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>>>