Q&A | Cathy Wilcock on tackling inequality with Manchester Migration Lab

Manchester Migration Lab brings together 70+ migration researchers, alongside non-academic and civil society partners, policymakers and politicians to inform debates on international inequalities and migration issues. Run jointly by the University of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Unit and Global Development Institute, the multidisciplinary hub prioritises sharing its work with the public in creative, accessible ways, and is currently collaborating with Take Back Theatre on a performance piece titled ‘Be // Longing’.

Sarah interviewed the Lab’s Coordinator, Dr Cathy Wilcock to find out more.

What sorts of projects and research are you running through Manchester Migration Lab?
We’re working on some exciting research bids which straddle different disciplines. We are also holding some academic workshops with leading migration researchers from all over Europe and the UK, and hosting some policy and advocacy events.

One event involves applying our research within discussions on mitigating fire risk in refugee camps, and another is on refugees and self-reliance in urban spaces. In addition, we’re holding some really exciting events with non-academic collaborators, and then there’s our international conference – World on the Move – at the end of October 2017 with a debate on Brexit.

What are some of the non-academic events?
We are developing a piece of theatre around the theme of ‘borders’ with Take Back Theatre that will show at Hope Mill Theatre October 31-November 4. The performance sessions to date have shown us just how much impact theatre can have and how it can convey so much depth in a matter of minutes. There’s been a real sense of excitement because we all realise the huge potential this work has to cut through the noise and tell the kind of stories about belonging that need to be heard.

Workshopping ‘Be // Longing’ with Take Back

We are also running a newspaper writing project with some refugee journalists where we will challenge problematic and manipulative media representations of refugees and offer our own account of ‘not the fake news’. Also, I‘ve been working on some commissions for the Manchester International Festival’s Creative50 programme based on the themes of home and belonging.

Why do you think a network like Manchester Migration Lab is needed right now?
Public opinion on migration has been irresponsibly manipulated for political and ideological reasons by the right-wing press. A lot of popular discourse is very far removed from actual facts.

Why do we need a hub in Manchester?
It’s actually quite a big achievement to get some think tanks and policymakers up to Manchester from London. Because of this, it is much easier for migration researchers based in London or the south to build relationships and to make connections. Manchester has so much to offer and I think our Migration Lab can demonstrate that.

Do you personally believe in freedom of movement? Why?
For me, it depends why, where and who we are talking about. I believe in freedom of movement within the EU and my reasoning is rooted in a rights-based approach. I reject the argument for freedom of movement which is grounded in a neo-liberal market-led approach.

Read David Hall on Fair Borders, & migration policy

I’m not in favour of 100% global open borders, because I feel that would be one way to exacerbate all kinds of inequalities between the global north and global south, as well as between the educated and non-educated, the land-owning and working classes, the young and the old. Let’s face it, only the privileged few would be able to exercise their right to move around the globe in a completely open border scenario.

How do you see the connection between global inequalities and migration?
Global inequalities cause both mobility and immobility. Poor living conditions, conflict and economic hardship are some of the main reasons that people cross international borders. However, inequality can be so debilitating that people cannot move.

Read Evelyn Marsters on migration & the storming of Melilla

Likewise, migration both causes and alleviates global inequalities. When skilled or young people leave their homeland, they take away some opportunities for its growth. However, their remittances – which in many cases exceed international aid – can contribute to reducing inequalities. Alternatively, they can create inequalities between those households that have a remitter and those who do not.

There is also, of course, the changing pattern of inequality experienced by those migrating and settling in new contexts. They are dealing with potentially discriminatory or plainly incompetent state apparatus in the asylum processes, as well as dealing with both institutional and everyday inequalities between migrants and citizens.


Be // Longing will be performed at Hope Mill Theatre from Tuesday October 31–Saturday November 4, 2017. Purchase tickets via www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk.

This interview was originally conducted by Sarah for publication in this brochure promoting the University of Manchester’s Global Inequalities research beacon.


Dr Cathy Wilcock is Coordinator at Manchester Migration Lab. Her PhD focussed on diaspora activism and peace-building, specific to Sudanese communities in the UK and the roles they play in peace-building processes in Sudan.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.