As 2022 comes to a close, staff at Right to Remain have been reflecting on our highlights and achievements from the past year.
Of those highlights, one that stands out to us all is the Manchester Pride Candlelight Vigil. In August 2022. These Walls Must Fall campaigners were invited by Manchester Pride organisers to share their experiences as LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum and how the Manchester community can join forces to fight the hostile environment.
These Walls Must Fall Organiser at Right to Remain, Maggy Moyo, said: “Getting invited to work with Manchester Pride to highlight the issues faced by LGBTQ+ asylum seekers was a huge honour – it showed how much our work is prevalent and appreciated as a movement.”
The Campaigners had the opportunity to have their experiences read out on stage, to a live audience of thousands, and recorded for many more. The harrowing stories shared detailed the dark pasts of migrants who had faced persecution in their home countries, which manifested politically, through government soldiers inciting violence and socially, by exclusion from family life. The crowd in Manchester listened with somberness and intent to the heartbreaking experiences of real life people, who they shared humanity with.
The full performance by These Walls Must Fall begins at 11:31.
The stories shared were extremely personal and sensitive in nature, so it was important for These Walls Must Fall Organisers to safeguard their dignity and do them justice. Maggy and Thomas, organiser and volunteer, were entrusted with doing this, “We explored different ways of telling these important stories, to make sure those who do not want to be identified can do so without any objections.”
Thomas added, “While focusing on the specificity of the severe challenges faced by LGBT asylum seekers, they were simultaneously able to convey with great power the hostile realities that affect everyone navigating the asylum system.”
Through our Campaigners Development Programme, we have worked with These Walls Must Fall campaigners to support them to speak out when they are able to do so. Chinenye, a These Walls Must Fall campaigner from Yorkshire, stressed the importance of using her voice: “It makes people who have low self-esteem about who they are feel free. Only then can you be heard and find your family who accept you for who you are.”
In many places across the globe, queer people live a secret existence for fear of persecution. After fleeing their homes because of their identity, they risk violence and discrimination. Upon reaching the UK, their situations are made increasingly difficult by the hostile environment policies put in place by the British government. From having to somehow ‘prove’ their sexuality or gender to routinely having their claims rejected, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers face many challenges.
Nevertheless, campaigners felt motivated to bring these traumatic stories to light through the performance at Manchester Pride Festival, although it was not without a challenge. Teresa, a These Walls Must Fall campaigner who shared her story, said: “My experience, which I still have to live through, was read by someone else because I was not able to stand in front of people and talk about how I was humiliated, I was taken back to when and where it happened.”
After seeing the reaction from the crowd, Teresa was deeply moved: “The solidarity from the members of public in Manchester was amazing, we could see people wiping their tears and at the end, we heard everyone shouting ‘We are together’.”
I felt loved, I felt I had a family and I belonged somewhere where I am not judged, shamed and stigmatised.Teresa, These Walls Must Fall Campaigner
Alongside having their stories read out, campaigners quite literally stood in solidarity with each other on the stage, no matter their identity. Campaigner Akin said: “I felt lucky to be one of the people lighting the candle on stage, I was happy to meet and be in the midst of people who wouldn’t normally meet people like us.”
Other campaigners who shared the stage developed a new understanding of their fellow campaigners. Celine, one of These Walls Must Fall campaigners in Liverpool, says “It broke my heart listening to the stories of my LGBTQ+ siblings, after the horror they had gone through in their own countries they are facing more discrimination in this country, where they should actually be feeling safe.”
The impact of the vigil on our campaigners was significant, campaigners felt more confident and supported by not only those around them, but the general public too. As Prossy eloquently put it: “I made the impossible become possible through joining These Walls Must Fall. They gave me the courage to celebrate my life and develop the true meaning behind ‘No One Is Illegal’.”
We are incredibly proud of our Organisers for coordinating such a moving performance and our campaigners for being brave enough to share their stories. That the people of Manchester and Manchester Pride stood in solidarity with us gives us energy and hope for 2023 – thank you.