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Image: Shirlaine Forrest

Refugee children and friends explore what it means to be a citizen of Manchester

  • Wonderwall by Oasis among Mancunian influences
  • Orginal song inspired by Black Lives Matter closed the performance
  • Afrocats say 92% of families they support threatened by deportation or destitution

An arts project supporting refugees and families seeking asylum culminated in a performance exploring what it means to be a citizen of Manchester. 

The play was written and performed by foreign born and second generation migrant children aged between seven and 16.

A project by charity Afrocats, the performance was inspired by both British and overseas cultures including those of Nigeria, Ghana and Syria. 

Afrocats is a female-led charity that supports people in Manchester who face exclusion because of their immigration status, class, age, cultural inexperience and education. The charity empowers 43 young people, 80 adults and is supported by 27 volunteers. 

Titled Umbrellas in the Sun, the performance began with the sound of rain and splashing in puddles recorded by the participants in Piccadilly Gardens weeks before.  

Manchester anthem Wonderwall by Oasis featured in the performance alongside originally choreographed TikTok dances and discussions about an array of cultural cuisines such as yam, shitoo and jollof rice. 

Image: Shirlaine Forrest

The closing section of the performance was an original song inspired by Black Lives Matter which repeated the refrain “We are a family fighting for equality”. 

Assistant director Jemima Sofini said: “They’ve been seeing racism and experiencing it too, so through the song they’ve created they have been able to express their feelings in their own words.” 

Reported hate crimes have doubled over the last five years and more than 70% of hate crimes reported in 2020 were motivated by race. 

When the performance ended, Afrocats founder Magdalene Bartlett praised the performers as the “future leaders” of our community. 

After the performance the children played together in the dining room where one of the parents cooked a meal for everyone.

Magdalene said: “It makes it all worth it to give them that temporary relief that all children need.”  

During the pandemic, Afrocats extended their impact beyond the arts and responded to the needs of the people they support.

Magdalene said: “We provided culturally appropriate food parcels and laptops, things parents can’t afford because they’re living on the breadline, sometimes below the breadline.” 

Afrocats provided 30 families with culturally appropriate food parcels for three months
Afrocats provided 30 families with culturally appropriate food parcels for three months Image: Afrocats

Afrocats say one in 10 families they support are living in abject poverty and 92% are threatened with deportation or destitution. 

One participant of Umbrellas in the Sun and her mother are being threatened with deportation. Afrocats are raising funds for a lawyer for the family. 

“It’s hard being a child in modern day Britain” Magdalene said.

“But added on to that they’ve got those other layers to worry about. A lot of them are young carers because their parents speak English as a second language.” 

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, a not for profit legal aid service for asylum seekers in UK, released a report earlier this year which said they received more than 3,000 calls during the pandemic between March and December 2020. 

Magdalene remains optimistic, saying: “In my experience Manchester is very welcoming.” She added: “If we keep doing things like this and keep the conversation going, I believe we can create a much better world.” 

Afrocats delivered 16 online zoom sessions for children during the pandemic and will be continuing with an arts and crafts zoom session in November. 

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