Last week, Migrants’ Rights Network held an event jointly with Migrant Voice, where the public were invited to discuss the immigration manifestos of the various political parties.
BY ALAN FRANCIS
It can often be a bit of a tall order asking people to spend two hours at an evening event, let alone one where we’re asking them to actively engage in the political process. But as streams of people began to arrive, it was clear that people were not only here to listen, but to take action.
With a diverse representation from within and outside the sector, including lawyers, academics, journalists, and student activists the feeling was that if we are going to make reform elements of our current immigration system – whether hostile environment or extortionate visa fees – we’ll need a ‘broad church’ approach which utilises each other’s strengths and knowledge. An approach that makes it harder for the government to ignore.
We wanted the format for the event to be relaxed and informal but engaging. Once people began settling around tables we briefly outlined key points from each parties’ immigration manifestos before we began a conversation that sought to:
- Build our understanding of the parties’ manifesto pledges on migration
- Develop clear asks to use when speaking with candidates and to influence friends and family
- Agree actions we want to take – individually and jointly.
- Equip ourselves to continue to hold politicians to account after the election
We kicked off by agreeing the need to better engage with those on the other side of the debate, something that regularly happens when discussing immigration. We moved on to talking about areas which we thought were priority issues within the wider debate, including d, amongst many others, reviewing the minimum threshold for spousal visas or ending indefinite detention. Many groups felt that migration could not be divorced from wider issues such as public resources, and labour issues likes exploitation and low wages.
Challenge wrongful perceptions
The next part of the discussion centred on our ‘asks’ of politicians. Amongst many others, people spoke of politicians more openly challenging wrongful perceptions of migrants in the media instead of using it for political gain, as well challenging hate speech.
Many wanted an end to the focus on reducing immigration numbers, being able to access more reliable/accurate data on immigration, whilst ensuring greater transparency within the immigration system around the issues of outsourcing to private contractors. Everyone also agreed that politicians should be doing more on welcoming refugees.
As people networked and built new alliances, it was rewarding to see how many people had, not only turned up, but engaged in the process. This was reflected by the issues raised and the thinking that had gone into them. It was clear that many weren’t going to stop there and were planning on taking their advocacy for a fairer and more progressive immigration further, as they committed to further long-term action.
It will be a challenging few months, as we fight for a fairer and more progressive immigration system. But I left feeling hopeful that, however difficult the challenge, we had a room of committed individuals that were going to rise to it, and those who would hold our politicians to account down the line.
Alan Francis is MRN’s Policy and Parliamentary Director