Last week saw some of the Right to Remain team cross the Irish Sea to Belfast, to kick off our Toolkit Festivals; a series of workshops and events celebrating 10 years of our ground-breaking self help resource.
Eiri, Esther, Leah and Yumna were welcomed by Niamh and Elisa of the Migration Justice Project, an important component of the Law Centre NI, focussing on legal, policy and community engagement to support migrants in Northern Ireland.
With Belfast and its surrounding towns becoming an increasingly favoured destination for both asylum claims and dispersal, this collaboration with MJP was an important partnership, promoting solidarity with migrant justice community groups in other parts of the country.
Our one-day festival included workshops, interactive activities, legal education and networking, with over 50 participants from third–sector organisations in attendance, all working to support refugees and asylum seekers in Belfast. This included agencies such as Red Cross Refugee Support, Migrant Help Trafficking Team and Women’s Aid Belfast, and smaller community organisations like Africa House, HAPANI, and ANAKA Women’s Collective. The varied mix of participants created valuable opportunities to connect across the sector in discussion and collaboration. The event was held at the beautiful 2 Royal Avenue community space in the city centre, and catered by Yalla, a social enterprise supporting refugees into jobs, serving halal shawarma and salads.
Highlights included the opening activity of ‘honouring our collective power’, where participants combined their number of years in the sector, and/or their number of years living as a migrant. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the strength in solidarity, and to empower communities to work together against the injustices of the immigration system in the UK. The results spoke for themselves: with a combined total of 424 years in the sector, and 266 years lived experience as a migrant or marginalised person, the tone of the day was set to a compelling standard.
Another highlight was an exercise in understanding the difference between legal advice and legal support, with the former being a threshold only qualified immigration practitioners are able to give, and the latter being emotional, moral, and practical things that anyone supporting asylum seekers can do, if they feel confident enough. The exercise provided a determinable framework for this, demonstrating scenarios where organisations can step up to help their communities without crossing this line. The lack of Legal Aid lawyers, and recent changes to the Nationality and Borders Act, mean legal support is more important than ever, therefore understanding this difference is crucial.
A panel discussion ended the day, with Mimi Unamoyo, Bomoko NI (The Northern Ireland Refugees and Asylum Seekers Women Association) and Sinead Marmion, Solicitor at Phoenix Law and the chair of the Immigration Practitioners’ Group, discussing the opportunities and challenges found within the legal advice sector in Northern Ireland. The discussion that followed showed pressure, both for lawyers and the migrant community, around lack of legal representation available. What was evident however, was how a resource like our toolkit, paired with community solidarity in the form of legal support, can fill the gap left by this lack by empowering those in the system to take control of their claim and their futures in the UK.
The day was a great success, with feedback noting it was informative, inspiring, and empowering, and particularly, provided an opportunity for connection with other local organisations. Niamh Rowan (LCNI/MJP) said of the event:
Northern Ireland is so often forgotten in conversations about UK asylum & immigration, so we were really delighted that the Right to Remain Toolkit Festival kicked off in Belfast.
It was fantastic to see so many local champions coming together, learning about the Toolkit and building upon our collective power. The Right to Remain team brought so much energy, compassion & expertise to the room, thank you – you’re welcome back any time!
We are taking our Toolkit Festivals across the country, to celebrate the Toolkit’s history and its achievement, and to make more connections of solidarity across the UK in a bid to galvanise the migration justice movement. We will be announcing our next dates and locations shortly – so watch this space!
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