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: