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.
Podcast: Sarah Ayub talks #TraditionallySubmissive and Dianne Ngoza talks about her life as a migrant rights campaigner
We invited blogger, writer and MPACUK member, Sarah Ayub, to discuss the recent response to David Cameron's alleged comments regarding Muslim women which caused a strong reaction on social media.
After the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party announced that there would be funding for English Language programmes- specifically aimed at Muslim women to combat 'extremism', suggesting that Muslim women are 'traditionally submissive' and therefore more at risk of being 'radicalised', the Muslim women of twitter were not going to take his comments lying down.
#TraditionallySubmissive saw Muslim women of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds boasting of their achievements. Many held up signs listing degrees and hobbies that subvert the stereotype of the 'submissive' Muslim female.
Sarah Ayub discussed her concerns how such a mainstream political figure could make such harmful statements; "The link to extremism is what's worrying. He said himself- and he's contradicting himself- that learning English or language barriers lead to extremism."
"It was a very irresponsible comment for a Prime Minister to make."
Ayub also discussed the origins of these stereotypes and how the media perpetrates these images of Muslims that fuels racism and Islamophobia.
"A large responsibility also lies with some fragments of the media, where they show Islam and Muslims to be of a certain type, where they like to have a certain type of Muslim to show that this is what Muslims are like and that type of Muslim is always the really extreme, really conservative sort of Muslim and when that type of Muslim is depicted in the media, that is all that people see."
Meanwhile, Dianne Ngoza, a migrant rights campaigner originally from the Congo discussed her work with an impressive myriad of organisation in Greater Manchester including MiSol, United For Change, Women Asylum Seekers Together and City of Sanctuary as well as discussing her own experience as a migrant 'in limbo' in the UK.
You can hear the full podcast episode on Soundcloud.
Today's podcast features Nahella Ashraf, one of the leaders of Stand Up To Racism, an organisation campaigning against racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Manchester and across the country.
In the wake of the attacks in the Middle East and Paris, Nahella explains how migrant communities suffer from racism and xenophobic policies and scapegoating.
"I don't think the scaremongering that we're seeing around the bombings in Paris is helping. You see this huge media frenzy around this idea that they could be Syrian refugees, it's a ridiculous idea that the Syrian refugees are involved in what happened in Paris, and even the Parisian authorities are saying they weren't involved, but it doesn't stop the press from linking the two together." Ashraf explained that equating Islam and refugees with terrorism makes their work harder. "It creates a fear in society as well, that isn't helpful for anyone."
Ashraf also talks about Stand Up To Racism's recent delegation to the Calais 'Jungle'. "It's not fit for anyone to be staying in." She stressed the importance of fundraising for the charities on the ground in Calais, but more importantly, to campaign against the government's policy to deny entry to the refugees.
"Our country's rich enough to take these people in, we can accommodate these people and we also have to take responsibility for some of the reasons why they're here." She cited conflicts in the Middle East that have been caused or exacerbated by Western interventionism and funding.
When discussing the similarities between current events we are seeing in the Middle East and World War 2, when many Western European countries and the US shut their borders to refugees fleeing the Third Reich. Nahella reminded us of the story of Anne Frank, who's family applied for a visa to flee to America "but because they decided that she might be a Nazi spy or a German spy, they didn't give her a visa- it's very similar to what we're seeing with the refugees in Calais presently."
When asked if a rise in hate crime was expected in the wake of the attacks, as well as the 'refugee crisis', she said "there's no denying the fact that what we've seen in Paris has resulted in people feeling more suspicious about Muslims and about refugees and the 'other' within society, and we have seen more attacks on individuals- especially on women out and about - and this isn't out and about in dark corners late at night, we're talking very much out in the open on public transport." She also advised that people who see or are the target of hate crime should report incidents to the police "I understand why they don't, because a lot of people don't trust the authorities right now, but it's important that it's reported and we hold our police force to account and say what have you done about this?!"
Ashraf stressed the importance of 'pushing back' when the media spreads misinformation that targets migrant and faith groups, whether through complaining, fundraising, protesting or boycotting, citing the campaign against The Sun after the Hillsborough disaster as an example; "Up to this day, the people of Liverpool don't buy The Sun, it's not delivered in Liverpool, it's not in any of their shops."
She emphasised the importance of independent media and social media in the fight against mainstream misinformation; "social media has a massive influence on what people think, and see, and learn about these issues. So when the media goes on about stuff like, you know, there's been a passport found near one of the bombers in Paris, the amount of people on social media that will say, so what? He blew himself up and the passport survived? It's really interesting that the narrative that the media is trying to put out there can be countered by social media. It's that independent media that's absolutely key, if we support our independent media, it sends a clear message to the establishment that we're not going to buy into their poor journalism."
Migrant Echoes also spoke to Roxana, a young Roma woman from Romania, who tells her story of migrating to Manchester and growing up the past few years in Greater Manchester.
"I'd been living in a place called Slobozia, it's a really nice place, it's just that we can't get proper work there, and the education is not as good as here."
"I'd first been in France, I stayed there for two years- Spain, for two years and something... then I was coming here." Roxana explained her family chose to come to Manchester as they already had lots of relatives residing in the area. "Manchester is a really nice place, we like it. This is the reason. The people are really friendly. I have lots of friends here."
When asked about the political scapegoating of new Eastern European Migrants, Roxana denied that she or her family had experienced hate crime.
"No, everyone here are good people. I like Manchester. When we first arrived, people were helping us with getting into schools."
"They were just helping us when we need something. I never get this like... 'go back to your country' or something."
Roxana highlighted the importance of education in her life, explaining her desire to attend university to study drama and her own enthusiasm for writing and performing arts, and her wish that other young people in her community will pursue education in the future; "for my culture, I just want them to be in the place with everyone. I want them to be able to do what they want. Especially the girls and the boys that are in education."
She agreed it was important for people to hear stories from her community "because people think that Gypsy tradition is strict tradition, but that's not right. That is why I made that play about Roma people."
You can listen to the full podcast here>>>