“When you see injustice – speak out!”: These Walls Must Fall in Manchester

Without people taking action, change won’t happen.  Luke Butterly of Right to Remain reports back on a recent campaign event of These Walls Must Fall which took place in Manchester.  This blog was originally published on Right to Remain’s website here.  

On 2 Nov 2017, human rights campaigners, union members, migrant rights groups, political representatives and other members of the public met to campaign against immigration detention.

Gathering at Manchester’s historic Mechanics Institute, over 120 people heard from experts, asked questions, made contacts, and proposed some really great and imaginative solutions to a policy which damages and divides local communities.

The These Walls Must Fall campaign aims to highlight that residents of Greater Manchester are being taken from local communities, locked up in far-off detention centres with no time limit, no idea of when they might be released.

The UK is the only country in Europe to operate a policy of indefinite detention for migrants, simply because they don’t yet have the correct immigration papers. Around 30,000 people pass through the government’s detention estate of 14 centres each year, with around 3,000 people detained at any one time. The closest centre to Manchester is Morton Hall, in Lincoln – four hours away on public transport. (You can find out more about all of the UK’s detention centres through the Unlocking Detention tour). 

Yet against these steep odds, Right to Remain’s Michael Collins reminded the group that the challenges and victories that have come to the hostile immigration system, have often come from local communities.

Those in attendance then had the opportunity to have their questions about detention answered by Michael from Freed Voices – an experts-by-experience group that between them have lost 20 years to immigration detention. As well as answering questions like ‘how long you can be detained?’ (indefinitely!), Michael neatly illustrated how detention is not (just) an immigration issue, but a civil one – it effects us all, by taking people from our communities, and wasting money that could be spent on other social goods.

Julie Ward, MEP for the North West England region, won her seat in the European parliament by defeating the fascist BNP leader Nick Griffin in 2014 – and since then has tirelessly championed human rights issues.

She spoke passionately about the need to resist the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ – which is seeing homes, banks, schools and hospitals all turn into border posts. Julie noted:

“If we look back at our family history, somewhere along the line we would discover we had been people who needed to be somewhere else; we needed to flee, we needed to move.”

Mariam Yusuf, campaigner with These Walls Must Fall and Women Asylum Seekers Together, spoke of the hardship that detention has caused for the women she organises with; and that women she knows are being ‘broken’ by the system. The recurring nature of detention she described is reflected nationally – the majority of people who are detained are then released, their detention having served no purpose.

Armed with knowledge and fired up by the speeches, attendees broke into tables to plan and discuss what they – as individuals and as members of groups – can do to locally challenge detention. Among the great suggestions were:

  • working with local MPs and councillors
  • putting pressure on Tories as the last major party to yet have committed to a 28 day time limit for detention
  • Getting motions passed in trade unions, councils,
  • Writing letters to local papers
  • Speak with people in our local communities about detention
  • Get famous people to speak out against detention
  • Creative actions, like building a wall through Manchester city centre!

It’s clear there will be lots of actions coming up in Manchester and around the country; one happening now is getting your MP to attend this week’s parliamentary meeting on detention. All details here, and you can find your MP here. 

Click here to stay informed on the These Walls Must Fall campaign.

You can also see the storify of the Manchester event here

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