Brutalising Black and Brown People: the UK’s hostile environment

calaismigrants

By @graciemaybe

Britain is under siege, the headlines tell us: foreigners are sneaking into Britain from “the Jungle” in Calais, taking British jobs; stretching Britain’s public services to breaking point; endangering Britain’s children with their excessive criminality. Time and again Parliament has tried its hand at placating the press and the public, and the policies of the last two governments have followed suit, explicitly designed as they are to “create a really hostile environment” for people “with no right to be here”.

The “hostile environment” is brought into being by the wider national conversation on immigration, and by the state’s machinery of immigration control. The possibilities of settling here as a skilled worker, to access healthcare, a bank account, a driver’s licence, safe housing, and even education; in the government’s own words, everything a person needs, have become contingent on whether or not a person can satisfy that they have a “right to be here”; that they are rich enough, employed enough, legitimately-married enough, law-abiding enough, of good enough character.

And of course, because the state is determined to reduce immigration, and yet has very limited powers to restrict European citizens’ access to the country, and because a migrant’s “right to be here” is determined – in true neoliberal style – primarily in terms of how much they earn, it is working class communities of colour that bear the brunt of heavy-handed immigration controls. It is their businesses that are disrupted; their local transport hubs that are targeted; their families that are torn apart.

My family heritage, as well as stretching back generations in Gambia and Antigua, also stretches back generations here in Britain and in America. With my Oxbridge education, British passport and young professional status, I am not immediately threatened by the government’s ‘tough’ stance on immigration. I have known it mainly through my work in solidarity with people who have fled gross human rights violations: skeletal men on hunger strike in immigration detention; LGBT refugees re-traumatised by asylum officials questioning their sexuality, making endless, inappropriate demands for evidence. But the government – my government – allowed Jimmy Mubenga to die in state custody while its racist contractors played ‘carpet karaoke’ during his forced deportation; his screams of “I can’t breathe” went unheeded. It runs detention centres in which people can be sexually assaulted by those supposedly there to keep watch over them; in which they can somehow, lawfully, be made to work for £1 per hour. The government fortifies borders and creates visa requirements that force people to arrive in refrigerated lorries, in shipping containers, or simply fall out of the sky because they can see no other way to get here, and those people are Black like me.

When it comes to immigration control, Black lives do not matter, and as the conditions for determining “the right to be here” become ever more restrictive, that is a threat not only to people without papers, and communities of colour, but to anyone who wants to live in a society in which a person’s ability to lead a flourishing life is not determined by something as arbitrary as where they were or were not born.

This criminalisation of migration is not unique to Britain. Border walls in Kenya, Hungary and Israel go up; xenophobic violence mushrooms in South Africa and the Dominican Republic; migrants’ bodies are found silently buried in deserts in Mexico and Egypt; and off the shores of Europe, Indonesia and Australia, thousands float adrift in international waters.

The problem may be global, but resistance starts at home. It starts with visiting people in immigration detention, amplifying their voices, protesting in solidarity at the Home Office and the detention centre gates. Resistance means making sure that you and others in your local community know your rights, calling the airlines that do the government’s dirty work, and as people in Peckham and Walworth most recently have reminded us is possible, making it as hard as you can for them to bring the borders to you. Contact the grassroots organisations that have been quietly doing this work for years: Anti-Raids, Movement for Justice, Unity Centre Glasgow, Corporate Watch, SOAS Detainee Support Group (of which I am a Board member), to name a handful.

Crucially, the suffering and loss of life that immigration controls create relies on a master stroke in anti-migrant propaganda: that the movement of peoples across borders must be restricted by governments. So the idea itself must be resisted. Ask whether it is only the female asylum seeker who has been subject to some kind of “exotic” harm; female genital mutilation or sexual assault in conflict, that deserves to be free from detention. Ask about the centuries of colonial migration and expropriation that created the Britain we live in today. Ask why it is Black or Brown and working class people that have to be prove their “right to be here”. Ask who profits from the business of immigration control. Dare to imagine what a world without borders would look like.


This is part of the new Black Friday series on ALL BLACK EVERYTHING section of Media Diversified. We are publishing articles from a range of activists, poets, artists and writers which will culminate in a real-life discussion and meet-up in London in August. If you want to get involved email mediadiversityuk@gmail.com with the subject: ALL BLACK EVERYTHING

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4 replies

  1. Oh yeah, you’re right, Britain, responsible for laying waste to ex colonies e.g. like Canada, New Zealand, America, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Bermuda, Bahamas, if these colonies became successful, how come the rest didn’t follow suit? no country was depleted of their natural resources.
    I suspect, it was everything to do with the people that lived and worked there. Strong people make for a strong Country, and as corruption is now rampant in many of the former colonies, not to mention Sharia law. Oh! and having the friendly Dictator or two, doesn’t exactly help!

    Non Western immigration didn’t really come to Britain, until the late 50’s about 65 years ago. Britain, needed people to work on the railways, hospitals, buses, as so many of the working class Brits had immigrated to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The immigrants back then, unlike the recent immigrants assimilated and accepted our values and way of life. That is no longer the case and England, is worse for it. I say England, as that is where the majority of immigrants settle.

    The door has to be closed and we need to re evaluate who gets in, and why they should be here. The days of “come to Auntie” are over and the sooner we exit from the EU. the better. Our borders have to be controlled without control we are not a Sovereign nation.

    If people pay to cross the Ocean, in boats that are unseaworthy and drown whilst doing so , that’s their choice, or chose to hide away in lorries and die, that’s a choice they make. They don’t have to cross the Ocean, or hide in lorries, they can go overland to Turkey, safe Country, they don’t want to, not genuine refugees, they are economic migrants.

    ……………..and as for the jungle in Calais, why the desperation to get to the UK? France, is a safe country and can offer them refugee status if they’re genuine refugees. They sure ain’t wanting to get to the UK, for our weather, that’s for sure!

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    • You’re either trolling, or your grasp of history is so ignorant that it’s… well, I was going to say “scary”, but tbh, it’s pretty standard.

      “no country was depleted of their natural resources.”

      “I suspect, it was everything to do with the people that lived and worked there.”

      “Non Western immigration didn’t really come to Britain, until the late 50’s about 65 years ago”

      “If people pay to cross the Ocean, in boats that are unseaworthy and drown whilst doing so , that’s their choice, or chose to hide away in lorries and die, that’s a choice they make.”

      These are all words that you not only typed for others to read, but I fear, also believe to be true. You really need to look at where you’re getting your information from, and also, if you do believe them to be true, why in heaven’s name are you reading pieces on this site? You’re probably not going to find much you agree with.

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  2. Britain, should have stopped open immigration years ago, tiny Island, half the size of France, and yet the irresponsible Government, just allows anyone that wants to move here, to do so.

    No Government ever asked the British people, if they wanted mass immigration, had they, the answer would have been a resounding NO! Immigration is supposed to benefit the people, that already live in the Country, this is not the case in the UK.

    The time to adopt the Australian, system is well overdue, only allow people that have the skills, education and the desire to work hard and adopt British values and customs into our Country.

    The English, culture is under threat with all the foreign immigrants acting like they are still in their homeland only with electricity and running water.

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