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:
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.
GUEST POST BY FERESHTEH MOZZAFARI - 19.2.2016
Hundreds of Mancunians and Chinese braved the cold and hailstones to celebrate Chinese New Year parade in the heart of Chinatown on February 7. The ritual started with dragon Parade as usual and continued with traditional lion dances, music and acrobatics, a funfair and fireworks finale.
I had the chance to be around town hall just before the venue starts and see Chinese dance. I liked it that Chinese have managed to become a very powerful and successful community in the UK and run such a huge festival in Manchester city centre. I have been to Mega Mela which is the largest celebration of South Asian Culture in the North of England, but Mela usually takes place at Platt Field park.
According to Chinese calendar, 2016 is the year of the Monkey. Monkey is ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. Monkey is a clever animal. It is usually compared to a smart person.
It has also been said that this year is the year of the Fire Monkey. But what that means?
In addition to the twelve year cycle corresponding to each of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, there are Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) which are associated with their own “life force” or “chi”. This energy blends with the corresponding animal to determine that year’s fortune. In 2016, the corresponding element is fire. Fire is also associated with the colour red. Therefore it is the year of the Red Monkey.
Read this to find out what this year will bring us.
Migrant Echoes & Migrants Supporting Migrants will mark International Women's Day on 8th March 2016 with events during the week held in Manchester and Crumpsall.
In preparation for the event, ME and MSM will be bringing women from the organisation and from the wider community together to attend a collaborative workshop to produce creative zines that will be available to purchase at these events.
Anyone who wishes to participate and who identifies as a woman is welcome to attend these workshops which will be held in the Methodist Central Hall every Thursday 11am-12pm in the run up to International Women's Day.
The workshop will be run by Sophia Gardiner, Migrant Echoes' project worker and visual artist.
If you would like more information on the workshops, please contact her at sophie(at)migrantsupport.org.uk
[PLEASE NOTE: If you are unable to attend the workshops, you are also free to send in any submission you write/make to the above email address. You are also encouraged to bring along your own materials to contribute to the zines]
You can find the Facebook event page here.
Wednesday 20th January 2016
14.00 - 16.00
Central Methodist Hall
Migrant Echoes are hosting another induction for all prospective volunteers! If you're interested in volunteering with us and gaining valuable experience with our media project, feel free to join us!
We will be looking at interview techniques, audio recording, film, editing and more!
For further information just contact sophie(at)migrantsupport.org.uk
Migrant Echoes are looking for volunteers who are interested in podcasts, interviewing, presenting, editing and also journalism, writing and other forms of information sharing and creative initiative that can help us raise the voices of migrant communities around the North West and discussion migration issues for a migrant audience.
Currently Migrant Echoes is creating regular podcast interviews to be streamed on Soundcloud, exploring issues such as hate crime, rights in the workplace, the refugee crisis, visas and integration.
The podcasts are recorded in our studios on Oldham Street in the centre of Manchester in the English language, featuring interviews with members of various migrant and ethnic communities in the North West as well as speakers from organisations and public bodies to discuss issues affect the migrant population in the North West of England.
If you are interested in volunteering with us, we have an upcoming Volunteer Induction Session on 16th December, and then again in the new year on 20th January.
To request an application or for more information on volunteering roles with Migrant Echoes, simply email sophie(at)migrantsupport.org.uk or come along to the induction on the 16th December.
WEDNESDAY 16th DECEMBER 2015
14.00 - 16.00
CENTRAL METHODIST HALL
(Just a minute away from Piccadilly Gardens)
We are pleased to announce the start of Migrant Echoes, a new media project committed to raising the voices of migrant communities around the North West!
We will be distributing information about Migrant Echoes on 28th November 2015 at the Migrants Supporting Migrants 'Latin Night' fundraiser in Whalley Range, Manchester.
Tickets for the event can be purchased here, or you can purchase your ticket at the door or book your place for £7. Each ticket includes free meal.
For information about this event and about Migrant Echoes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
7.00pm - 11.30pm, St Margarets Centre C of E Church, Rufford Rd & Whalley Rd, Whalley Range, M16 8AE.