To say 2023 has been “challenging” doesn’t really cover it. When we’ve got a government that sacrifices people to distract from its own incompetence, the impact on us as individuals, our families and our communities is disastrous. That’s the truth of it – and we’ve spent the year standing alongside lived experience campaigners to call out the government’s hysterical politicking, as well as doing our “day job” advising and representing thousands of our neighbours in the North West with their immigration situations.

So how do we feel at GMIAU as we face 2024?

Perhaps surprisingly, we’re hopeful.

And here is why:

We are our greatest reason to be hopeful

Our biggest reason to be hopeful for the New Year is us – collectively, people fighting for positive change in our region. It’s often overlooked, especially in the midst of feeling overwhelmed and burnt-out which, let’s be honest, many of us have over the last few years.

But we’re still going, and if you’re reading this – so are you. And sometimes, the best form of resistance is to do just that, to keep going.

We saw that in November, when over 100 people gathered for a day in Methodist Central Hall in Manchester to plan, to plot and to imagine a better future in our city-region for people affected by immigration control. People turned out, despite knowing their to-do list would be longer for the rest of the week; despite having to take annual leave from their paid work or having to take time off college; despite feeling such oppression that they are banned from working –still coming with dignity, energy and hope.

In 2024, how do we support each other to keep going? To think about what we need, from each other and from our allies? So that whatever 2024 throws at us, we are still fighting for change as we reach 2025.

Change is coming

It might be coming more slowly than we would like, but 2024 will be a year of change. It has to be:

  • National politics is out of step with what the public thinks about immigration, and that is an unsustainable dynamic. By the end of 2023, the European Social Survey found most British people think immigration is a positive force for the country and that over the last two decades, British views on migration have had a complete turn-around, becoming significantly more favourable.
  • This government’s incompetent mismanagement of the Home Office means it has become so clearly unworkable that there is a growing consensus things cannot continue as they are. A broad range of people now believe this – and even if their views stem from different political positions – there is momentum for change.
  • Despite the failures of national politics to hold this government to account, some checks and balances are working. The Rwanda judgment is one example. The evisceration of Home Office ministers by parliamentary committees is another.

And of course there are the elections. This parliament has to dissolve by December 2024. And in the North West there will be mayoral and local elections in May 2024. While a change of government will not be a panacea, elections are an opportunity for us to reinforce the accountability of our elected leaders to their communities, and to actively think about who we need to build relationships with over the next couple of years to create the kinds of change we want to see.

Our people, our place, our story

When things have felt so bleak with our national politics, at GMIAU we have been thankful for the opportunity to do things differently here, in our region.

Despite a national immigration policy framework, there are real differences that we can make in our communities, either because our local leaders use the tangible powers they have to soften the harsh reality of national policies, or because they use their voices to speak out against national politics and push for change. We can use the tension of local/national politics for the benefit of our communities.

So, to continue to do this well in 2024 at GMIAU we’re committed to focusing on

  • Who we work with

Working collaboratively has been baked in to who we are as an organisation since we formed in 1989. In 2024 we know we need to redouble our efforts to build alliances and stand in solidarity with each other – like our work with the Housing Justice Network, connecting the dots between all those facing housing injustice in Greater Manchester including people warehoused in asylum hotels.

Central to these connections has to be lifting up the amazing wealth of lived experience campaigners in our region, like the young leaders at our All4One youth group and the Action Group campaigning on the ten year route to settlement.

As a movement, we must keep being prepared to listen, to recognise the expertise in the room, to act as allies, and to innovate. 2024 needs to be the year we make strides towards our region being able to say that on immigration, there are no conversations about us, without us.

  • How we tell our story

We know we can all spend too much time caught in the detail, reacting to the crisis in front of us, struggling to look beyond the latest government headline – there’s been plenty of them to get furious about in the last year. So we’ve been reflecting how this is an entirely intentional part of the system that we need to fight against. And we can, because between us we have the power to reclaim the narrative over what immigration means in our communities – lifting up people-centred, values-based, hope-filled stories.

Who we walk alongside in 2024 and how we tell our story will really matter; “turning” people from labels and acronyms, into residents, neighbours, parents or co-workers and inclusively re-imagining the ambitions of local politicians in a year of significant elections. We’ve already seen this work with some of the mayoral and council leader statements rejecting the Hostile Environment, No Recourse to Public Funds and the ban preventing people seeking asylum from working, all because these national politics run counter to local ambitions on homelessness and rough sleeping.

We need more of this joining the dots in 2024. And to do this, at GMIAU we’re committed to being led by the reality of lived experience and the hope that people in our communities have for a future of connection and compassion. We’ll be working with our Action Group on their #BrokeButNotBroken campaign against the visa fee hikes, supporting local authorities to stand up for residents against the evils of the Illegal Migration Act, and brokering opportunities for our young leaders to bring their experiences and ideas to local leaders.

2024 will be tough – the inheritance from 2023 is not kind. But we are hopeful it can also be a year of change.