Celebrating the hypocritical city?

Article published: Monday, June 14th 2010

Sunday 20 June is Manchester Day – the city’s first ever. Dozens of colourful floats and thousands of people will take part in a parade to celebrate Manchester’s cultural diversity and creativity. That same day is also World Refugee Day – a fact conveniently forgotten. There are more than 20,000 refugees living in Manchester. Most of them have little to celebrate.

In past years, World Refugee Day has been used by City Council bosses to declare Manchester an open and tolerant city that has benefited enormously from successive waves of immigrants, many of whom were refugees. This year again, the Council has organised Refugee Month, which includes football tournament and a number of smaller social events in local libraries.

In truth, refugees coming to the UK have never had it easy. In the 17th century, the French Huguenots escaping from the persecution of Louis XIV were subject to tax discrimination. Russian and East European Jews arriving at the end of the 19th century were often met with hostile reception, leading to the 1905 Aliens Act which for the first time limited immigration to Britain. While thousands of Belgians successfully sought sanctuary in Britain from the fighting of the First World War, other nationalities were classified as ‘enemy aliens’. Even Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany faced strict immigration restrictions, though eventually children and some other categories were exempt from the visa regulations.

After the Second World War, the 1951 Geneva Convention finally enshrined the protection of refugees in international law. However, newly-arriving asylum seekers are still met with discrimination and hostility.

Manchester provides a prime example of the two-sided and contradictory attitude to refugees and immigrants in the UK. On the one hand multicultural life is celebrated at Chinese New Year and along the iconic Curry Mile. In July Exodus Festival, a public celebration of refugee art and culture, returns to Manchester once again. One the other hand, modern-day refugees face systematic attempts to bar them from taking part in the city’s life.

Dallas Court, near Salford’s quickly growing MediaCityUK, is home to staff from the UK Border Agency and to their infamous ‘snatch squads’. Often operating in the early morning, these snatch squads head out in blacked-out vans to raid the houses of asylum-seeking families whose cases have been turned down, and are known for kicking in doors before children have gone to school in an attempt to catch the whole family at once.

There is also Pennine House, on the other side of town at Manchester Airport. It is a sterile-looking grey building without windows and a small courtyard surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. Most would see this as a prison, but in official language it is a ‘short-term holding facility’. Failed asylum seekers are first locked up before being transferred to one of the bigger immigration detention centres elsewhere in the country. Men, women and children can be held here for indefinite periods, despite having committed no crime, having had no trial and having received no sentence.

In the city centre, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Piccadilly completes the carrot and stick approach to asylum by offering financial incentives to migrants to ‘voluntarily’ return to the countries from which they fled. Here economic logic prevails: it might be cheaper to offer a small amount of cash to refugees who have found the asylum process insurmountable than to begin the costly process of deportation. So-called ‘illegal’ migrants face a choice between destitution and severe exploitation, often in the very culture industries officials are so keen to exalt, under the permanent threat of detention and deportation, and returning with a bit of start-up money to the places they felt compelled to risk their lives leaving.

These little-known examples offer a different view of Manchester Day: as a city of shame with a cynical attitude to World Refugee Day and a place of persistent and systematic hostility and inequality for migrants. Manchester Day should be a celebration, but also a remembrance of those living in fear of detention and deportation.

Rob Ryman

More: Manchester, Opinion


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Graby, MULE. MULE said: Manchester Day and World Refugee Day – Celebrating the hypocritical city? – MULE http://shar.es/my1IY […]

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  2. I think you’ve got this all wrong. Manchester City Council doesn’t make the laws on asylum and immigration. If the Government wants to site a holding facility for refugees near Manchester Airport then what is the city council supposed to do? Say no? Say that Manchester doesn’t agree with the govts laws on asylum? Is it supposed to make some special stand against govt policy? And in any case, if they are genuine refugees where else are they to go on first landing? A hotel perhaps or a nice little B&B in Sale maybe. They are effectively homeless and until their case is investigated they don’t have status to be roaming free here, surely this is sensible or are we supposed to have any Tom Dick or Harry arrive, claim asylum and be told ‘Enjoy your stay Sir’.

    Honestly, what is your point? Manchester IS one of the most welcoming and tolerant cities and to try and smear that reputation is disgraceful in my opinion.

    Comment by K A Dippnall on June 17, 2010 at 8:53 am
  3. This author of this article seems as dim witted as many of the other lefties that have been running our country. Failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants should be deported immediately.
    The author needs to wake up to what many of these third world scroungers and fraudsters are really up to. Check out these examples:

    These are just the people that have been caught, there are many ,many more!

    Comment by Realist on June 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm
  4. @ rRealist- I would suggest you start to retrain your thinking and attitude towards PEOPLE. Nationalism is a disease that causes division. The authors of all these ‘newspapers’ have their political agenda-one tied in with keeping the Ruling Class controlling resources. The real FRAUD in this World is that Capitalism is enslaving the vast majority and those who control this are depriving people of true Equality.
    I would suggest watching the serious of Zeitgeist documentaries on Youtube. Also watch The Invisible Empire. You are a victim of conditioning by the Mainstream Media and like us all deserve better things in life than being sold lies and deceptions.

    Comment by ldev on April 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm

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