A delegation of Manchester based activists and supporters from a variety of different organisations, including MiSol, RAPAR and anti-fascist groups came together on March 19th to join the 'M19' demonstration called by Stand Up To Racism in support of refugees fleeing to Europe.
The 20,000 strong nation-wide demo was one of many marches happening around the world.
Migrant Echoes' Project Worker, Sophie Gardiner, who has conducted many of our interviews for the Migrant Echoes' podcasts since the project's inception, volunteered to cover the events from the perspective of the Manchester convoy as they marched from Portland Place to Trafalgar Square, where a rally, chaired by anti-racist campaigner Weyman Bennett, saw speeches from many inspiring individuals including 'Campaigner Maz', actress Vanessa Redgrave, Lee Jesper of 'BARAC UK', the mother of Sarah Reed and members of the refugee community.
The rally saw the attendance of a huge variety of organisations from across the country; trade unions of various cities and counties, student unions from universities across England, the 'Black Lives Matter' movement was a very strong and vocal presence, 'Free Palestine' campaigners, Kurdistan Solidarity groups, Socialists, Labour Party members, LGBT rights activists, Anti-War protesters, and so on.
About the march, Sophie said; "I've been to the Stand Up to Racism national demonstrations for the passed couple of years, but I was interested to see how this one would go, taking into account the Refugee Crisis, and there was definitely a huge number of new comers. Some of the girls I interviewed at the rally from the Manchester group said this was their first protest, and I think there were a lot of first timers there who've seen what's going on, with the Refugee Crisis, with Islamophobia and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement- it's really got people coming out and protesting more than we have seen previously- Weyman Bennett said this was much bigger than last year, so I think people are by no means losing faith in these movements."
Recording for Migrant Echoes' podcast, Sophie spoke with Stand Up To Racism Campaigner, Nahella Ashraf as well as fellow protesters on the road to London and fellow marchers at the rally such as former asylum-seeker and Sudanese rights campaigner for the Beja Congress, Mohammed al-Halengy.
"I know Mohammed, he was a case with us at RAPAR where I've also volunteered for some years now, before he got his status and moved down to London. You always run into someone at these events."
"It was also great to see LGBT rights people and NHS folk there, especially because xenophobes and right-wingers, they often like to use the NHS and gay rights issues as arguments against immigration claiming that migrants exploit or burden the National Health Service, and have this perception that migrants- particularly Middle Eastern migrants, are all homophobic, so this show of solidarity is very important in proving these stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions wrong, when the NHS relies on migrants to function and many refugees, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin, are also members of the LGBT community!"
"There was some good speakers as well this year. There was a really energetic young Kurdish woman who is seeking asylum, she was great. Vanessa Redgrave spoke really well, comparing the current crisis with WW2, I got really excited because she mentioned my hero, Sylvia Pankhurst, and how she campaigned for Jewish refugees to be given visas to escape the Nazis but they were refused. The comedian Jeremy Hardy spoke as well, he's always very good. The mother of Sarah Reed, a young black woman who died in Holloway, she spoke and it really struck a cord with everyone. Lee Jesper of BARAC UK, he was fun, everyone liked him. I tried to record as much of the speeches as I could with the time we had before we had to get the bus back to Manchester."
The 'Refugee Crisis' was the central theme of the march. Stand Up To Racism has been a central movement in support of the refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East, and has organised a number of fundraising initiatives and events as well as delegations of solidarity to the refugees currently trapped in what is known as 'The Jungle' refugee camp in Calais, that has been repeatedly destroyed in recent weeks by French authorities, harassed by French police and attacked by racists.
"Everyone was really optimistic at the end of the day. Nahella spoke to the coach about how successful it was and all the future activities from SUTR. A few right-wing nationalists have been saying we achieved nothing, and everyone's just laughing at us and no one wants refugees in the UK, but all I can say is, 20,000 people protesting alone- not to mention everyone we know who support us but couldn't come along to the march, and all we saw of anyone opposing the march was like, 20 'Britain First' protesters near Piccadilly Circus. The outpour of support for refugees has been so much more than I expected."
Many thanks to Sophie for covering the events of the M19 march for Migrant Echoes through photography, video and audio interviews which you will soon be able to enjoy in our upcoming podcast.
To honour International Women's Day, Fereshteh Mozzafari introduces us to just some of the brave Iranian women fighting for freedom of speech, reproductive rights and the limits of women's freedom under the current regime.
Another 8th of March has arrived and the international woman's day is cherished in many counties around the world. However while we , in the west, celebrate this day, there are millions of women in developing or dictatorship countries who can't commemorate simply because their government sees it as a political act and a threat against itself.
I want to take this opportunity to introduce you a few brave Iranian women who fight for women rights in Iran and have been in jail for that matter. Some still in jail as Prisoners of Conscience. Because 8th of march is their day as well and it's true that without such brave women and their fight for equal rights we would not have had what we got now.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer and activist in Iran, the winner of many human rights awards.
She has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors.
Nasrin's first work in the field of women's rights was a diverse collection of interviews, reports, and articles for the journal Daricheh. The editor-in-chief of the publication rejected the collection which "made Sotoudeh even more determined in her work for women's rights". She is one of the key leaders of one million signature.
One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws, also known as Change for Equality, is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of hanging discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Nasrin has been arrested a few times. Last time she was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison.
In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced her to 11 years in prison, in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. An appeals court later reduced Sotoudeh's prison sentence to six years, and her ban from working as a lawyer to ten years.
In jail, she went on hunger strike two times. First strike was to protest being denied visits and phone calls from her family which last four weeks. Again on 17 October 2012, she began an indefinite hunger strike in protest of new restrictions placed on her family visits. She her hunger strike after 49 days following a short visit of some parliament members at Evin prison where they acknowledged and implemented her requests on lifting her daughter's travel ban.
Nasrin was released on 18 September 2013 along with ten other political prisoners days before an address by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
to the United Nations. She has been active since her release and is being threatened by hardliners.
Narges is a human rights activist and the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
She is one of the key leaders in "One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws", also known as Change for Equality, which is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of changing discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Narges has been in and out of prison for more than a decade for her support of human rights in Iran. She was first arrested in 1998 for her criticisms of the Iranian government and spent a year in prison.
In April 2010, she was summoned to the Islamic Revolutionary Court for her membership in the Human rights Centre. She was briefly released on US$50,000 bail but re-arrested several days later and detained at notorious Evin prison.
Narges's health declined while in custody, and she developed an epilepsy-like disease causing her to periodically lose muscle control.
Narges has a twin and they have moved to France to live with their father who is an activist in exile. She wrote a letter last year to explain what it means to be apart from her children. "
One night I was sleeping in my cell. Twas near sunrise. My dear daughter, who would always give the loudest kisses, gave me a kiss on the cheek. I felt her warm body and her small lips on my cheeks. It was Kiana. I opened my arms to hold her close to me. I opened my eyes, it wasn’t Kiana. I cried for so many hours. I cried to a point where I thought my tears would soon run out.''
You can read this beautiful and sad letter in the amnesty website.
Atena Farghadani, 29, is an Iranian artist and political activist, who is currently
imprisoned. Amnesty International considers her a prisoner of conscience.
In her cartoon, in which she criticized a draft law which would outlaw voluntary sterilisation and restrict access to measures of birth control, she portrayed Iranian government officials as monkeys and goats.
After publishing her artworks on Facebook, she was arrested and jailed for three months in Evin Prison on charges of spreading propaganda, insulting
members of parliament, and insulting the Supreme Leader!
She was released in November.
Atena sent letters of protest over her treatment to the authorities, but did not receive a reply. She then posted a video online in which she explained to the public about her experience in Evin prison and that she was being strip-searched, beaten and verbally abused by guards.
In January 2015, she was arrested again. Three weeks later, she went on a hunger strike to protest against conditions at the prison and following that she got a heart attack.
On 1 June 2015, judge of the Tehran court found her guilty on these charges and sentenced her to 12 years and nine months in prison. In September 2015, Atena was charged with an 'illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery' and 'indecent conduct' after shaking the hand of her lawyer, who visited her in prison after her trial; her lawyer was also charged.
Atena Daemi, 27, is a young activist sentenced to 14 years in prison for facebook postings and peaceful protests.
Atena was held for several months under “temporary detention” despite her lawyer’s repeated requests for her release on bail, was prosecuted under four charges: “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” and “concealing crime evidence” by a Tehran Revolutionary Court. Atena did not accept any of her charges and has since appealed the court’s ruling.
She was released last month in the midst of her 14year sentence on $232,000 bail while the sentence is still in effect.
If I want to add to include all female activists , free or in jail, it w ill soar to hundreds.
Despite the fact that hardliners do not enjoy women's participation in society and force laws to suppress them and keep them out of sight, women made up 60% of university students.
They are good athletes (Iranian Women Futsal team won Asian championship in 2015), merchants, engineers, scientists and so on.
Although that is not an easy battle, but there will be no stop until their rights is recognised in law. The latest campaign of women was initiated against compulsory Hijab started on facebook by Masih Alinejad a journalist in exile.
The page called my stealthy freedom, has nearly one million followers and women posting their pictures to protest against compulsory hijab.
The fact that many men also supporting this campaign show that Iranians are willing to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the women of their country.
"How will the £35,000 income threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK affect you? Is the introduction of the income threshold affecting your future plans? How will the introduction of the income threshold affect your business, workplace and/or community?" 
Today Stop35K, a campaign that began in response to the UK government's plans to raise the threshold for Tier 2 Skilled Workers, is urging everyone to tell their story on Parliament's facebook page before the 35K debate goes to parliament.
On the front of their campaign website, Stop35K explains:
"Tier 2 General Skilled Workers who do not make £35,000 salary or who have been in the UK for 6 years, will need to leave or be deported.
The plans have naturally caused great concern for many individuals and families who have or are related to migrants who fail to meet this narrow criteria and who have already been long settled in the UK.
"If you are a skilled worker in the UK, your legal status depends on your Tier 2 Skilled Worker visa. This work visa usually expires after 5 years, after which you must either leave the UK or apply for settlement (known as Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR). From this April, if you apply for settlement then you need to earn over £35,000. If you earn less than this, you will not be allowed to remain in the UK even if you have lived here for years, contributing to the UK culture and economy."
There has already been a huge turn out on the UK Parliament facebook page which has been designated for the public to share their stories on before the debate goes to parliament. Some of the most recent examples include:
"This is really amazing, I am an immigrant and have been working in the NHS for the past 14years, till date my salary as a band 7 nurse is £32,000. So please tell me how you expect this people to earn £35,000 within a year, when a government organisation is paying this low. This is indirect discrimination in a developed country. And it's an unfair way of dealing with migrants who are willing to contribute to the economy of UK as these people are not entitled to any social benefits and also restricted in what they can do earn more" - Bukky Omopariola
"NHS pharmacists are not on the protected list and do not earn that sort of money until many years into their careers. We can't recruit enough as it is and now the government are going to deport my colleague?" - Sarah Reed
"I am currently teaching at a university in China and met my American boyfriend - a teacher - here two years ago. I'd like to one day move back home with him but although we of course both plan to find full-time jobs; the realities of the sort of salary he could expect to make as a full time teacher and the fact that my salary is not even included in the £35k calculations means that even if I have a job with a significantly higher salary this policy would make it almost impossible for me to move long-term back to the UK." - Rachel Ashe
"What about Non-EU university students? They're one of the biggest sources of revenue for British Universities with extremely restricted after-graduation working rights. That's preposterous! Great Britain's progress is BECAUSE OF IMMIGRANTS not DESPITE them." - Neel Deshpande
"I have three university degrees and work in the international development sector, where very few jobs pay over £35 000. I support myself comfortably and present no burden whatsoever to the UK system, but this rule means that soon I will be forced to leave my home, my partner and my job. This £35k threshold determines the worth of an individual based solely on income rather than contribution to society, which is not just inhumane -- it's shortsighted." - Megan Daigle
The Petition Committee has scheduled a debate on a petition about this issue on Monday 7 March. Tell Parliament how this would affect you by commenting on their facebook page by midnight on Thursday 3 March.
Your comments will then be shared with MPs and used to help inform the debate.
The Dublin Law - The government wants to maintain the right to deport asylum-seekers to the first EU country they arrive in
The Dublin Law is being challenged in court in several cases where lawyers are battling against the government's use of the legislation.
The Dublin Law means that the UK can deport asylum-seekers and refugees back to the first EU country that they enter, with issues such as individuals facing continued persecution in the first EU country of entry being put forward.
The Guardian reported how one Syrian refugee arrived in the UK to join his family, but was threatened with deportation to Italy when the police found that he had already been fingerprinted and processed there.
In the article by Harriet Grant, the Syrian national (who is given the alias Ahmad) describes his experience of brutality at the hands of Italian police in Rome as well as his violent forced deportation back to Italy on the orders of the Home Office; "They tied me up with straps and four men took me on to the plane crying and screaming, including a doctor because I said I was going to kill myself.”
“I pleaded with them to send me back to Syria, I told them I would rather die than go back to Italy,” he said. “In Rome, the police held me down and beat me to get my fingerprints and I slept on the street. But they say this is the European law, you must go to Italy.”
Campaigners against the Dublin Law insist that the regulation puts pressure on services in these countries that are already spread very thin, but also endangers vulnerable people and separates families already struggling to reunite.
The Home Office as usual, responded with; “The UK has a proud history of offering protection to those who need it,” the spokesperson said. “Each case is considered on its individual merits and in line with the rules, but we will not shoulder the burden of asylum claims which should rightly be processed by other countries.” They denied that they send any individual back to unsafe countries where they are in danger of persecution.
Maurice Wren of Asylum Aid insisted; “It’s wholly inappropriate that at a time when the rest of the EU is working together to relocate arrivals away from the countries on Europe’s borders whose asylum systems appear to be dysfunctional, Britain is trying to send asylum seekers back there.”
Is the UK not taking on it's fair share of refugees?
Since the refugee crisis escalated with continued conflict in the Middle East and the spread of persecution and poverty in countries such as Eritrea, European countries have been floundering with how to cope with the new arrivals, with many other EU countries pointing out that the UK has not taken on it's fair share of refugees, and that countries such as Greece, Italy and Germany are struggling to maintain their services, and have seen the rise in power and popularity of far-right groups and calls to turn back the boats and crude 'deterrents' such as prosecuting tourists and coastal denizens who attempt to help rescue refugees arriving by boat from North Africa.
Italy has been the main country that has received requests to return refugees and asylum-seekers. The Guardian reported that "last year, the UK made just over 2,000 requests to transfer asylum seekers to another EU country under the Dublin regulations, although only about a quarter of those requests ended in a removal within that time period." 
Angelino Alfano, Italy's Internal Affairs Minister insisted that the Dublin Law "does not reflect reality and called the requirement of asking for asylum in migrants’ country of entrance a “complete absurdity.”
"Alfano said that both Italy and Greece can no longer pay the price for the “constant flow” of refugeess across Europe. If the situation is not changed, Europe will face even greater problems"
“I think that two countries cannot pay the total bill alone. By saying it I mean neither Italy nor Greece can pay for the constant flow of immigrants, who run from atrocities in their home countries. If it continues this way, it will be an end of Europe"