When the Prime Minister made his surprise announcement to launch a high-profile raid on our communities for the Rwanda plan, people across the country sprang into action, including These Walls Must Fall groups in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Whatsapp groups were buzzing all weekend, and first thing on Monday morning we joined friends and allies outside the Immigration Reporting Centres in Liverpool and Manchester. By Friday we had organised the first demonstration, a protest march following a solidarity gathering in Manchester city centre.

The Home Office specifically said they would be targeting people for Rwanda at their regular signing appointments at Reporting Centres, so that’s where we headed on Monday morning.

Each day, we have been outside the Liverpool and Manchester centres, talking to people going in, offering information and support. This has been happening all across the country. There are rotas organised now for volunteers – if you can spare a couple of hours here and there, and would like to get involved in Manchester or Liverpool, please get in touch.

Solidarity gathering on Friday

On Friday, there was no reporting at Dallas Court Reporting Centre, Salford. The groups who had been organising the support now got together and called for a lunchtime solidarity gathering in Manchester city centre. Activists from These Walls Must Fall, Manchester No Borders, RAS Voice and Rapar organised the event, and over 200 people attended.

So many Manchester groups came together for this show of solidarity and defiance. Women Asylum Seekers Together, African Rainbow Family, Safety for Sisters, Stand Up To Racism, Solidarity Knows No Borders, GMIAU… sorry if we have missed anyone out! The majority of those gathered were people with direct lived experience of the hostile environment, some under threat of removal to Rwanda.

The crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square, Manchester, and heard powerful testimony and calls for action from campaigners with expert knowledge of living under and fighting against the hostile environment.

People spoke about solidarity actions across the country, at reporting centres and at asylum hotels where direct action has stopped the Home Office taking people to the Bibby barge.

There were calls for more people to get involved in support at the reporting centres, and in resisting immigration raids in our communities. For people to work together, to share information, to get help and support to people in danger, to help people to survive, and to build the movement to bring down this hostile environment.

A spontaneous protest march

There was a great energy in the crowd, and numbers had grown. After a quick chat, a question was put to the crowd – who would like to march to Piccadilly Gardens, with a stop along the way at the Immigration Tribunal building? A resounding YES was the reply.

We gathered together and moved off. The songs of the WAST choir developed into jubilant chants as the crowd marched up the middle of the road, with a slight detour around a tram whose driver gave us a toot! and a thumbs-up.

At the Immigration Tribunal

The awning over the entrance to the Tribunal building conveniently amplified the chants, and NO RWANDA PLAN! REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE! NO ONE IS ILLEGAL! echoed across the streets. People were coming out of shops and offices to see what was going on.

What the passers-by found was people denouncing what goes on in these buildings, testifying to the injustice, the cruelty, the racism of the immigration system. Before moving on to Piccadilly Gardens, the women again led the crowd in song, singing Freedom is Coming, in the natural amphitheatre of the Manchester Immigration Tribunal Centre.

At Piccadilly, we gathered once more for a big photo together in the sunshine. People got talking to each other, exchanging leaflets, exchanging numbers, signing up to announcement lists, discussing ideas, making connections, making plans.

We don’t really know how things are going to develop. What we do know is that our communities are under attack like never before. The response to this crisis has been so encouraging. We need to build on that, build more radical solidarity, raise our voices, hold our heads high, demand justice, and know that whatever happens, still, like air, we rise.