MRN’s celebration of the tenth anniversary of its work took place last Thursday at the Richmix Centre in Bethnal Green – the heart of one of the oldest immigrant neighbourhoods in Britain.
Bringing together friends and colleagues, the event marked what had been achieved through a decade of activity that has aimed to strengthen and improve the networks of support and solidarity with all migrants across the UK.
The evening was compered by Colin Prescod, chair of the Institute of Race Relations and a leading writer, film producer and commentator on the politics of race and migration over many years.
Colin set the tone with a powerful reading of ‘Home’. by British-Somali poet Warsan Shire.
No one leaves home unless
Home is the mouth of a shark
You only run for the border
When you see the whole city running as well.
As MRN’s Founding Director, I then spent a few minutes explaining the vision that had brought together the people who made up the project’s first steering committee back in 2006-7.
A migrants’ rights network was needed, he argued, to overcome the fragmentation of support and solidarity groups into the separate silos of refugees, economic migrants in their low/high-skill varieties, EU nationals exercising free movement rights, or the hundreds of thousands of others moving as international students and family dependents.
MRN had set itself the task of gathering the evidence at the level of grassroots communities which showed that migration had now become a fundamental part of modern society, and in order to live and prosper in the communities it was creating we had to commit ourselves to a rights-based approach to the inclusion of everyone.
The Network hoped to provide the means by which all the organisations and groups working for the different groups of migrants in their local areas or policy interests could talk and share with one another their experiences on how progress could be achieved.
It had also worked to provide a bridge to those politicians and policy-makers who really did want an open-minded and honest conversation about migration and what was needed to challenge the myths of its negative effects. Over the past ten years MRN had worked to become a repository of all that had been learnt and experienced in activities to support the rights of migrants and share these with all.
The evening developed as a further demonstration of one of the other tenets of MRN’s vision. Making the case for a progressive politics of migration in today’s conditions also has to draw in creative aspects of imagination and experience, which is often most effective when it is found in stories, music, movement and even laughter.
A reading from Sam Selvon’s classic novel of Caribbean immigrants in 1950’s London, ‘The Lonely Londoners’, gave an insight into the early intimation of the role that race would play in determining attitudes in future years. This was followed by a testimony by Jade from Ice and Fire Theatre, who spoke of her personal experience as an asylum seeker in London.
A performance of classical dance by the Sri Lankan artiste Thiru gave a powerful sense of the breadth and depth of the ways in which we experience the culture of human society, with movement and music shaping emotional as well as intellectual responses to ‘the other’.
The comedian Grainne Maguire took the stage with a comic’s take on what the business of migration is all about. With the multiple ironies of life that will always arise whenever people move beyond the borders of their homes there will always be many incidents that give rise to humour – most definitely a source of pleasure and a cause for celebration. The MRN staff team then provided their stab at comic satire with a short film lampooning the famous ‘Choose Life’ rant from the film ‘Trainspotting’.
Benefit from migration
To conclude the evening MRN Director Fizza Qureshi took the stage to describe how she believed each act in its own way showed how we in the UK benefit so greatly from migration. With migration allowing us to confront our own stereotypes, learn new cultures and ways of thinking or being, and allows us to make new friends.
She thanked all the supporters of migrant rights present who helped make the evening a success, and, also reminded us why MRN still exists after her visit to the Refugee and Migrant Centre in the Midlands. A centre seeing over 100 people each day because the UK’s immigration policies in some way affected them. It is a stark reminder, and a humbling one, of the human cost of the policies we fight against.
While the hope is that MRN won’t be necessary in 10 years time, until then we urge everyone to “….. carry on the fight for the rights of all migrants!”