Open Letter: To His Excellency Mr Seth George Ramocan
We are individuals and families in the UK who have been suffering under this government’s racist hostile environment for years. Our fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, partners, grandparents and children have been subject to racist demonisation, torturous detention and unjust deportations.
We need you to stand up for your citizens facing racism & injustice in the UK. We need you to refuse to accept charter flight deportations and reinstate your agreement that no one who came to the UK as a child should face deportation. We are asking you to support our call for an immigration amnesty, so that we can live free and equally.
On 27th April 2022 at 4pm we will be coming to the High Commission with Movement for Justice, to speak out about these injustices, to make our voices heard. We invite you to come out and speak with us, to accept our letter in person, to listen and make a stand. (Facebook event)
There has been NO JUSTICE for our Windrush Generation, only pathetic apologies and promises that have led nowhere. People have died waiting for compensation. We are forced to jump through hoops like performing animals to prove our right to compensation, our right to be here.
The descendants of the Windrush Generation, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, brought here as children or born in the UK suffer racism at every stage of life. We face discrimination in schools, we are criminalised from childhood, we are stereotyped and degraded, we are treated as animals. The open, blatant racism and stereotypes of our community in the early 00’shave not gone away, they’ve just been absorbed into government policy.
Many of us and our children, were groomed into criminal activity in childhood, never treated as victims, only as criminals. Then we face deportation to a country that is no longer home, where we are demonised and stigmatised by hostile media coverage and where we face destitution and murder.
Our lives are here, our families are here, we are PROUD of our Jamaican heritage, we are PROUD of the role our communities have played rebuilding Britain, bringing hard work, music, culture, love and joy. We are Jamaican and we are British in all but the colour of our passport. But every day this government and the Home Office treat us as less than human.
The Jamaican people and government have taken a clear stand to further throw off the shackles of colonial rule, have demanded reparations for slavery; we praise all those who have fought for this moment for decades. This country enslaved us, stole our labour, they broke our backs then told us we were one with them that we were British. Our elders came to rescue the ‘mother country’ in its time of need, they worked hard, they faced down the racists and now this country throw their descendants out like rubbish. Enough.
The UK government keeps on with their unjust charter flights, spending tens of thousands of pounds to deport a handful of people. The charter flights are by their nature brutal and unjust. We are swept up in a racist dragnet of our communities, we are imprisoned and given just 5 days to find representation and build a case. The majority of us are not put on that plane because we have lawful grounds to remain, yet every year, twice or three times a year we are put through this torture. Immigration officers and police barging into our homes, terrorising our children who are left with nightmares and mental health difficulties.
Thousands of children across the UK go through this, the constant fear their father will be taken away from them, the despair of knowing this country does not want us, does not care for us. Then there’s those who have been deported, barely surviving in Jamaica, unable to work, at risk of exploitation and murder, living in fear. Desperately searching for working Wi-Fi so they can see their children over a shaky connection, trying to comfort their children and partner without being able to put their arms around them.
So many of us have to survive without the right to work, unable to care for our families, deepening our depression and despair. The Home Office want us to commit crime, they want us to give up hope, that’s what the racist hostile environment policies are designed to do – force people to leave. But in all this horror we have found hope and strength in each other, in organisation and community. Every time there is a charter flight we stand together; we organise with Movement for Justice and we have made the truth of this injustice known. We need our Jamaican government, our people back home, to stand with us in this struggle.
This government have shown they have no regard not only for decency and human rights but for the law. They routinely breach peoples Human Rights and when called out on that by the courts, their response is not to act more humanely, but to change the law. That is what they are doing with the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will deny us even the smallest legal protections such as trafficking/modern day slavery protections. A Bill which has been roundly condemned as breaching international law and treaties. Judicial Review is our only means of having our voices heard in the courts at these desperate moments yet this government is working on limiting those rights. They are criminalising asylum seekers and view us all as no more than “red meat’to throw to their racist voter base. Immigrants & asylum seekers are not human beings to this racist government, we are seen as scapegoats for a failing government.
We know you are aware of this injustice; we know you have stepped in to try and stand up for the people who came here as children. We know the UK government and Home Office has treated you appallingly by sending a flight even when you have explicitly called for it to be stopped because of COVID risk.
We also know that the Jamaican government CAN refuse to accept these flights, CAN make permanent the agreement that no one who came to the UK as a child should ever be deported. We know our closest neighbour; Ireland has introduced an immigration amnesty so we also know this is possible. It’s time for change.
We hope to see you on the 27th April.
All of the 51 signatories below either directly experienced detention and the risk of charter flight deportation to Jamaica or they are a family member of someone who has faced that trauma (for public release their names have been anonymised):
Quash ALL the convictions – Free the refugees from prison!
Crown Prosecution Service must drop all pending prosecutions of cross-Channel refugees and refuse any further prosecutions – SIGN & SHARE THE PETITION!
Refugees who have risked their lives crossing the Channel to seek asylum have been slandered, persecuted and politically exploited by Johnson’s racist government. Now they have won an important victory. Yesterday the Court of Appeal ruled that it is not a crime for refugees to steer small boats across the Channel, to do their best to keep themselves and fellow refugees safe so they can exercise their legal right to claim asylum in Britain.
The decision came following a special hearing last week, in which the Court of Appeal brought together four claims made separately by cross-Channel refugees. There were at least seven other refugees who were determined to fight for justice and waiting for the outcome of this hearing. They all have been or still are imprisoned for that supposed ‘crime.’ The quashed all four convictions, making it almost certain the other seven will be quashed in January.
Movement for Justice (MFJ) welcomes this decision. It is a defence of human rights and the UN Refugee Convention, made in defiance of a government that is tearing up asylum rights and human rights, and under the threat of a new Nationality & Borders Bill – the purpose of which is to change the law so that it will, automatically, be a crime for any refugee to cross the Channel or seek to enter the UK without a legal document.
Politically, yesterday’s decision is a challenge to the whole direction in which this Far Right, authoritarian government is moving – and not only on asylum and immigration policy.
Since 2019 the Home Office has used photographic evidence from drones to get the police to arrest refugees who steered boats across the Channel, and then treated them as ‘people traffickers.’ That accusation was obviously false and the Home Office knew it was false. Nevertheless, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) agreed to prosecute the refugees who the Home Office identified.
The legal principles of today’s decision were actually established by a Court of Appeal hearing in April this year – in the case of Fouad Kakaei, an Iranian asylum seeker. Over the next few months prosecutions were dropped in another eleven cases, and in July the CPS announced publicly that it would not be bringing any further prosecutions against cross-Channel refugees.
However, the Home Office has continued to target refugees who steered boats. The CPS soon fell into line and brought more prosecutions. There are still many hearings scheduled: the next one is on January 4th and the list includes the case of MFJ member Nabil Abdulmajid in May.
The plain truth is that the government and the Home Office have consciously ignored the legal decisions and acted as though the new Borders Bill was already on the statute books. The CPS has agreed to be their accomplice. Canterbury Crown Court, where every one of these cases has been heard, is a racist production line churning out guilty verdicts for the Home Office.
This is the state of affairs under a regime that despises democracy and humanity; it has no respect for us or even for the law. It sees all such concerns as obstacles to its political and economic objectives. In that context yesterday’s decision in the Court of Appeal can be described as a defence of democracy and human rights. It has fired a kind of warning shot at the development of dictatorship and fascism. It further undermines the tattered legitimacy of this government and its policies.
The full significance of this decision will become a reality if we understand the authority it will give a refugee, immigrant and youth led movement to resist the Home Office and make the Borders Bill unworkable.
We have the advantage that Britain’s ruling elite is increasingly divided – important sections of the judiciary against the Home Office, different sections of capitalist businesses against the government or against each other, and the government increasingly divided against itself. Our movement must learn how to build collective action to take advantage of these divisions in order to increase the power and unity of the poor, exploited and oppressed.
The Home Office, the Court of Appeal and the CPS are at loggerheads on many fronts. On the Borders Bill and the Home Office’s general anti-immigrant measures they are in conflict over the central public plank in the government’s political agenda. We must demand that the CPS grows a backbone and refuses to bow any longer to the government’s demands that it ignores the decisions of the courts. Specifically, we demand that the CPS immediately drops all prosecutions of refugees who have steered boats across the Channel and refuses to bring any new prosecutions.
The trade unions must be prepared to lead, organise and mobilise resistance to this bill, to support their members who will be asked to participate in facilitating concentration camps, mass deportations and racist discrimination. RESIST the Nationality & Borders Bill!
The following is an appeal drafted by MFJ chair Antonia Bright, in her capacity as UNISON Black Members Officer at SOAS. Appealing against a decision to rule out of order the SOAS motion to UNISON London Regional Council to organise resistance to the most draconian and racist immigration legislation in British history, the Nationality and Borders Bill. This appeal and the motion lays down a strategy that is essential to building the resistance to this racist legislation. The trade unions must be prepared to lead, organise and mobilise resistance to this bill, to support their members who will be asked to participate in facilitating concentration camps, mass deportations and racist discrimination. Please spread the motion, pass it in your branch, in your union. If you are a member of UNISON pass it in your branch.
Appeal for SOAS Unison’s motion Black Members Against racially divisive “Nationality and Borders Bill” to be heard at Regional Council.
To the Regional Secretary.
SOAS Branch object to the ruling to deny Regional Council the opportunity to discuss and vote on our motion ‘Black Members Against racially divisive “Nationality and Borders Bill”.’ The motion urgently tackles the dangerously racially divisive piece of proposed legislation while it is at committee stage, not yet law. We appeal the ruling. We were informed that the motion would not be included on the agenda on the grounds that:
“the union cannot support activity that is beyond the law, as referred to in the fourth action point”.
The fourth action point in question calls for London Region to
“Work with Labour Link to support those local authorities / councils that make public pledge that they will resist collaboration with the Home Office on its targeting of immigrants”.
We make the following three requests:
We request that the motion be accepted on to the agenda for the Regional Council meeting now timed for the 2nd November.
We request a copy of the legal advice on which this claim is asserted, and a list of which laws it is claimed would be breached by supporting locally elected councils that pledge to resist the targeting of our immigrant communities. What is the specific ‘activity that is beyond the law’, given that the immediate Bill referred to has not become law, and many local councils have made similar such pledges?
We request a meeting with whomever made the decision where we can make our challenge.
There is nothing in the motion to justify taking the extreme unilateral position of ruling it ‘out of order’.
Firstly, the assertion that support of local authority’s resistance to Home Office activity is equal to support of ‘activity beyond the law’ is a speculation that the decision-maker has chosen to imply – it is not what the motion actually states. Loose speculation of this kind is dangerous to our unions’ democracy; it could be applied to any motion that ever seeks to resist any of the abhorrent things the government of the day may try to impose despite there being many ways to resist and challenge such things.
In Higher Education we had resistance to “Prevent”, for example. The legally binding obligations placed on educational institutions by Prevent, did not stretch to forcing those institutions to force staff to carry out harassment of particularly Muslim students, though that was the implication. Unison HE Conference debated supporting members who refused to comply with the demands from state powers through Prevent legislation. There is always scope for resisting discriminatory practices and asserting protections, which we should be using when the objective of an activity pushed by the government is the blanket discrimination or harassment of particular oppressed groups.
But unlike with Prevent, this motion is talking about a Bill that has not even passed. It is NOT law – it can’t be ‘broken’ since it’s not even clear what it is capable of legally imposing. It can however be fought, withdrawn, amended, and delayed. The ruling against discussing this motion inherently presumes that councils will have no lawful means to resist the racist and sexist outcomes of what they might be asked to do in the furtherance of the hostile environment policies.
In fact, the Bill is already demonstrably likely to face legal challenges for years to come. That challenge could conceivably come from local authorities, or dare we say, trade unions. We are not discussing settled law, it is precarious unclear immigration law which is an area where Home Office activities have been found unlawful in lots of areas including the workplace.
Action point 4 anticipates that councils will be faced with choices and will be asked to do things that they have the power to refuse. It would mean Unison working through its Labour links to further the very resistance that is already underway against the anti-immigrant Hostile Environment policies. Councils including Hackney, Lewisham, and around 100 others have refused to assist the Home Office. That is a sign of the strength of the international, integrated communities they represent and serve.
While so many local council’s have already been resisting collaboration with the demands of the Home Office’s racist hostile policy, why are we now being told this is unsupportable? What a weak message to send a parliament as they weigh up this deplorable racist attack on refugees and Black communities, alongside major attacks on the right to protest, Judicial Review and legal aid. No wonder we have MP’s openly envisaging their path towards getting rid of the Human Right Act too.
This is the time we need to state where we stand – as the RNLI did by stating what should be obvious: that their obligation is to rescue without discrimination; and that is not compatible with any law that tries to order them to let human beings drown in the sea. The local authorities have public sector duties too and are accountable to communities; they are in a position to challenge and to resist demands on them to breach human rights.
If locally accountable councillors actually use what powers they have (the few powers central government have not yet destroyed), to resist measures that the Home Office may attempt to impose that would racially target and discriminate against immigrants, turn public services into a trap for the harassment of Black people and of non-citizens, lead to racial division and cause real damage to their community worse than what the hostile environment already has, clearly they should be supported and celebrated.
Regional Council is our voice. It is for us as members to raise debate, in this case to call for Unison to be clear where its support lies before our members, (which includes several serving as local councillors), are faced with the dilemma of how to uphold their obligations and ethics to help and serve our communities without discrimination, in the face of a political pressure to harass and stigmatise immigrants including refugees.
The meaning and necessity of ‘Resistance’.
Our motion express the strength we want to convey. Discriminatory laws get repealed or changed when oppressed communities build resistance, with no guarantee of achieving justice. Universally, resistance is a means of struggle essential to fighting oppression.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, if it passes, would not be the first time a British parliament has attempted to codify into law a set of deeply racist or bigoted ideas that opened a section of our society to legally sanctioned harassment and abuse. Look at the whole series of immigration and nationality laws that have systematically written the Black out of ‘Britishness’. Look at Section 28 that made an offence out of encouraging openness towards gay sexuality and empowered school leaders to drive out gay teachers. Had Unison been asked to declare “we support teachers and students who resist collaboration with the authorities implementing Section 28”, a motion to that effect would have shut down as ‘out of order’. What a way to prolong the misery suffered living under unjust laws.
Without resistance to unjust laws there would be no fighting racism, segregation or apartheid, there would be no defeating anti-gay laws, or the legalised oppression of women. We fight unjust and oppressive laws, or we give way to even greater oppression. Fighting unjust laws begins with resistance, the means of which is decided by the context and what power exists.
Our motion opens a legitimate debate that must be had, about the nature of the Nationality and Borders Bill, its relation to past experiences of resistance to racism and unjust legislation, and the actions of local councils and communities currently resisting the racist hostile environment for immigrants. This is a trade union issue, recognised by the TUC statement quoted in the motion.
To block this motion by claiming that a trade union should not support resistance to a proposed law which seeks to introduce concentration camps for asylum seekers among other reprehensible measures, is offensive to the very historic struggles that the organisations of the oppressed have led and which we ‘celebrate’ in words if not in deeds.
 Unison HE Conference 2012, Motion 16: “WE WON’T SPY ON OUR STUDENTS”
Defeat the Borders Bill – Don’t cooperate with racist laws – Build Action nowto make the Bill unworkable
Justice for cross-Channel refugees – Justice for Nabil Abdulmajid – Drop the charges now
• Stop criminalising refugees – Seeking Asylum is Not a Crime • Stop arresting & prosecuting refugees who steered cross-Channel boats – drop the charges, quash the convictions, free the prisoners – Seeking Asylum is Not a Crime • No “pushbacks” in the Channel – seeking asylum is not a crime • End the policy of deporting immigrants & refugees with criminal convictions • Shut down detention centres, detention hotels & detention camps • Build homes for all – refugees, citizens, immigrants – expand social housing • Papers for all! Amnesty now! Organise community defence against immigration raids – Home Office out of our communities, workplaces, schools, universities and NHS Open the borders of Britain and Europe
The battle for our future The Movement for Justice by any means necessary (MFJ) is fighting for a New Britain that will be a nation of equality, integration and progress. Britain is already an increasingly multiracial, multi-national society. It is part of a world whose different peoples are increasingly connected. It can only develop as a truly democratic country if all of us who live here now and who come here in the future have full and equal rights. We must have those rights without any discrimination, wherever we have come from or however long we have lived here. Britain must become a country with Open Borders. It must be a society where we have those rights as the people we are – whatever our culture or religion, whatever the colour of our skins or the colour of our passports, whatever our gender or sexuality. The British government is moving rapidly in the exact opposite direction. It is establishing authoritarian rule based on racism. Its new Nationality and Borders Bill is a major part of that plan. Its policies are one long attack on democracy, on justice, on human rights, civil rights, immigrant rights and workers’ rights. It is attacking the lives of the poor and oppressed. It is taking away our right to protest against those attacks. It is introducing measures that will prevent many poor people and black and Asian people from voting (just like Donald Trump’s Republican Party in the USA). It is using its majority in Parliament to tear up constraints on government power. This government’s policies are driven by privilege – and by desperation. It is defending the privileges of the richest and most powerful capitalists. It is desperate because the system that makes them rich and powerful is in a deep historic crisis. Over several decades the ruling class shut down a huge part of its industries, or moved them abroad. That was part of its attack on the working class in Britain. Now the declining economy is dominated by financial speculators and Brexit is making the decline worse.
Britain in crisis We are witnessing the dying pains of British imperialism. This so-called ‘great power’ can’t protect the health and safety of its people. Its response to the Covid-19 pandemic is to tell people to get used to ‘living with Covid,’ so that capitalist businesses can keep making a profit. This former ‘world power’ is increasingly isolated and scorned. This government and its Brexit policy have increased the likelihood that we will see the break-up of the ‘United Kingdom’ – destroying the state that the English ruling classes put together by centuries of conquest and bribery. This government is incompetent, corrupt and reckless; those failings reflect a political system in terminal decline. Racism and the rights of immigrants and refugees are the decisive issue in the battle between two alternative futures – the New Britain MFJ is fighting for, or the crushing, racist future that this government is taking us to. History has made racism the decisive issue because the peoples of the world are increasingly interconnected and increasingly unequal. The only hope for millions of people is to move. And the British government and its supporters make racism the central issue by blaming immigrants and refugees for the consequences of their own policies: the cuts and privatisation in the public services, low pay and insecure jobs, food poverty, housing shortages etc. They make racism the central issue when they promote the false idea that human rights for immigrants and refugees, and for black and Asian people, are taking something away from white people.
Cross-Channel refugees and the government’s Borders Bill Racism and hostility to immigrants were the driving force in the campaign that led to the UK leaving the European Union (Brexit). Those policies brought Boris Johnson’s government to power with a majority of MPs, but on the votes of a minority of the people. Its new anti-immigrant law (the Nationality and Borders Bill) is the most brutal, oppressive and unjust immigration law that any British government has ever produced. The aim of this law is to stir up racism and nationalism by treating asylum seekers as criminals. Its immediate target is the most recent generation of refugees – those who have risked everything in the bold attempt to cross the Channel in small boats, because they hoped to build a new life in Britain, in freedom and safety. The government is using attacks on those refugees to slash the rights of ALL immigrants and asylum seekers. Johnson’s main advantage is not the strength of racism in British society. That is often exaggerated by politicians and journalists. His main strength is the wretched weakness of the ‘opposition’ parties and the organisations that believe change can only come from the rich and powerful and their political system. Now more than ever, we must build independent ACTION by the oppressed and exploited in order to defeat the government’s racist policies and win progressive change in British society. That action has to be led and initiated by those who are under direct racist attack from the government. It must be principally led by refugees and immigrants.
Mass migration is a rebellion against global inequality The rich and powerful regard free movement as their exclusive privilege: free movement for themselves and their money & investments. They deny the right of free movement to the poor and oppressed – the people who they exploit, impoverish and dispossess. There is a global labour market for bosses looking for cheap labour, but not for people looking for work, safety and freedom. Mass migration is a rebellion against that injustice. In an increasingly unequal world the free movement of people is the most basic human right. It is fundamental to workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the right of asylum and the right to life itself. The ruling classes use their border controls, detention centres and anti-immigration laws to deny us the right of free movement. However, those same imperialist ruling classes are forcing millions of people to move: people are moving to escape the poverty caused by imperialist exploitation, the tyranny of dictators and elites who are backed by the imperialists, the endless wars caused by the imperialists and their rivalries, and the climate crisis (global heating) that imperialist corporations have created by their drive for profit. Refugees are opening borders by any means necessary because they need to solve crushing material problems in their lives. MFJ demands Open the Borders of Britain & Europe, because that is what hundreds of thousands of people are doing. The alternative to Open Borders is a world of barbarism and tyranny. The ruling classes condemn millions of people to death, drowning, torture and starvation, and they know what they are doing. That is barbarism. MFJ welcomes the refugees who risk everything when they cross the Channel. We welcome them as new members and allies in the fight for equality, justice & immigrant rights. Those who we welcome, Boris Johnson’s government fears, because their bold action is a direct challenge to its racist ideology of ‘taking back control of our borders’.
The Government’s racist build-up to the Borders Bill Since spring 2020, Home Secretary Priti Patel has used the arrival of cross-Channel refugees to build racist support for the policy of criminalising asylum seekers. The attack on people who have crossed the Channel shows clearly that anti-immigrant policies are not about numbers. The number of people immigrating to Britain or claiming asylum here is falling, despite the 26000+ who have (at the time of writing) crossed the Channel in the last two years. The Home Office has used dubious legal grounds to prosecute many cross-Channel refugees. The government’s UK Border Force arrested refugees who were steering the boats, sometimes using a photo from a drone as evidence. Then they were charged as though they were ‘people traffickers.’ In addition, the government ran an ugly racist campaign of mass deportations during summer this year. Charter flights were arranged to Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Nigeria & Ghana, and to Jamaica. These were ‘celebrated’ in articles by Patel in the Daily Mail and Daily Express – two papers with a shameful history of promoting racism. The Home Office is acting as though its new Borders Bill has already become the law, but this summer festival of racism has not been a success for the government. The number of people who were deported on those charter flights has been small. Only seven men were deported to Jamaica, out of a total list of 90. MFJ and Jamaican detainees organised inside Colnbrook detention centre and told the real stories of the men who Patel called dangerous criminals. The Home Office had to take many of them off the list; one group resisted successfully by blockading themselves in a room in the detention centre. There were only a few people deported on the flight to Nigeria & Ghana in July. It was the same on the flight to Zimbabwe. A later flight to Nigeria was cancelled. Everyone on the Home Office lists for the charter flights to Jamaica and Vietnam had the de-humanising label ‘Foreign National Offender’ (FNO). That means they have been convicted of a crime and they don’t have British citizenship. All those ‘FNOs’ had served their sentences, so deporting them was a double punishment. Most of the Jamaicans the Home Office tried to deport have families, partners or children in Britain. Many came to Britain as children and don’t know anyone in Jamaica. Most of them have suffered the racism of Britain’s police and ‘justice’ systems. Many of them experienced racism in education or from social services.Many of those on the charter flight to Vietnam were victims of trafficking. They are all likely to be in danger if they are deported. The Home Office was prepared to sacrifice them in order to reinforce white racist prejudices and racist stereotypes. The unjust and racist deportation of ‘FNOs’ must stop.
Stop the Channel “Pushbacks!” This summer’s charter flight plan was a failure, and the Home Office also suffered set-backs in its attempts to prosecute cross-Channel refugees. In March, the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of an Iranian refugee who had steered one of the small boats. After a few months the Home Office had to drop the charges of 11 ongoing cases, and a month later (in July) the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced publicly that it would not be prosecuting any more cross-Channel refugees. However, there are still people who steered boats serving prison sentences for their convictions, and the Border Force is still arresting refugees who have steered a boat; MFJ demands all convictions are quashed, the prisoners are released and the arrests are stopped. The setbacks for the Home Office, especially the failure of Patel’s charter flight plans, are victories for refugee and immigrant rights, so they have created a crisis for the government. The Home Secretary has been criticised by her own racist supporters. She has responded by increasing her racist attacks on refugees. She has announced that the UK Border Force will start to push refugee boats back into French waters, and Boris Johnson is supporting her. The Border Force has already started training exercises in the Channel. Patel is following the dangerous example of the Greek and Italian governments in the Mediterranean. The government is prepared to defy maritime law and the anger of the French government. Border Force officers have insisted that every single ‘pushback’ is personally authorised by Patel – they don’t want to take responsibility themselves. That is a clear sign of how dangerous and legally dubious this plan is. However, the government has decided to make a public show of being ‘tough’ on refugees, whatever damage it causes.
Justice for Nabil Abdulmajid! Seeking asylum is not a crime – drop the charges now The Home Office was determined to reverse the impact of the Court of Appeal decision and the CPS announcement. During the summer it started more prosecutions of cross-Channel refugees and the CPS had to fall into line. MFJ member Nabil Abdulmajid, a cross-Channel refugee from Sudan, is a victim of that policy. He was charged on 14th June, six months after his arrest and police interview. The attempt to criminalise Nabil is entirely political. All four people in the boat with Nabil were Sudanese refugees like him. Nabil was a victim of persecution in Sudan because of his ethnicity. Like many other refugees, he was enslaved and tortured in Libya. He travelled through Italy to France, but was deported back to Italy under the EU’s Dublin Agreement. He was destitute there and crossed more borders to reach Germany and claim asylum. His claim was refused, however, and the German authorities planned to send him back to persecution in Sudan. Faced with that threat Nabil made the choice to save his life and join the people crossing the Channel to Britain. He contributed to buying a boat and was doing his best to steer it and keep them all safe until they were rescued. They were crossing in the night in rough, dangerous waters. They battled for hours in the dark to keep the boat afloat while the waves crashed around them. By the time they were rescued they were soaking wet and traumatised. Months later Nabil was arrested and charged because he was steering the boat. The decision to prosecute Nabil is an attack on all cross-Channel refugees. It is part of the government’s propaganda for the Borders Bill, and so it is a threat to the right of all asylum seekers and to every immigrant without papers. That is why MFJ says We Are All Nabil. MFJ demands that the charges against Nabil are dropped and we have demonstrated at every stage in his case. If the charges are not dropped we will hold a mass demonstration at his trial before a jury in Canterbury Crown Court, currently scheduled for 30th May next year (2022).
“Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow” MFJ exists to build the independent leadership of and for the poor and oppressed. The method MFJ applies to this struggle was summed up a long while ago, in a speech by an escaped black slave, Frederick Douglass, who was the greatest leader of the struggle against slavery in the USA. Speaking clearly and forcibly he set out these principles for the struggle of the oppressed and exploited: “A man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others…. a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others.” “The poet was true… [who] said, Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions… have been born of earnest struggle…. If there is no struggle there is no progress.” “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will….” Douglass made that speech to a black audience in 1857. It was a tense and difficult time for the black anti-slavery struggle, just four years before the CivilWar that ended slavery in the US. In the speech he refers directly to white leaders who opposed slavery but looked down on black people: “We may fight, but we must fight… under white officers…. They don’t like any demonstrations whatever in which coloured men take a leading part.” This is a tense and difficult time for refugees and immigrants in Britain – and more generally for the black, Asian and Muslim communities. We have too many politicians, charities and ‘sympathisers’ who have the privilege of UK citizenship and who don’t want refugees to ‘take a leading part.’ They want to preserve their ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the established political system. They don’t want refugees taking action that might disrupt that relationship. Refugees and immigrants, especially cross-Channel refugees, are the front-line of the fight for human rights. They are in a fight against the most racist and dangerous government in the modern history of Britain. The front-line is an exposed position. We can’t afford the luxury of peaceful coexistence with those enemies.
Changing the balance of power The task facing our movement is to change the balance of power in society. We need to change the balance of power in favour of the poor, exploited and oppressed, and we need to weaken the power of the rich and powerful who control the machinery of the state (detention centres, border guards, police etc). In practice, that means we must change the balance of power in favour of those sections of the poor and oppressed who are most conscious of their oppression, who are most aware of their conflict with the state and who feel the urgent need for change. In today’s British society that means immigrants and asylum seekers, and black, Asian and Muslim communities – especially the youth of those communities. Action by those groups is the necessary force that will undermine the government’s efforts to crush them. This has been the consistent method of MFJ’s organising in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres and in our struggles for asylum rights. Similar action has also occurred ‘spontaneously’ (though resistance is never truly spontaneous). When a Kenyan detainee died as a result of neglect in the former Oakington detention centre, fellow detainees prevented a cover-up by stopping the removal of his body, taking control of the building and contacting the media. When the BBC arrived detainees broke down the doors and went outside to demonstrate. Oakington was shut down within months. Similar uprisings and exposures occurred after deaths in the former Morton Hall detention centre. In May/June 2014 hundreds of asylum seekers in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres took part in a series of mass protests to demand that they be taken off the notorious Detained Fast Track (DFT) asylum process and released. (DFT was a system that isolated asylum seekers and rushed them through interviews and appeals in a few days or weeks.) In the 12 months after the protests a series of court decisions said DFT was illegal and it was stopped. These actions and many others shifted the balance of power in the detention centres and between the detainees and the Home Office. Cumulatively, they led to the government’s decision to reduce the use of detention. Seven detention centres were shut down between 2015 and 2020. The number of people held in the detention system is now at the lowest level since it began.
The movement we need to build – the action we need to take The current stage of our struggle is marked by that shift away from using detention centres. The policy in those that remain is for a quick turn-over of detainees and rapid deportation. Since the arrival of cross-Channel refugees the Home Office has moved to using hotels and camps as places to hold asylum seekers – especially those who came in small boats. The Home Office says the refugees are free to come and go, but without money they are not really free. Some of the places are too isolated for them to go anywhere. Each hotel needs to become a centre of organisation and resistance. Cross-Channel refugees in MFJ have already organised successful collective struggles against restrictions and bullying by managers who are appointed by Home Office contractors. Some of these refugees have spoken to journalists and got media coverage for their action. There needs to be more action inside more detention hotels. That will undermine the authority of the management companies and the Home Office. The networks of contacts between refugees in different hotels should be expanded and used to co-ordinate action. Such action can take many forms: collective action to get attention and treatment for people who are ill and being neglected; calling an ambulance if management doesn’t respond; going as a group to reception or a manager’s office to protest over any injustice, abuse or complaint, and refusing to leave until you get a satisfactory answer. None of this should be left to the individual. Refugees in hotels need to build links and support in the communities where they are located. We need to take to the streets with marches and rallies in local communities, especially in integrated communities with large black, Asian and immigrant populations. There are many detention hotels in such neighbourhoods. We need more demonstrations and rallies like the one MFJ organised in Lewisham with refugees from a local hostel. We need to show the strength of our movement and involve local communities. We need to speak to students in schools, colleges and universities now the new term has started. If you are in an English class, speak to the other students about this struggle. If you are in a student society, (for example, an anti-racist or refugee support group, a black or Muslim students society, or a law society) invite speakers from MFJ. We will win their active support because the policies and actions of this government are a real threat to the future of all young people. The more we build these connections and unite Britain’s different refugee ‘generations’ in action, the more we will shift the balance of forces and be able to defend our communities from the Home Office. The most effective way to stop deportations is to stop immigration raids. We can build on what is happening already in many communities and establish community-based defence organisations everywhere, to watch out for raids, give warnings and take collective action to block raids and chase out Immigration Enforcement vans. The more we build these forms of action the easier it will be to get workers, students and teachers to enforce a policy of non-cooperation with the Home Office.We need people refusing to ask questions about immigration status or pass information to the Home Office. We need that happening in every school, college, hospital, doctors’ surgery, local council office, university and every workplace where immigrants, with or without papers, are employed. The more we shift the balance of power the more inspired and confident people will be to defy the government.
This is a struggle we can win Most white people in Britain are not as racist as the government needs them to be, and British society (especially in the major cities and among the younger generation) is too integrated for the racist plans of the Home Office to be fully effective. From the Home Office point of view, too many white people who know a refugee or an immigrant without papers personally are likely to recognise their humanity. They are likely to sympathise with them and support them against the Home Office. In the run-up to the Borders Bill we are seeing an example of this. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) has said publicly that it will continue to save the life of anyone who is in danger at sea. The RNLI is the charity that organises the lifeboat rescue service round the coasts of the UK. The rescue crews are all volunteers from the coastal communities, which are mainly white. They are rescuing desperate men, women and children who are in the cross-Channel boats; they see their humanity and they carry on, even in the face of abuse from anti-refugee racists. Under the Borders Bill those lifeboat crews will be liable for prosecution – but they have declared they will continue to save anyone who needs rescuing. That is part of a wider problem for the government. British society is now too integrated to make things easy for the Home Office, especially in the major cities where most people live, and among the younger generation. We recently saw that demonstrated in Glasgow, when an integrated working class community turned out, occupied the streets for eight hours, and successfully stopped the deportation of two Indian Sikh ‘over-stayers.’ If refugees and immigrants take the lead we can inspire a whole movement of such resistance. There are many people of all races who are angry, bitter about this government’s cynical approach to the Covid pandemic and alarmed by its racism. They are frustrated. They need to see an organised movement of the people who have been through the harshest struggles, who have the greatest need to fight and have the greatest need to win – they need to see a movement of refugee and immigrant leaders. This government is neither strong nor stable. It is makingup policies as it goes along. It does not have the undivided confidence of the ruling class. Many of the rich and powerful are alarmed by the chaos it is creating, or they are unhappy with the damage that Brexit has done to their trade with Europe. If our refugee and immigrant led movement continues to grow and wins more battles, we will inspire wider sections of the population to join their struggles with ours. That will change the balance of power and widen the divisions among the rich and powerful. It will create a situation of flux in which we can derail and defeat the racist agenda of Johnson and Patel. We can defeat the Borders Bill in action even if it is passed by Parliament. That will be a big step forward in the fight for a New Britain – equal, open and integrated.
This year’s Labour Party conference ended on a high note of political aspiration. On 25th September, delegate after delegate spoke in enthusiastic support of Composite 20: Free movement, equality and rights for migrants are socialist values and benefit us all. Those delegates spoke from their own experience and the experience of their black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the communities that are battling against racist Home Office policies and the increasing racism and anti-immigrant prejudice that has dominated the campaign for Brexit. They spoke as immigrants, as the children and partners of immigrants, and as Labour councillors and activists. Nobody spoke against the motion. At the end of the debate Composite 20 was passed unanimously, to loud acclaim. That vote sent out a message of struggle and hope against the threat of a government led by Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel.
With that vote, conference delegates presented you with a huge opportunity to change the dangerous direction in which this country and its political system are moving. If you put the inspiring programme of equality set out in Composite 20 at the heart of Labour’s election campaign, you will inspire millions. It will represent a decisive break with the disastrous racist policy that has been followed by politicians of ALL the main parties for decades – the policy of scapegoating immigrants for the social problems created by government policies and capitalist greed.
There are very good reasons why the great majority of black, Asian, Muslim and other minority ethnic voters, youth and students, and significantly more women than men are opposed to Brexit – because it is racist and reactionary and driven by anti-immigrant prejudice. We are experiencing its impact and we will not be silenced while our rights and futures are destroyed by the Brexiteers’ backward-looking, chauvinist project. You, the Labour Party and trade union leadership, cannot stay silent on this. You must listen to our voices.
On Saturday you will gather to finalise the Manifesto for the forthcoming election, in the ‘Clause 5 meeting.’ It is imperative that you include the policies in Composite 20. A clear commitment to fight for those policies can only benefit Labour in this election campaign and on 12th December.
Composite 20 called for Labour to include the following 10 points in the Manifesto:
Oppose the current Tory immigration legislation and any curbing of rights.
Campaign for free movement, equality and rights for migrants.
Reject any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps/targets.
Close all detention centres.
Ensure unconditional right to family reunion.
Maintain and extend free movement rights.
End “no recourse to public funds” policies.
Scrap all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access.
Actively challenge anti-immigrant narratives.
Extend equal rights to vote to all UK residents.
These are the policies of hope, and Labour is nothing if can’t inspire real hope. They are the policies for Britain to move forward as a progressive, democratic society that is integrated on the basis of equality for all. For nearly a decade, British governments have ratcheted up divide-and-rule, anti-immigrant policies, while imposing poverty and insecurity on working class and struggling middle class people of all races. The Tories and the Far Right are using Brexit to spread this racist poison. They must be stopped.
You can’t afford the illusion that Labour will unite ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ and win this election just by focussing on the NHS, public housing, Universal Credit, privatisation, the minimum wage etc, while saying as little as possible about Brexit or being neutral on it. Such a policy means being evasive, neutral and inactive on the continuing rise of racism and hostility to immigrants. It means ignoring the voices and the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, immigrants and youth
We are traditional Labour supporters if anyone is, and we will not be ignored, side-lined and taken for granted in order to appease the misplaced prejudices that Johnson and the Tories have spent their whole political careers encouraging. We will keep fighting for the progressive demands of Composite 20, and we will fight to win.
Moreover, Labour can’t win unless it challenges those divisive prejudices. The opinion polls make that clear. When asked what they regard as the most important issue in the election, most people put Brexit at the top of the list, especially among those who are not already planning to vote Labour. The NHS, the economy etc come much lower down the list of priorities. This is not surprising. At times of profound crisis – and Britain is going through its biggest peace-time crisis for a century – political direction and action become the decisive issue. It subsumes and determines the economic and social policies. It becomes a question, as many Labour supporters are saying, of what kind of country do we want this to be.
In reality, Labour will get more respect from the majority of Leave voters if you make it clear that you are taking action based on Composite 20, than you ever will by avoiding the very issues that are dividing the country. For decades, politicians of ALL the main parties have told voters that immigration is a threat. There are millions of people in impoverished, working class and struggling middle class (and predominantly white) communities that voted ‘Leave,’ who are not ideologically tied to the Far Right, and they deserve some political honesty and leadership from the Labour Party.
When you put the policies of Composite 20 at the heart of the election campaign you will send out a direct political challenge to everything the Tories and the Far Right stand for, you will inspire millions and multiply the numbers and commitment of Labour campaigners. You will encourage thousands of Labour Party members and voters to engage in a debate with their Leave voting friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers – tens of thousands of conversations that can change minds.
The stakes in this election are high. A victory for Johnson will not ‘get Brexit sorted,’ but it will establish the most reactionary British government since World War Two. It will mean an increase in racism, a deepening of the hostile environment for immigrants, greater repression, insecurity and inequality, and a bonfire of workers rights and human rights, along with tax cuts for the rich. The outcome of this election will shape the future direction of our society for years and decades to come. Labour must act boldly and without equivocation on the political issues of racism and immigration that have dominated discussion on Brexit, just as much as when you talk about the economy, public services or housing.
We urge you to seize the opportunity that the Labour conference provided you with when it unanimously backed Composite 20.