the Food Pantry, where their members, local people accessing the food bank, and some of our group come together for a big meal and to make some music. In this way, they are creating group spaces that are intentionally diverse, that are intentionally inclusive, so that people can meet each other and people can do something positive, do something that makes one feel good.
Having in mind the isolation and the misery that the Home Office puts people through, that is a heavy weight to bear for people in the asylum system. But there are things to draw with the isolation and alienation of so many local people as well. There’s so much loneliness, and some of the issues are connected to a labour market that exposes us to this impulse to prove yourself, to have access to the means, to have somewhere to live, somewhere to eat, and to all the forces that divide us and make us in competition with each other. Above all they are bringing everyone together.
There are voluntary spaces available at Asylum Link for anyone interested – no help too small. Rory said the space is lovely with amazing people
“For me, at least, coming into that building and having 50-100 hugs everyday and having all these people to smile and to know their names and centre in their mind means a lot to me”Rory Goldring, Asylum Link Merseyside
Find out more about the Action Asylum project here.
Other topics covered
Access to healthcare
At the meeting we touched on the challenges faced by people seeking to access healthcare services. This is something that we plan to look at in more detail at the next session. Meanwhile, we can highly recommend the website of Patients not Passports. You can find loads of information and resources for helping people to access healthcare, and campaigning to challenge the rules that exclude people.
The Illegal Migration Act
During the session, we made reference to the Illegal Migration Act 2023, and our concerns about the impact on our communities. This legislation is now law, although the most worrying sections still require the government to issue enforcement orders. The aim is a ban on claiming asylum for anyone who arrives in the UK by an irregular route (which is almost ALL asylum seekers). For the latest on the Illegal Migration Act, see our (frequently updated) article here.
14 February Online event: Radical Solidarity Hub
Come to our first Radical Solidarity Hub meeting! These online meetings are for our friends, allies, and community to come together, hear from each other and Right to Remain, share tips and build radical solidarity.
There is no formal membership of the Hub. Just join us if you are interested in:
- Hearing from Right to Remain staff team about new Toolkit pages, legal updates, These Walls Must Fall work and asking us questions.
- Meeting other groups based in other areas of the UK, also standing in solidarity with people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants.
- Share your challenges and ask each other for tips and help.
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