Glasgow resists the Hostile Environment

Immigration Control & The Hostile Environment Policy as Colonial Legacies

Ubuntu Women Shelter is a charity set up to provide temporary and emergency accommodation for women with no recourse to public funds. By Law, Glasgow City Council does not owe these women a duty of care. This is an initiative conceived and developed by members of the Unity Centre.

As far as we are aware there exists no dedicated night shelter for this group in Scotland. Why? Yes it is well known that these women are destitute, yes we know they are housed somewhere in this city, secretly tucked away in private lets or hosted by families. Through the Unity Centre, some of us have housed women who would rather stay on the street than provide sex for a place to sleep, including a mother with three children under 5 years old, she was afraid the council will take them away on the ground that her destitution is not in their best interest.

Why are people with no recourse to public funds destitute in the first place? What has their destitution got to do with the hostile environment? Further, what has this got to do with colonisation? How many times have we heard, ‘that was centuries ago, we had nothing to do with that’. ‘Come on you people need to move on from the past and be grateful for what you have.’ ‘We are all civilised now.’

True that. The hostile environment is civilised. This is not slavery, no, no, no this here relies on consent each destitute woman is making a choice. They can always choose voluntary return. The state respects their choice in the same way that they respect our choice to buy a red car rather than a blue one. Their destitution becomes a concern if they can actually be seen sleeping rough: that is uncivilised. The states response has been more detention centres to keep them off the streets and more charter flights to take people back where they came from. Rather than using resources to ensure they live in dignity, the state increases the contractual fees of the companies that run the detention centres and operate the charter flights. Destitution is good for business.

In our eyes, this civilising imperative of the hostile environment has a direct unbroken link to colonisation. This is a template that has been perfected over many centuries.

In 1858, the British State colonised India with Queen Victoria’s proclamation. She said and I quote “We know and respect the feelings of attachment with which the Natives of India regard the lands inherited by them from their ancestors, and we desire to protect them in all rights connected therewith subject to the equitable demands of the State“. It was phrases like these that justified colonial extraction. 

It was with civilised words like consent, equity and fairness that the British state magicked away the violence of close to 300 years of colonisation in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the language of choice and consent continues to do the same job in the hostile environment. These grand sounding words are instrumental in the continuing amnesia about colonisation in the collective consciousness here and the normalisation of justified state violence on black and brown bodies.

By setting up a dedicated night shelter we are calling out the lie that it is civilised to choose destitution. These women have a right to a safe place to rest, they have a right to a safe place to recoup and engage with the brutal demands the asylum system makes on them. Our resistance is calling out the lie. The magic words do not fool us anymore.

As the colonised, we are constantly reminded that we should be grateful to colonisers: they gave us English, the railways and yes white culture. Yes, they did but at a cost. We were co-opted into a game fixed so that the mother country would always win. With the railways for instance, what we must pretend not to see is that they laid down the tracks to efficiently extract resources not to civilize coal, minerals, cotton and yes black and brown bodies. Colonisation hardwired globally extended production lines that exist today in the guise of the hostile environment. The hostile environment is a framework of laws geared to thrust black/brown or ‘other’ poor bodies onto these extended global production lines for extraction by large multinational companies like Serco, G4S, black and brown bodies still pay the salaries of the Home Office and the holiday bonuses of their case workers.

The hostile environment is not complicated just a few amendments to immigration law with one aim – the extraction of maximum economic value from the most vulnerable amongst us. This scheme was piloted under Labour and refined under the Conservatives. The extraction envisioned is simple but comprehensive starting from the pharmaceutical companies that profit from over medicating asylum seekers for depression for instance, to the Aspen Cards recently linked to Visa, the ATM machines where these cards can now be used and of course private detention centres and private charter flights. Each point an extraction point.</span>

To ensure that bodies are positioned to maximise extraction, the new bail conditions make detention a default. Out of detention, asylum seekers are not free they are on conditional release at the discretion of the Crown. This is the freedom this state offers people fleeing violence and persecution. This freedom is not the freedom white, rich people have. This freedom is the freedom that sheep and cows have in this ‘green and pleasant land’ before they are put on the global food production line that extracts their milk, meat and leather. Let us not forget, this is the freedom that civilised nations offer black, brown and poor people. This is compliance with their international obligations under the Geneva Convention and Human Rights law.

You don’t have to dig deep to see the continuities between colonisation and the hostile environment. British architecture is famous as things are built to last and the production lines set down over centuries continue to extract value and sustain this white economic and political structure.

In a typical Ubuntu meeting we have 11 nationalities each with lived experience of either, immigration, asylum or destitution. Most importantly all of us are marked by colonisation we carry the collective memory of its brutality and violence in our bodies and our minds. We are not fooled by the magic.

Ubuntu is us stepping off this production line. We can see the truth and the genie will not go back into the bottle.

Article by Dania Thomas co-founder of Ubuntu Women Shelter and Racial Justice Network family member.

Ubuntu Women Shelter (

A GUIDE TO THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT The border controls dividing our communities – and how we can bring them down (pdf).

ASAP Report on Women with no recourse to public funds (pdf)

UK compliance with the Geneva Convention

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