The Manchester Refugee Support Network provides advice and support on a range of issues as well community development programmes and interpretation services to Manchester's diverse and developing refugee communities. It is located at the St. James Centre, Princess Road, Moss Side.
It started as an idea in the early 1990s by eight of Manchester's refugee community groups, namely those of Bosnia, Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Brava, Sudan, Kurdistan and Chile, all of whom settled in Manchester due to various civil wars in the 1970s-1990s. Representatives from each group founded the MRSN and formed its Management Committee. They then worked with the local authority and the voluntary sector to help meet the needs of these diverse groups. Later on, the MRSN continued to develop its work programme with other communities to include people from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Congo, North Korea, Palestine, Kosovo/Albania, Eritrea, Nigeria, African Francophile nations and others. It was formalised in 1995 with its first Annual General Meeting in 1997. It was directed by Ali Rahman and in 1998, after a successful fundraising effort, two staff were hired: Liz Rutherford (Co-ordinator) and Ahmed Ballah (Advice Worker).
Its core aim is to "promote and support the successful integration of people from refugee communities in Manchester and celebrate their contributions to the city." This was achieved by providing training, facilitating events and campaigning for various issues. One of the earliest training workshops provided the MRSN was in 2000 and focussed on media skills. This was highlighted as refugee communities were worried about the negative narratives being delivered by the media about refugees in the UK. It was organised by the Greater Manchester Asylum Media Group, of which the MRSN is a member. Other training had primarily focussed on building leadership skills within the different refugee community groups. Its other operations fall broadly under the banners of culture, health and rights/campaigning.
Within culture, one of its most notable contributions is the facilitating of the Refugee Cultural Festival, the first of which was held in 1996 at Manchester Town Hall and featured eight participating communities – Bosnian, Chilean, Bravanese, Kurdish, Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese and Vietnamese. The event was supported by Manchester City Council, Refuge Action and Oxfam. The event was later named the Shine Festival. These were held bi-annually until 2004 when it was taken up by Community Arts North West (CAN) and branded the Exodus Festival. Information on the Manchester Refugee and Shine festivals can be found within the material on projects [GB3228.57/3/1/1] as well as within the photograph collection [GB3228.57/6/2/1].
Another notable contribution to culture was the support of the Refugee World Cup tournaments. Manchester's first tournament was held in 2000 and was organised by MRSN and Manchester Social Services taking place at Trinity Sports Centre in Hulme. Three competing teams, the Somalis (the winners), Sudanese and Kosovars were joined by a team from Manchester Social Services. It was held again in 2010 at Salford Sports Village with sixteen teams competing. Photographs of the tournaments can be found in the photograph collection [GB3228.57/6/2/2].
Under health, a prominent project was the 'SWITCH' Somali Women in the Community Health Project. This delivered women's health workshops with Haween Somali women's group in 1999. Papers about this project can be found in the projects material [GB3228.57/3/1/2].
Within the sphere of rights and campaigning, MRSN operates the Refugee and Migrant Forum which campaigns for refugee rights [GB3228.57/4]. It was launched in 2004 at Hulme Hall with 64 people from different communities and organisations attending. One of its most important campaigns was to create the Manchester Refugee Charter, a document which set out Manchester's commitment to refugee communities. This was launched in 2006, again at Manchester Town Hall, with wide-spread support [papers are contained within GB3228.57/4/5 and photographs within GB3228.57/6/5]. Similarly, within the Asylum Rights Campaign, an important function of the Forum was the monitoring of practices and procedures at Dallas Court House in Salford during 2010, the premises where ayslum seekers registered for the Greater Manchester Area. By working with the UK Border Agency, the campaign was able to change practices and procedures to make the experience less stressful for refugees and asylum seekers attending Dallas Court House [GB3228.57/4/4].
Everyday services include financial and legal advice as well as facilitating other religious and cultural celebrations within and for the different participating community network groups. These services have always depended on external funding and support. However, even with extensive cuts to funding for various services provided my MRSN over the years, many continued. The first fundraising event was held in March 2012 at Chorlton Irish Club. Details of the services can be found in the Governance papers [GB3228.57/3/2], in particular the Management Committee meeting papers and MRSN annual reports, as well as some working documents [GB3228.57/3/2]. . In 2015 they launched an anniversary heritage project celebrating 20 years of the MRSN. This included organising events, recording oral histories with key figures in the organisation and depositing its archive, both digital and physical, with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre.