In this post, Hannah Milton reviews the recent performance of 'Still We Rise' by Women Asylum Seekers Together and Manchester Migrant Solidarity who performed at the Zion Arts Centre in Hulme, Manchester.
Last Wednesday, members of Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) and Manchester Migrant Solidarity (MISOL) came together for a presentation of song, dance, drama and spoken work in "Still We Rise", a moving tale of the tragic struggle of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK made bearable by the collective.
The performance was peppered with powerful soul singing, demonstrating the powerful African roots of their vocal coach. The songs were descriptive of the situations the women found themselves in, and whilst many were in English, several women performed in their native languages; a nice touch allowing for the free celebration of the diversity of identities and cultures in the room, all united in support of each other.
Through the means of theatre, the women acted, danced and sang their stories onto the scene. The audience heard moving tales of exploitation, abuse and discrimination, played out across the unfair stage of the British Immigration System, with its unfeeling bureaucracy and ever-worsening reforms. An already emotional atmosphere was made all the more poignant by the announcement that one of the WAST members had lost her daughter that very same day provoking a minute's silence at the start of the show.
A number of issues were touched on, ranging from the day to day humiliation of failed attempts to pay with the government issue AZURE card (http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Advocacy/Refugees/Azure-payment-card) – the only “money” asylum seekers are entrusted with, to the ominous threat of the detention centre. For many of these women, being sent to a detention centre is an ever present threat; essentially a prison camp for them and their children where the majority of the possible futures hold little hope, and all are uncertain.
Towards the end of the play, scenes of protest were played out as the women recalled their experiences rallying against Yarl’s Wood detention centre, infamous for the abuse carried out there against vulnerable women who often arrive having fled persecution in their countries of origin. A powerful chant of “SHUT DOWN YARL’S WOOD!” was followed by the more emotive, but no less impassioned chorus, “We want Rosa to stay… Not today, not tomorrow, but forever.”
At its heart, the show came across as tragically honest, detailing the mistreatment of immigrants and asylum seekers under our current political system showing not only the many faces of desperation which result from these scenarios, but also the underlying determination and strong will of those who will not be beaten, even in the hands of a system which is designed to make them lose. Despite the challenges they face, these women come out fighting and resolute. United they will strive to better their lives and those of their families.
For more information on WAST or MISOL, or to find out how you can help visit their websites:
In this week's podcast, Sophie Gardiner talks to Farhad Vahidi about his experiences as a young asylum seeker in the UK, including his time in detention in Yarl's Wood.
Farhad came to UK with his mother and father when was thirteen when his father faced persecution by Iranian authorities. His elder brother followed shortly afterwards, and was processed separately from the rest of the family.
Farhad described in detail his detention experience, including the initial arrest.
"It is like a full on drugs raid."
Farhad explains how he and his mother and father were detained together in Yarl's Wood's family wing for two months; "it's got just over eighteen children, because at the time the law was that you can no longer detain under eighteens. And that was the reason the Home Office had to wait for six months, that was the reason they had to wait for me to be eighteen then they can raid the house and arrest us."
"Arriving in Yarl's Wood, it's just like going to prison, you've got to process in it, they take away all your belongings, they take away your phone, they search you up and down, you get checked by the doctor, make sure you've got no problems. You say anything like if you're feeling suicidal then that will be the end of it 'cos they're gonna have officers sitting outside your room all night making sure you don't do anything stupid."
"From the outside it does look like a prison, but from the outside it just looks like a two star hotel" he explained, describing the general facilities that were provided in Yarl's Wood. "It feels more like a hostel, except you're not allowed to leave, that's the difference."
He also mentioned how prior to his detention in Yarl's Wood, he was held in Harmondsworth "which is a completely different story! This is a proper jail, the door is locked, windows all sealed, there is barbed wire everywhere, they put a drop ne between the floors- it's completely different fro Yarl's Wood, which is more family friendly. That's what it was meant to be, when we had the law that kids could be detained, that's what it was meant for. So kids could be here, but not feel like they were actually in prison."
Farhad explained daily life during his imprisonment in Yarl's Wood, the facilities and his relationship with the staff there. "I understand that they understand that people who are bored are more likely to be aggressive because they've got nothing to do."
"It was basically like a playground, but you just didn't have the right to leave."
Farhad describes how the detention centre were very strict about everyone attending meal times; "You couldn't take food to your room, you HAD to go upstairs to their dining room, you need to be accounted for, any attempt of hunger strike, they would not tolerate it."
"One person tried it, and they were NOT very nice to that person."
He would stay up past curfew to talk with guards and had a friendly relationship with many of the staff, "because they was bored, and I was bored."
Farhad explains that after he left detention he suffered PTSD which disrupted his higher education. While Farhad and his parents were safe, his elder brother would have to wait a while before he was also finally granted asylum. "We didn't go on holiday until after he got his leave to remain."
He advised anyone who is experiencing detention or who is still in the asylum system to stay strong, "stand up for yourself, but don't cause trouble. If you ever end up in a detention centre, do what you've got to do, make friends with all the staff, don't cause trouble that you don't have to cause. If you're in a detention centre, try and do something, because one, it will get the time to pass faster and two, it will not allow you the time to overthink things."
You can hear the full story on Soundcloud.