Manchester Refugee Support Network (MRSN) does exactly “what it says on the tin”.

Manchester Refugee Support Network (MRSN) does exactly “what it says on the tin”.

MRSN is a Manchester based organisation that connects and supports local refugee communities. They provide advice, support, and space for refugees and asylum seekers to discuss their challenges, share information and seek resolutions autonomously within UK law and governance.

They’ve been doing this since 1996 (on record at least!) and so this year we’re celebrating MRSN’s 20th anniversary. A grand moment to take pause and look back on the work that has been achieved. For me, a volunteer archivist, this means sharing one of MRSN’s biggest successes; The Refugee Charter for Manchester.

The Refugee Charter for Manchester, launched in 2006, was devised, created and fought for by Mancunian refugees and asylum seekers from across the world. An achievement that was brought together with the organisational support of MRSN and Salford based, Community Pride Initiative. On launch day of the Charter Manchester’s Town Hall filled with over 400 people, with origins across 22 cultures and countries. Together publicly setting out their fundamental rights, alongside their conducive message ‘Define us not by our differences but by the principals we share’.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful declaration made true to the style of MRSN by not only having a diverse range of speakers, but also individual and cultural creative performances. Heralding the Charter as a celebration of collective success, it was poignant moment for recognition of refugees and asylum seekers in Manchester as they occupied the Town Hall with both body and spirit.

The Charter itself was written with some know-how and a lot of debate. MRSN held forums in 2005, welcoming extensive discussions from local refugees and asylum seekers about the challenges they faced in Manchester. A diverse steering group was set up to transition the involved debates into the final drafted points, and lay out the terms of which the Charter should focus.

One of the biggest challenges became the overarching UK national immigration policy that was being frequently raised during the forums. The steering group had specifically chosen to target local policy and life as it was agreed this was where achievable and impactful changes could be made, and vitally, they could be made by the very communities who sought them. Quite understandably the Charter for Manchester was not seen as the right forum for tackling national issues, and therefore it is intentionally brief on the poorly received national immigration policy.

In fact, the authors went out of their way to make the final draft a constructive and positive message. Not only setting an engaging tone for future developments and partnerships, but diplomatically enabling power holders to officially endorse it. Based on the final report, it doesn’t look like this decision was taken lightly. Julia Savage a development worker for MRSN states these compromises were made ‘despite the fact that treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is often disgusting’.

Ultimately these efforts were rewarded, and stored in the MRSN archives are scores of letters, emails and signatures from individuals and organisations that endorsed the Refugee Charter for Manchester. Most of the endorsements from power holders were collected by the determined efforts of local refugees, who after attending leadership programs, had secured the Charter’s success. The creation, securing and launch of the Charter was a deeply significant and deserved success by all those involved, and quite frankly, I’m looking forward to learning what other things MRSN have up their sleeves!