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New event series spotlights the lived experiences of migrants

Talks for Change, co-ordinated by South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), aims to highlight the issues and experiences of migrants in South Yorkshire and beyond.

SYMAAG protest image

SYMAAG members at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre for a demonstration in 2017.

South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group.

Local migrant action group South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) have put together a new series of virtual events.

The Talks for Change series aims to highlight the issues facing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, hearing from people with lived experience and grassroots activists who are working to resist the 'hostile environment' policies of the UK government.

"We’ve always tried to create space for education, debate and discussion around issues facing asylum seekers, refugees and migrants," Otto Wolf, an organiser with SYMAAG, told Now Then.

“With the government’s relentless attacks on migrant rights alongside the Covid-19 pandemic - which has only exacerbated the conditions for migrants facing oppressive government policy - creating these spaces of discussion and education for change is as important as ever.”

Talks for Change comprises three monthly events that focus on a different area of migrant rights for each event. The first event, held on 25 February, focused on the issue of housing. Evictions, government housing and barracks were discussed, with a powerful speech from a migrant who successfully resisted eviction late last year.

Upcoming events will look at the right to work for asylum seekers and the issues surrounding healthcare.

When asked about the choice of the three topic areas, Wolf said, “SYMAAG is a majority migrant-led organisation, with those with either previous or current lived experience of the immigration system being essential in directing our energy to where it’s most useful.”

Amplifying the voices and experiences of migrants is at the core of SYMAAG’s work, especially when migrants are typically presented as a homogenous group, an amplification that has proven even more necessary during the pandemic.

Phillis, one of the organisation's co-chairs, said the pandemic has both exacerbated existing issues for migrants and created new ones.

“Migrants had to continue sharing rooms and houses with unrelated adults and children, in the absence of social distancing and personal protective equipment.

"And those without a roof over their heads were asked to stay at home or risk being detained for deportation. People even had their financial and social support cut off, and [were] left with little to no access to healthcare.”

Talks for Change aims to give people an awareness of the very real issues that migrants are faced with. Wolf says it’s hugely important that people “recognise the brutality of our current immigration system,” but also that this understanding is placed within the “history of colonialism, racism and anti-migrant politics.”

SYMAAG also create a space for genuine change. “It’s not enough to just understand the violence in our system - we must also work to transform it with action.”

The next event in the Talks for Change series is tomorrow, 25 March, at 7pm. You can register via this link.

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