Hundreds of Mancunians — many from charities, campaign groups and religious organizations — gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the city on Sunday to protest the government’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda.
With just two days to go before the first refugees are to board flights to the Central African country, the protest was one of many to take place in the UK, and took place amid further legal challenges after the Supreme Court’s previous week ruled that the flights can continue.
Speakers included Maddy Summerfield of Care4Calais, who described the deportation schedule as “obscene” and told the crowd: “There are 6,500 people in Manchester’s asylum system and we are here again to demand justice for them.”
Other speakers included Martin Empson of the campaign against climate change, who said: “Many in the south of the world are confronted daily with the consequences of the climate catastrophe. At the same time, they face racism and state oppression at every turn. As a nation, we have to do something.”
He added: “Fighting for a sustainable future means fighting for a future free from oppression.”
dr. Rhetta Moran, of human rights group Rapar, called on people to “stand shoulder to shoulder” and “continue to find ways to build solidarity”. Her comment that “this can’t go on in our name” was met with exuberant cheers.
Moran and other speakers referred to Saturday’s events in Peckham, south London, where protesters blocked a van carrying a man arrested for immigration violations.
Unison’s Karen Reissmann echoed comments attributed to Prince Charles regarding Rwanda’s plan when she said: “From London to Manchester and much further afield, people are shocked by what is happening.”
The Reverend Laurie Windle of the Church of England said she had come to speak on behalf of her congregation, adding: “Many are appalled at what they see as a ‘godless’ asylum system. This piece of legislation goes against the very essence of God.”
Meanwhile, members of Manchester’s Syrian community spoke of their own experiences, saying their hearts were “broken by this new and racist policy”.
Other groups in attendance included Stand Up to Racism, Amnesty UK, Safety4Sisters, the People’s Assembly and the Status Now network, plus voices from the Iranian, Iraqi and West African communities in Manchester.
As they prepared to start the march, there was a chant: “Say it out loud, say it clearly, refugees are welcome here.”
Just before they left the square, artist Will Belshah picked up the microphone and told the story of his grandfather who arrived in Britain from Baghdad, adding that the deportation plan had made him “too furious to moderate or calm his language”.
He concluded: “Anger and civil disobedience are sometimes the only way to change things.”