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:
Sad news for refugees in Greece.
Deportation of refugees from Greece to Turkey begins today under the EU deal. According to this agreement people who apply for asylum in Greece and have their applications refused, will be returned to Turkey. Today 200 migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were sent back to Turkey.
One reason behind this deal is to stop human trafficking across the Aegean and The Mediterranean and therefore to stop death toll in the most deadliest sea crossings. It has been said that so far this year, the death toll has climbed at an even faster rate than over the same period in 2015. However, following the belated decision by Europe’s leaders in late April to reinstate an effective search and rescue mission, this has for the time being been stemmed.
Those migrants who are attempting this perilous journey to Europe mainly come from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria. But by far the single largest number by nationality is Syrian.
The EU is paying Turkey more than £4 billion over the next three years to contain 2.5 million refugees. However the deal to send people back across the Aegean Sea has been fiercely criticised by rights groups on ethical grounds. The Spectator leading article reiterates that ” the problem, is that Turkey is being offered more than money. The EU, in its desperation, says that within a few months it will offer Turkey’s 77 million citizens the ability to travel to any of its 28 member states without the need for a visa. Worse, it will fast-track Turkey’s application to become a full member of the EU — and turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses of Recep Erdogan’s regime. Not that he wants to join the EU: he just wants to show his domestic audience that can behave how he likes, lock up who he likes, and have the EU eating out of his hand.”
This article was originally featured on Fereshteh's blog. You can see the original article here.
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.
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" 
This article was written by self proclaimed 'full-time asylum-seeker' Hannibal Albendago who hails from Libya.
Hannibal is currently working on his fresh asylum claim and has been homeless in Manchester since his last refusal. Here he talks about his experiences in the British asylum system and living as an asylum-seeker in Manchester...
This is a true story of my life as an asylum seeker. I really appreciate the valuable time you have taken to read my account.
An asylum-seeker is someone whose claim for refugee status is still being decided.
The procedure can take anything from several months to a few years to be resolved, including the possibility of appealing against a refusal. Personally, it has been over 8 years and I still don’t know when I will finally be able to live as a normal person.
Whilst lengthy asylum procedures prolong uncertainty for asylum-seekers and costs for the state, rushed decisions could put people at risk and in need. The challenge of a good system of asylum is to balance speed with quality.
A brief note about the Home office: it is intimidating and scary. You can't know what they're thinking, but because of my past experiences with them, I can tell already what they’ll say: “no”, I already know they're going to say “you're lying”.
You just never know with them. It's just so uncertain, you don't know whether they’ll grant or refuse your application. Inside, when you go to sign on, you don't know if they're going to call you in for an interview or if they're going to give you a refusal straight there and then. They can do anything they feel like doing.
Whatever you say, however honest, pleading and desperate you are, they'll listen and tell you the same thing: “I don't believe you”, “I can't help you”, “Contact your caseworker”, “Contact your lawyer”. They make everything so complicated, everything is so hard.
You don't know what's going to happen to you. Eventually you find out that there's something you can do to help yourself and to make life better. So I say, ok, let me go and seek that. Now, I know I was brave but when I went I was very naïve. It’s down to the asylum seeker to prove himself.. I came from
persecution, but some people come from war. They just run. They have nothing.
I thought that claiming asylum was all I needed to do, but you have to do so much more. The burden of proof is so big. I hate the word “evidence”, it’s horrible and frustrating. They push people so far that they start forgetting things or having to lie about evidence because all they're thinking is the impossibility of returning to where they’ve come from.
I have been in the UK for a long time now, so how do they expect me to get new evidence for a fresh claim? It’s a difficult and complicated procedure.
The burden on proof should lie with the Home Office, not the person who's running away from persecution or war. Not on the person who's suffering, the person who's scared of being imprisoned, who's facing discrimination.
It shouldn't be that way. Vulnerable people should not have to prove themselves in this way, rather the burden should lie on the other side.
The “asylum seeker” label, makes people treat you as if you're beneath them. Most of the English people I've come in contact with are nice, but some are nasty.
This game is all about surviving, since I was refused in 2012 my life has been turned upside down. I get support from the red cross, but this isn’t much for a person to live on; a Food parcel and £5 per week.
Living on £5 a week, the boredom of waiting for trial, this dehumanising system and canned food, it reminds me of WW1 and WW2. I really hope we don’t have an apocalypse - I hate canned food so much! Now the Red Cross has decided to cut my support because I have been with them for over a year, it’s so ridiculous it makes me laugh! But now I’m living off £10 a week which I get it from the Boaz Trust, and thanks to them I am hosted by a very kind British couple.
I’m not competing with anyone, I have no desire to play the superiority game. I am simply trying to be a better person than I was yesterday and the day before yesterday and before that and before etc...
No permission to work and dependent on charities for food and clothes.
I'm trying to keep myself busy. I try to get involved in different organisations. It helps me to reduce the stress in my life. I may be an asylum seeker and homeless, but I love to be healthy and fit. I enjoy physical activities, exploring and living adventurously! You don't need to visit the Himalayas, the Andes, Inca ruins, Egyptian pyramids or Mount Everest to have adventures and
explore - It's all around you right where you are.
I may be homeless but never hopeless. Nor desperate. Because that’s what the UKBA (UK Border Agency) wanted me to be. Humans sometimes make things so complicated for each other; since when do you need documents to prove that you human? They never thought “This person came to our land in need of help, lets help the poor guy".
Where are the human rights? Because I thought UK was all about human rights and equality. Even though I am homeless and broke, I am still keeping up with what I love to do and what I enjoy, not even Jesus could stop me now! I have been down so many times, but I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and come through the other side.
My final words
As a young man in Libya, you don’t have any dreams. You can’t.
I want to thank all my friends and people who been involved and supported me during my life in UK so far.
Thank you for the safety, respect and values you share with refugees. Thank you for sharing with us your shelter, food, time, thoughts and smiles.
GUEST POST BY FERESHTEH MOZZAFARI - 27.2.2016
Do you remember Alyan Kurdi? The 3 years old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a beach near Bodrum and made global headlines? I think most of the people in the world have heard about him.
Now Missy higgins, Australian singer-songwriter and musician, sings a song a for him to tell his tragic story. She shared the song on her Facebook and said;
Like most people, the photo of little Alan Kurdi being carried out of the water shook me to my core. We often read about the tragic plight of refugees but I think that picture exposed us to the reality in such a raw way that the truth became inescapable.
‘Oh Canada’ simply aims to tell a story. It’s not preaching anything in particular, it’s simply my attempt to make sense out of senselessness. If it also reminds people of what happened to Alan and his family then I think that would be good – after what they went through they don’t deserve to be forgotten. If the song reminds people how the picture of that lifeless little boy made them feel then that would be even better because that proves we’re all very similar people who just happen to live under different circumstances. If the song inspires anyone to do something on behalf of refugees – to speak up for their rights and to push back against those who seek to inflame our fears and prejudices – then I think that would be best of all. ”
‘Oh Canada’ is out now, with 100% of net proceeds from sales going to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).
The song is accompanied by a powerful animated video created by award winning director Natasha Pincus and animation director Nicholas Kallincos.
Caritas and World Vision Australia support programs in Syria and neighbouring countries that create spaces where children can express their feelings of the past and hopes for the future. The drawings in the ‘Oh Canada’ video are by children in Caritas programs in Damascus, Syria and in World Vision programs in Beirut, Lebanon. Both the global Caritas network and World Vision have helped millions of people affected by the crisis in the Middle East.
Watch the video here:
GUEST POST BY FERESHTEH MOZZAFARI - 20.2.2016
Have you ever seen a refugee cat? Well I have known one recently thanks to Guardian.
According to the Guardian’s story, Kunkush the cat has become a refugee in Norway. Kunkush who separated from its Iraqi family on the way to Europe, was found and fostered in Berlin, where an international online search was co-ordinated in the hope of reuniting him with his family.
What the video:
GUEST POST BY FERESHTEH MOZZAFARI - 3.2.2016
I have been watching Shappi ( Shaparak) Khorsandi on youtube tonight. Shappi introduce herself as “an Iranian refugee”. She and her family were forced to flee from Iran after the Islamic Revolution following the publication of a satirical poem her father composed. He is a well-known comedian in Iran.
Shappi has graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Drama, Theatre and Television, then moving on to pursue a career in comedy. She has won many prizes and one of them for her charity works. She has also published her book ” A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English” in July 2009. The book describes the way in which young Khorsandi experienced England as a young girl. The narrative begins with her attending nursery school, The Kings’ International Nursery School, with her brother, Peyvand. Throughout the book, she explains the ways in which the Iranian language differs from English: “They called me ‘poppet’. Iranians said ‘jaan’ or ‘azizam’.” She also expresses pride in how her father took English classes and was praised for his affinity with the written word, though she also felt he was able to be more humorous in Farsi. Other themes include her experiences with English food and customs, the war between Iran and Iraq, and the hostilities that she and her family encounter–she notes, for example, having been referred to as a terrorist.
Watch her selected clip from Apolo:
News circulated this week that the EU is writing up legislation meaning that people who help to rescue drowning refugees will face prosecution, criminalising them as smugglers.
The news comes from Statewatch, who say that interior EU ministers were drawing up the plans to deter the flow of refugees trying to make the life threatening journey across the Mediterranean, many aiming to reach the shores of Greek Islands such as Lesvos, and southern Italy.
The Director of Positive Action in Housing, the refugee homelessness charity, Robina Qureshi, said in response in a recent statement: “If the EU plans to criminalise charities and volunteers who help refugees arriving on Lesvos or any of the Greek islands, does this mean that are also going to criminalise and arrest the UNHCR, OXFAM, Doctors of the World, Doctors of the World, International Rescue, the Spanish Lifeguards, the Greek Lifeguards, Ai Weiwei, Eric Kempson, Philippa Kempson, Ken Loach, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Corbyn, Trade unions, politicians, old age pensioners, students and medics as well? So they are going to let refugees drown and imprison the world’s humanitarians? And how will the history books record it. The fact is we have a growing movement of charities and volunteers from across the world who are in danger of being criminalised for doing the right thing and resisting the EU's de facto genocide of refugees. We are making a significant difference on the island by supplying funds for lifeguards, medical facilities and shelter, as well as doctors, volunteers, clothing and medical supplies. We need voices from across the world to speak out and challenge the EU’s secret plans. We are not going to stop helping.” 
Other public figures and commentators responded to the news with outrage at the notion of criminalising aid workers, volunteers and well-meaning public trying to assist refugees who have just overcome a harrowing, incredibly dangerous journey from the shores of North Africa, many calling for opposition to the plans and urging European citizens to continue to help vulnerable people who's lives are at risk.
WATCH: Football players in Greece delay match with sit-down protest against 'brutal indifference' of migrant deaths
AEL Larissa and Acharnaikos players (and coaches) staged a sit-down protest consisting of two-minutes of silence at kick-off to show solidarity with refugees crossing the Mediterranean to escape the Middle Eastern conflicts. On Saturday, 39 migrants were killed while attempting to reach safety in Europe.
The protest was called to highlight the 'brutal indifference' of EU and Turkish authorities to the plight of refugees taking the dangerous voyage.
The protest has gained international attention as the video of the players engaged in two minutes of silence to remember refugee children who have been killed crossing from North Africa has been shared across the media.