On a cold day in late January, Together With Refugees drove its message directly to Westminster on an open-top bus – that the government’s plan to send refugees to Rwanda is cruel and must be scrapped. After protesting on the bus, activists with lived experience went inside Parliament to meet MPs and share their experiences and views of the asylum system in the UK.
One of those campaigners was Ali Ghaderi, a refugee actor, activist and performer who arrived in the UK as a refugee from Iran about four years ago. We asked him for his thoughts on the government’s Rwanda plan and why he was protesting against it.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be involved with Together With Refugees
I have been working in the refugee sector for a number of years now – in Iran, in Greece and now in the UK, where I work closely with a range of organisations that are all members of the Together With Refugees coalition, such as IMIX and Fences and Frontiers. As part of Safe Passage’s Young Leaders Group, I have been campaigning for safe and legal routes to sanctuary and fighting for the rights of young refugees around the world.
I am the Founder and Director of Babylon Project, which provides a safe and welcoming environment in which young asylum seekers, refugees and migrants can take part in creative activities such as drama, storytelling, film-making and dance. The overall aim of the project is to enable integration into life in the UK, by boosting young people’s confidence and providing them with the necessary tools to express themselves. I’m proud that we have run forty workshops since the end of August 2022. My hope is to get enough funding to run weekly sessions – and to establish Babylon Theatre and a Babylon Band.
Why did you join the bus protest on 25th January?
Since the Rwanda plan came out, many asylum seekers – even those with settled status – began to panic. Friends of mine who came to the UK for safety now worry they will be sent to Rwanda and be in danger again. It’s important to me to support my friends – and to say to the world, not just the UK, why this Rwanda plan is so wrong. Being on the open-top bus going round Westminster was freezing! But we kept warm with the strength of feeling and solidarity against the Rwanda scheme. I did interviews with IMIX and the BBC, and met people from other organisations such as Care4Calais and Freedom From Torture, and I was really pleased to meet Patrick Monahan (a comedian and former child refugee from Iran).
What did you say to the MPs?
After touring Westminster on the protest bus, we went into Parliament where I spoke with fifteen MPs. I went there because I wanted to tell them why people are coming to the UK and why they are coming by dinghy – and why the Rwanda plan shouldn’t go through. It was good to hear that the MPs, who represented different political parties, agreed that the Rwanda plan was cruel and unworkable.
The MPs really wanted to listen, and to share a photo on social media as an act of solidarity – which can have a big impact on public opinion. One of them didn’t seem to know much about the issues – but they took some notes and said they would look into it.
I feel it’s so important to hear from decision makers that they are listening and support you – especially in the context of others who want people like me to leave the country. The solidarity from politicians felt really important.
Why are you opposed to the government’s Rwanda plan?
This plan from the government is cruel. I know how hard it was to flee my home and my country to find safety. The thought of being faced with banishment to Rwanda where I knew nobody and faced total uncertainty is terrifying. It must be stopped.
The Rwanda plan won’t stop people coming to the UK by dinghies. So instead of spending lots of money for nothing, we should spend it for good and save peoples’ lives. Nobody can expect a war or crisis in their country. It can happen anytime to anyone in any country. Not so long ago, Europe wasn’t a safe place to be, and indeed many Europeans moved to the Middle East during and after WW2. It would be good to show some love and respect – we should welcome each other.