Yesterday (14 June), was the 5th anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which saw 72 people burnt alive as a result of the rampant racism and classism that pervades British society. It should come as no surprise that the Home Office chose that same day to forcefully attempt to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Stop Deportations was left with no choice but to take direct action against Priti Patel’s fascist policy by ‘locking on’ outside Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. The alternative would have been to stand by and watch the state brutalise asylum seekers for seeking safety in the UK and deport them to their deaths.
The Home Office originally intended for up to 130 people to be on the flight to Rwanda yesterday. A combination of direct action, mass protests around the country, sustained campaigning and legal action meant this number was brought down to zero by the end of the day. Much of this was done in collaboration with those most affected by these draconian policies. Many people in immigration detention with removal notices to Rwanda had been on hunger strike, despite being threatened with faster deportations if they refused to eat. At a protest outside Brook House on the weekend, one person detained inside spoke to the crowd saying “[The] Home Office are evil. They don’t care about us… Please can you do something about it.” Yesterday, whilst our activists were locked on outside, people detained inside Colnbrook were chanting “No more Rwanda!”, and asylum seekers resisted from inside to help delay the flight.
On Monday 13 June, the High Court and the Court of Appeal dismissed a number of attempts to get people off the flight. Yesterday’s action bought the people in Colnbrook more time to bring further legal challenges, including through the European Court of Human Rights. As a result, every person who was due to be on the flight successfully secured injunctions against deportation just before the plane was due to take off. This proves that while we can use the law to challenge racist policies, we cannot rely on it to protect our communities by itself. It is only by organising on a mass scale and continuously disrupting the implementation of these policies that we will break this government and make all of its racist policies unworkable.
In Parliament, I just told Priti Patel that if she had an ounce of compassion, she would abandon her disgraceful plan to deport refugees to Rwanda.
She asked me to withdraw this "slur" against her.
Let me say again @PritiPatel: This policy again shows you lack basic compassion.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) June 15, 2022
These acts of resistance, by the people most sharply impacted by the UK’s border regime, and by those organising in solidarity with them, are key to us defeating this fascist government and this country’s long history of oppressing Black, brown and racialised people. The Rwanda scheme is not unique. Instead, it highlights a disturbing intensification of the British state’s determination to make the lives of those who cross borders unbearable. Immigration laws in this country were created as a means of controlling and exploiting predominantly Black and brown communities, who were violently subjected to the rule of the British Empire.
In the early 2000s, Tony Blair’s New Labour government introduced many of the policies that became the official Conservative policy of the Hostile Environment in 2014, stoked by the rise of far-right groups who intensified calls for and the implementation of harsher laws over the past ten years. The result has been the current government’s horrific Nationality and Borders Act 2022. The Labour opposition continues to pander to anti-migrant rhetoric, weakly condemning some of the most brutal aspects of the Tory regime, while vowing to enforce further border controls, increase police on our streets, and generally reassuming a position as the party of “law and order”. Every law and policy that reinforces border controls is a continuation of Empire, and is why we see racialised people relentlessly targeted by successive governments.
This is why Stop Deportations looks to the power of community organising and direct resistance to dismantle a system that is built on and sustained by racism. We recognise that Black and brown people are held for substantially longer in immigration detention than white people. We know that people from Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, Albania, and Vietnam are most targeted for deportations. We saw that asylum seekers from Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Albania were among the first due to be on yesterday’s flight to Rwanda. We understand the inherent links between the policing of migrant communities, their criminalisation and incarceration by the so-called ‘justice’ system, and the way in which these systems of racial oppression work hand-in-hand with immigration enforcement.
The barbarism of this blatant racism is compounded by the fact that so many people targeted by border controls are survivors of state, gendered and other forms of violence. Care4Calais estimated that 70 per cent of the people the UK tried to deport to Rwanda yesterday were potential survivors of torture or trafficking. The UK also itself traps people in cycles of destitution, through the No Recourse to Public Funds policy and denying asylum seekers the right to work, in order to render people vulnerable to further exploitation and criminalisation.
It is no surprise that this state-sanctioned racism operates to benefit big businesses and puts profit over people. Airlines which operate charter flights, private contractors like G4S and Serco tasked with maintaining detention sites and enforcing deportations, and bosses who subject migrant workers to inferior pay and conditions, use border controls to line their pockets. Capitalism relies on borders, prisons and police to survive and to exploit working-class people across the UK. To properly realise our collective struggle, we must build a movement towards the abolition of all institutionally racist and violent forms of state control, including the entire border regime and the prison industrial complex.
That is also why groups like Stop Deportations exist, and why we stand with others in the anti-raids movement, with those working to end immigration detention, and why together instead of only countering the worst of this government, we can instead challenge the entire system and create a world beyond borders. We have seen in the past few months the immense power of collective action, with hundreds resisting immigration raids in our communities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Peckham and Dalston, taking to the streets in mass protest, and dozens putting their bodies on the line to stop coaches, taking people to be deported to Jamaica or Rwanda, in their tracks.
We are calling on everyone to do whatever they can to join this fight, whether by joining your local anti-raids or CopWatch group, supporting the battle against prison expansion led by groups such as CAPE and SWAP, supporting people in detention with SOAS Detainee Support, working to liberate LGBTQIA+ migrants with Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, organising migrant workers with IWGB, contributing to our collective political education through groups like Abolitionist Futures and Books Against Borders, or stopping deportations with us.
This is only the beginning. We will continue to build power and solidarity with all migrant communities. We will not allow the state to divide or intimidate us. We will organise to defeat this fascism with love, care and community. In the words of bell hooks: “true resistance begins with people confronting pain… and wanting to do something to change it”.