On Saturday 2 April 2005, demonstrations took place across Europe ‘against racism, for freedom of movement and for the right to stay’ for asylum seekers. In the UK, there were actions in Glasgow, London, Nottingham, Oxford and Canterbury, with the largest demonstration in Manchester. Uniquely, the demonstrations were largely organised by those facing deportation.
Manchester saw over 700 people, most of whom were asylum seekers and refugees, join three marches across the city which met at Albert Square for a rally in solidarity with others in the UK and across Europe.
The march from north Manchester was led by Farhat Khan and her five children. Farhat fled Pakistan in November 2000 after she was threatened with death by her husband and his family; despite fleeing she is still receiving threats. Farhat, who is facing deportation to Pakistan after her asylum claim and subsequent appeal were refused, has set up Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) and was recently honoured by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for her voluntary work.
Mansoor Hassan and his family, who are also facing deportation to Pakistan, led the march from south Manchester. Mansoor, an investigative journalist, fled Pakistan after he was targeted by the security services for reporting on government corruption and ‘honour killings’. Mansoor and his family were poisoned and targeted as well as suffering other assaults and attacks. His young son, who was a head boy at his school in Pakistan, addressed the rally. He spoke with great eloquence about the family’s suffering. Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists which supported the march and the Hassan family campaign, called for more unions to support anti-deportation campaigns.
The third march into Albert Square started in the gay village of Manchester and was led by Moses Kayiza, a gay asylum seeker from Uganda. This march then joined the south march into Albert Square. Moses was arrested, detained and abused as a result of his sexuality in Uganda where being gay can mean life imprisonment. Marchers from the gay village were also joined by Brides without Borders who, dressed as brides, drew attention to new laws which require that the home secretary might have to grant permission before a non-EU national resident in Britain can marry a ‘foreigner’.
The rally was also addressed by Viraj Mendis, Father Gregory Hallam, Moses Kayiza, Farhat Khan, Lynda Shentall of the George House Trust, Mark Krantz of the Manchester Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, Emma Ginn of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) and finally by Ziadah Nakatchwa, a Ugandan asylum seeker. Her words were a moving end to the day, speaking of the abuses she had suffered and of the strength she had been given by her campaign group which is supported by organisations such as NCADC and the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit.
Emma Ginn from NCADC commented: ‘I think the high turn-out was in part due to the recent BBC under-cover documentary which showed detention centre officers abusing asylum seekers and boasting about assaulting defenceless people. Everyone who watched the programme was disgusted and angry that no action has been taken against that company, even though it’s not the first time they have been caught out’.