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 (info@ubuntu-glasgow.org.uk)

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

Botswana on the horizon, Jackie’s story

Racial Justice Network and anti-racist movements will lose a local activist on the 31st of August as she sets off to live in Botswana. But before she does, we decided to hear her story again and also hear about what lies ahead.

Jackie came to the UK 11 years ago to complete her Masters degree. She goes back with 11 years experience of the UK’s harsh migration policies. She was a teacher and head of department, a mother and well accomplished. She sold everything to sustain her children but also to pay her international students fees and accommodation. There were no anomalies raised by immigration officers as she went through passport control at the airport.

Jackie got alarmed when she tried to contact the college she was meant to be studying and accommodation she was meant to stay because with phone numbers changed and switched off, she could not get hold of anyone. On further investigation, she and others found out the college had been bogus and shut down by the home office but that information had not been passed on to new-coming students. Unaware of best action, Jackie then moved place to place and worked for low wages until she contacted the home-office.

What was tried; Jackie entered the process of seeking asylum and was represented by irresponsible lawyers and paid money for that. Jackie feels this greatly impacted on the situation today because she had to start appealing and case eventually went to tribunal.

I like many other asylum seekers was at everyone’s mercy; my solicitor, judges, migration officers, charity workers. I became a moving corpse, not doing much just existing. Did lots of voluntary work to keep busy. It felt like a different form of slavery because I did not have the option/choice to work for payment; Maslow’s hierarchy of life stood up and out very clearly. Theory talks about basic needs being met followed by psychological and self-fulfillment. Most marginalised groups and in this case destitute asylum seekers do not get food, shelter or safety so they fall below.

Jackie strongly believes that most people who migrate to this country to be a burden and do not come for handouts especially when they have skills and ability. Most want to contribute to the society they live in. They want to have a sense of worth and reason to get up in the morning. She initially worked as a carer and cleaner and for very little but the poverty, struggle got worse. The environment is so hostile it makes one hostile, it becomes difficult to see good when you have been through hell, sometimes turning on your own, turning on good people trying to help because everything becomes one huge struggle.

Migration affects everyone and more people should participate in this conversation. The lack of conversation about reasons why people migrate and role that the western society has played in it needs to be had for the treatment and reception of migrants to change; whether its climate change, colonialism, foreign policy including arms trade and many more. It will change the narrative of us and them but the fear and hatred around difference. Those who care should do more and be active in joining and supporting anti-racist organisations like Racial Justice Network and Migrants Organise. I was a lot more quiet when I arrived but frustration and racism got me to speak up and I encourage others to speak up too because silence does not help.

As I leave UK, I leave with an anger about experiences that I have had and injustice I have faced over the years. Even though I am returning to the country of birth with no money (I have not been allowed to work for 9 years and voluntary return declined to offer me integration money to resettle), I leave with a desire to turn my experience for the education of others here and in my home country and a yearning to see my family that I have not seen for over a decade.

I will be implementing skills and knowledge acquired as well as experiences for the betterment of others but i have some anxieties about how or where to start laying my foundations as I have no funds. Any support to do this is welcome.

Resisting Racial Injustice with Kathleen Cleaver

Based on the event on 20th of June 2018 and in partnership with Northern Police Monitoring Project.

The underlying reason for our resistance lies in our vision; Holistic, Economic, Cultural and Spiritual repairs to end Racial Injustice and address legacies of colonialism.

We acknowledge there is no biological or anthropological basis for race, and claim we are but one race. However, the socio-political reality dictates that opportunities for participation are organised on the basis of the myth of race. Centuries of colonisation and enslavement have created psyches that believe in white supremacy, therefore mean black and brown bodies all over the world continue to be allocated inferior status.

Racial Justice Network engages with marginalised communities because racially minoritised communities in the UK have endured decades of being invisible, silenced, marginalised. In some cases, this has resulted in the accepting of suffering as part of existence, picking up adaptive as well as maladaptive practices, internalising powerless, becoming self destructive and expecting immediacy in changes to overcome apathy. So, we aim to reach and organise with people who acknowledge the continuing injustice and inequity and hold a desire to act and disrupt the status quo.

Our members and partnerships include people who have recently migrated, those who were born and raised in the UK, those from former British colonies and many more.

We hold Race at the core of our work and build on race analysis as it intersects with other injustices or oppressions like (but not limited to) gender, disability, migration, mental health, religion and sexuality. and by doing this we centre those most on the margin.

The US Civil rights Act was struck down in 1883 with Jim Crow Legislation that pushed for the separate and subordinate status of African Americans. The legislation ensured all social institutions organised themselves according to tenets of white superiority. All people who did not learn or abide by prevailing rules of white superiority were subject to severe consequences.

In the United Kingdom, Theresa May and her (dwindling) team have come up with a similar set of laws targeting people who have migrated into the UK (the majority from ex-colonies) with consequences of fines, prison sentences and the possible loss of business and income for those who do not comply with discriminative laws. With reasons of migration deeply connected to empire, foreign policy, ethnic conflicts instigated and rooted to European colonial divide and rule, foreign debt that cripples economies so inequality, poverty and lack of opportunities becoming a real driver. The Hostile Environment policy targets health, housing, driving, banking, education, employment and many other areas leading to a sharp increase in racial profiling, targeting and turning everyone to border control officers.

Migration policies are racist and we encourage others to over-stand racism as they tackle and challenge these policies: by so doing they will over-stand why people are fleeing their homes, why shutting down normal channels of seeking refuge have led to thousands dying in the Mediterranean and why having bodies floating on the sea, in villages, in camps is not as shocking as it would be if they were of European decent. They will understand the connections between the, Windrush scandal, racist over-policing, Grenfell, the thousands who are locked up in detention centres, and the toxic narrative behind Brexit.

Western society spent decades institutionalising racism and comes up every so often to condemn, blame or offer tokenistic gestures to silence and distract: complete eradication will take time. Dominant societal understandings see racism as individual rather that state led and structural. The state assisted by the media and other neoliberal sectors poison and misinform the public, then act surprised or punish the few individuals who act out or verbalise what the state is doing under the guise of policies and laws.

Connecting the dots of colonialism, Imperialism, Capitalism, neo-liberalism, migration, climate change destruction of cultures and peoples way of life, foreign policies, arms trade, medical experiments, debt, greed, greed, greed explains why we are where we are and offers a useful point to think about what next and what is just.

Racial Justice sees hope in; genuine and un-exploitative solidarity with humans and nature, remembering and reclaiming our awesomeness, growing our connections locally, regionally, nationally and internationally with other groups, individuals, struggles that intersect with ours, inspiring and getting inspired, creating platforms to share and raise our voices, supporting and getting support, remaining present and resisting unapologetically as we tackle the source of the problem not just the symptoms.

Use this link to view some of the images from the event.