A week of resistance against the hostile environment policy
A coalition of campaigning groups has carried out a series of direct actions last week, aimed at the Home Office’s inhumane immigration policies. Beginning on Monday, the Home Office itself was put on trial, as its policies were held to question by a people’s tribunal at their Marsham Street office. On Wednesday morning, campaigners dyed the fountain outside the Home Office red to symbolise the blood on their hands. The entrances were blockaded for three hours. Two people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. There was a further anti-raids workshop in front of the immigration reporting centre at Becket House on Friday.
The actions had been planned to take place in the wake of last week’s sentencing of the Stansted 15, activists who had prevented a deportation charter flight headed to West Africa from taking off at Stansted Airport in March 2017, who faced a guilty verdict on terrorism charges in December last year.
On the very same morning the Stansted 15 were sentenced, narrowly avoiding prison, yet another deportation charter flight took off carrying 40 people, the first one to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke headlines less than a year ago. This highlights the absolute necessity to call on the Home Office to answer for the damage it continues to cause, as this week’s actions have been aimed at bringing to light. The fight is far from over.
The “hostile environment policy” first implemented officially through the 2014 Immigration Act, during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary, is only the latest in the continued tightening of immigration regulations since the first Blair government. Since the late 90s, the Home Office has been operating under a policy of both making life harder for current migrants as well as detaining and deporting people, with the express intent of reducing net migration. Not only has it been repeatedly proven that such deterrents simply do not work, but the resulting human tragedy has been unfathomable. Families have been torn apart, women raped in custody, people have been detained, denied legal representation, even driven to suicide. People have been sent to countries where they have not lived since childhood, where they have no family and know no one, and are faced with mortal danger upon arrival.
And for what? Sajid Javid’s Home Office maintains its stance that those being deported are “dangerous criminals”, not that that would make this practice any less barbaric, regardless of the definition. Chevon Brown, one of the men on the flight to Jamaica last week was guilty of a driving offence in 2016 for which he had already served time in prison. One young man tried to kill himself on the night before the flight, choosing that rather than face the prospect of being deported. Javid was even forced to admit that at least 11 members of the Windrush generation had died as a result of being “wrongfully deported”. Considering the sheer number of people who have fallen victim to this policy (over 25,000 were detained and over 10,000 “forcibly removed” in the year ending September 2018 alone), the list of stories of its devastating human impact goes on.
All that this immigration policy has successfully achieved in the long run is both waging a campaign of psychological terrorism on migrants, as well as pandering to and further instigating an increasingly xenophobic and racist sentiment in the public. It is the same sentiment, born out of the complete lack of national reconciliation with the loss of empire, which among other things led to the Brexit vote, and is now behind the almost daily clashes between fascists and anti-fascists on the streets as the Brexit countdown ticks closer to midnight. Given this context, the Home Office does indeed have an awful lot to answer for.
I was lucky enough to move around a lot from a young age. I moved to London from Kolkata when at age 7, moved back at 13, went to university in the Netherlands at 18, and have been back in London now for the past five years. Every time I took one of those long-haul flights and saw the earth disappear beneath me, catching glimpses of the changing geographies whenever the clouds parted, the idea of borders would seem meaningless somehow. My views on the idea of borders throughout my life have thus always been informed by the freedom of movement I was privileged to experience.
In the acceptable window of political discourse today, the idea of open borders is considered one of the most radical and idealistic positions, which is especially hypocritical given that all intents and purposes, borders only really exist for the global poor. For example one of the implications of the “hostile environment policy” has been an exorbitant hike in application fees for citizenship. We are made to believe deterministically that restricting immigration is the only possibility. Even Labour under Corbyn’s leadership feels the need to make concessions when it comes to immigration, for instance backing a 28-day detention policy. But why is that?
The roots of modern British immigration policies only date back to no more than a little over a century ago at the earliest, mostly in response to the influx of Jewish people fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. When Britain was ravaged after the Second World War and lost control over its empire, it welcomed its former colonial subjects to rebuild the nation, and it was only with the introduction of the 1971 Immigration Act that commonwealth citizens were no longer automatically granted the right of abode. These definitions are arbitrary and always changing and in truth the history of humankind has always been a history of migration. As we move further into the 21st century, and the effects of imminent climate catastrophe become ever more apparent, as the sea levels rise, the crops fail year after year, the wildfires rage, it is clear that climate migration is going to be the inevitable reality of our lifetimes. The question we are faced with is thus how we choose to rise to this challenge.
Around the world we are seeing government after government fall to fascism, pledging to build higher walls and expel undesirables, a type of politics which can only ever lead to more people drowning in the sea or dying crossing the desert, if not ultimately to genocide. Or we could also imagine a world without borders, built on compassion for our fellow human beings, where we meet the global threats of climate change and capitalism we are faced with in a truly global way.
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