One Day Without Us 2018

It’s just under a year since I was part of  a Facebook discussion about the alarmingly xenophobic drift of post-referendum UK society.  We were people from many different nationalities, backgrounds and political persuasions.  Some of us were migrants, others the descendants of migrants or British nationals who know migrants as our friends, colleagues, partners, carers, workmates and classmates.

All of us were appalled by the dangerous convergence of  street-level violence towards migrants with the anti-immigrant rhetoric used by too many politicians.  We were disgusted with the cynical references to  3 million EU citizens as bargaining chips, and the persistent denigration and stigmatisation of migrants in sections of the British press.  We did not see migrants as intruders, outsiders or interlopers, but as valuable and valued members of British society and our local communities.

So on 20th February we invited migrants and their supporters to take part in a national day of action celebrating the presence of migrants and the contributions they have made to British society.  For 24 hours, we asked the British public to imagine what a ‘day without immigrants’ might be like.

We were bowled over by the response. Tens of thousands of people held protests, rallies and other events up and down the country.  There were One Day Without Us events in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; fetes in tiny villages, rallies in city centres, stalls in town markets. Members of the public, businesses, trade unions, NGOs, charities, and universities all supported what was in effect the first-ever national day of solidarity with migrants in British history.

It was a fantastic experience for everyone involved.  In providing a platform for migrants and their supporters to make their voices heard,  One Day Without Us presented the UK with a very different vision of migrants and migration to the one that has been presented to the public for too long by politicians and the media alike.   Eleven months later the need for this vision remains as urgent as it was then.  And so next year, on 17th February, we’re planning another national day of action.   For twenty-four hours we’re inviting migrants and their supporters to take part, and organise events in their local communities, under the slogan ‘Proud to be a migrant/Proud to stand with migrants.’  We’ve chosen that date to coincide with the week of UN World Day of Social Justice, but this time we’ve chosen to stage it on a weekend, so that everyone can get involved.

Our message is simple: we refuse to accept the divisive ‘us versus them’ political rhetoric that presents migrants as interlopers and outsiders and immigration as a burden.  We believe that migration had been broadly positive both for migrants and for UK society, and we want to celebrate that.   We think it is shameful and disturbing that the word migrant has become a dirty word in British politics; that EU citizens living in Britain are still living in limbo or leaving the country because of the hostility directed towards them; that families with non-EU migrant spouses remain permanently separated because they can’t meet arbitrary income thresholds; that migrant workers are described as if they were nothing but economic commodities.

We want to change that.    We do not believe that migrants are intrinsically better or worse than anyone else, but no one should ever have to feel ashamed, vulnerable or under threat because of who they are or where they came from.   It should not even need saying that migrants have the same hopes, dreams, aspirations as  British citizens, but the debased debate about migration too easily ignores this simple truth and prefers to scapegoat migrants and blame them for problems that they did not cause.  Too often migrants are described as if they were nothing but takers and migration is depicted as something unnatural and even sordid.

We want to restore the courage, heroism and dignity, the adventure and discovery that is part of the experience of migration.  As migrants and non-migrants, we want to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions that migrants have made to our country in the past and continue to make today.

We are proud that the UK is a country that people want to come to in order to live, work, study, or seek safety and protection.  We do not want a ‘hostile environment’ that turns doctors and nurses into immigration police and presents deportations of tens of thousands of foreign students on the basis of flawed or inadequate evidence as a badge of honour.  We want a UK that is welcoming, open, and inclusive in its attitude towards migration.

In celebrating migrants and migration we do not only refer to EU nationals.   Though we recognize that migrants who have come to the UK fall under many different legal categories, we do not recognize hierarchical distinctions between worthy and unworthy migrants, between EU citizens and non-EU nationals, between refugees and asylum seekers, between migrants past and presents.

The hostility directed towards migrants in post-referendum UK does not confine itself to any single target. It  can equally be directed against Polish schoolgirls, Muslims of Pakistani heritage, Bulgarians, Romanians, refugees or ‘failed asylum seekers’ .  It might be aimed at EU citizens or it might be directed against people who were born here who simply look or sound like foreigners.

Once confined to the extremist fringe, such hostility has begun to permeate the mainstream to the point when it threatens the very foundations and the character of our society, and drives government policy in ways that are harmful to migrants and to our common future.  One of the reasons why this has happened is because millions of people with a very different view of what UK society could be like have not made their voices heard.

On 17th February this is your opportunity.  We invite migrants and their supporters to join us in a positive affirmation of migrants and migration.  We invite you, whoever you are and whatever your race, religion or nationality, to take part in a day of unity, celebration and protest.  We invite you to join with us and say it loudly ‘ Proud to be a migrant.  Proud to stand with migrants’.

For further information about events and volunteering possibilities, see our website at: http://1daywithoutus.org/

And @1daywithoutus

Imagine a Country Without Migrants

It’s nearly three months since the idea of a national protest by and in support of migrants in the UK on Feb 20 next year went viral on social media. In that time what began as a Facebook discussion has morphed into the national campaign One Day Without Us. We now have more than two dozen groups across the country. We have received support from various organisations, including Hope Not Hate, War on Want, and the Migrants Rights Network.

When I first suggested this possibility back in early October, I asked what people would think of a national migrant strike/boycott on the lines of two similar protests in the US in 2006 and in Italy in 2010. In the course of the many discussions that have taken place since then, this concept has evolved into a National Day of Action to highlight the contribution that migrants make to British society, in which taking time off work is one of a wide spectrum of actions that people can take to highlight the contribution that migrants make to British society and show solidarity with them.

Launching an organic grassroots campaign without any financial support or the backing of any political party has not been easy. Throughout this process I have been inspired by the many people who have rallied to this idea, and by the courage and commitment shown by migrants and British citizens across the country who have given their time entirely voluntarily to help organise what is an unprecedented protest in the history of the UK.

Along the way I have constantly been reminded of why an event like this necessary: the Belgian told to ‘go home’ when walking his dogs on the beach; a Greek who has had his windows broken; a Portuguese woman chased down a London street by a racist gang; a British Asian woman racially abused with her mum and two cousins on a bus; the desperation and insecurity of men and women who have lived in this country for decades and are told that their right to remain is in jeopardy.

This has been a year in which the national ‘debate’ about immigration has more than ever been saturated with hatred, fear and anti-migrant hostility; when migrants are blamed for problems they didn’t cause; when politicians too often lack the courage to speak out against these tendencies and prefer to pander to them instead.

In this climate it has been heartening and deeply moving to be reminded of the many people in this country – both migrants and British citizens – who do not accept the alarming victimisation and scapegoating of migrants, and are determined to try and counter it with a more positive and inclusive vision of what British society could be.

Many people have given not just their time, but their creativity to our campaign. This week we have launched a remarkable campaign video, that was shot and produced by Emigrant Beard productions, a Bristol-based company of mostly Spanish nationals which specialises in internet documentaries on ’emigration in the UK from the emigrant perspective.’

Emigrant Beard approached us at a very early stage in the campaign and offered to make the video for free. We asked the company to come up with a concept based on the idea of disappearing people – and particularly disappearing workers – that would invite people to imagine what the UK would be like if there were no migrants in the country for one day.

Having agreed on this basic concept, Emigrant Beard asked us to give them a script that would be poetic and evocative. We then approached the playwright Steve Waters, author of Temple and the forthcoming Limehouse. Waters welcomed the opportunity to participate in what he calls ‘ a wake-up to all of us to celebrate the diversity of our country and the vital role people of all nations play in the way we live and work.’

In little more than a day,Waters came up with a beautifully-turned rhymed script written as a short question and answer dialogue, in which migrants from various professions – baristas, surgeons, teachers, cleaners – tell their interlocutors that Feb 20 will be ‘ a day without us.’ The ‘questions’ are spoken by the professional actors Linus Roache and Lee Ross, who generously – and in the current climate – courageously – offered their services for free.

For Roache, this was a philosophical decision, in keeping with his belief that ‘we are living in a globalizing world. There is no going back, we need to be fearless in our embrace of diversity. This is the march of human evolution toward greater unity.’

The rest of the script was spoken by migrant ‘actors’ from Bristol. Carlos Blanco, who is also one of the cameramen and editors,appears in the film because ‘ I felt it was important first of all because I am a migrant and I don’t feel that bad about it. I think all of us should be proud of it; to be a migrant is to be brave. I hope people realize that.’

For Nadia Castilla, the video was an opportunity ‘ to be part of a project that includes everyone and that sends such a positive message’. To Emigrant Beard’s sound engineer Gerardo Pastor Ruiz, even the sound was part of the film’s attempt to give ‘ a voice to people who needed to be heard.’

What gives the video its power and its visual poetry are the close-up shots of eyes, mouths and parts of faces, which powerfully highlight the humanity of people who too often are not regarded as people at all, but as intruders, usurpers and outsider.

The result is a not just a campaign video, but a short film of real beauty and emotional power, which we are proud to associate with our campaign. For the film’s director Jacobo GF, the message of this video is: ‘Lets make the United Kingdom an amazing place to live, a paradise for everyone who really appreciates it. It does not matter where are you from or what is your background as long as you contribute to the cause of making this place better day after day.’

This is not a perspective we are used to hearing in these bleak times, but we feel that nowadays it needs to be heard more than ever. As the film reminds us, migrants are not invaders and strangers, but part of society in which all have a place:

We live with you and work with you
We’re part of this place we’ve travelled to
We’re part of your today and your tomorrow too

February 20 is an opportunity to recognize that reality – and also to celebrate it, anyway you can.

Europe’s Porous Borders: Leonidas Cheliotis and the logic of ‘punitive inclusion’

Think of borders in the 21st century and you immediately think of walls, barbed wire fences, razor wire, checkpoints, quasi-military border patrols on land and sea, surveillance cameras, sensors and a panoply of high-tech paraphernalia whose essential purpose is to keep unwanted people out.   This is the kind of imagery that we tend – rightly – to associate with ‘Fortress Europe’ and other border regimes that have begun to proliferate across the world, and on the Western borders in particular.

These reinforced barriers, we are told, are intended to protect us from Islamic State and other enemies that want to kill us; or from other morbid consequences of the ‘dark side of globalisation’ such as human traffickers, drugs, organized crime or sexual exploitation. We take it for granted that  such barriers are necessary to protect our labour markets, our welfare systems, our cultures and our lifestyles against unwanted ‘illegal immigrants’,  whether they come in the form of despised ‘economic migrants’ or ‘bogus asylum seekers’ or simply refugees who we don’t want to find room for.

Governments routinely attempt to draw political capital by demonstrating their ability to exclude unwanted ‘illegal’ people at the border and deport those who make it through these barriers.   The European Union has attempted – with catastrophic consequences – to ‘manage’ and control the new 21st century migratory movements that are generally deemed to be harmful and threatening.

But there is also another dimension to the ‘ Fortress’ model which tends to receive less attention; namely that these barriers are not impermeable, and are not even intended to be. Every year tens of thousands of ‘illegal immigrants’ succeed in crossing Europe’s borders, and some of them succeed in finding work. Usually the jobs they do are unskilled, low-paid,  and off the books.  They might work in construction, fruit-picking, agriculture, food production, or cockle-picking.   They might be found in the rural economies of peripheral European countries such as Greece, Spain or Italy, in Morecombe Bay, Madrid, Brescia or Athens.

These are the workers who inhabit the Sheffield  in Sanjeev Sahota’s powerful novel The Year of the Runaways; .men and women without rights, who can expect no holidays, no sickness or unemployment benefits, or pensions.    Legally they don’t exist, but their illegality means that  they are constantly visible to police and immigration officials, and liable to  immigration raids, detention and deportation.

This is the grim reality for hundreds of thousands of men and women across Europe, who illegality makes it possible for them to work and yet also traps them in a permanent legal limbo where they can never access the rights of the ‘legal’ indigenous workforce, let alone the rights of national citizens.

Governments occasionally acknowledge this phenomenon, and shake their heads or wring their hands about it.  Some countries issue periodic amnesties which allow illegal workers to step out of their invisibility; others promise to crack down on the gangmasters and employers who make use of such labour – even if these efforts tend to be half-hearted and generally driven by the desire to deport undocumented migrants rather than protect workers from exploitation.

This new flexible ‘reserve army of labour’ is not simply an accidental consequence of Europe’s ‘hard’ borders, however.    When I was researching my book Fortress Europe, I met African workers in the greenhouses of Almeria in southern Spain who lived in shacks and were paid well below the minimum wage; and workers in the city of Brescia in northern Italy who staged a spectacular protest on a crane because they had been conned into paying for legal permits that they were never going to receive.

Nowadays, the indigenous European workforce is often encouraged to see migrant workers as competitors stealing ‘their’ jobs, but it was clear in these and in other cases, that the undocumented workers who made it through Europe’s lethal gauntlet were generally doing jobs that Europeans did not want to do, and that their illegality had left them stranded in a permanent zone of exploitation that they could not change or escape from.

This is the argument that the LSE criminologist Dr Leonidas Cheliotis has made in a compelling new paper Punitive Inclusion. A Political Economy of Irregular Migration in the Margins of Europe,  which is due to be published in the European Journal of Criminology.

Basing his research mostly on his native Greece, Cheliotis argues that the lethal Greek borders that have claimed so many migrant lives in recent years are actually more permeable than they appear, and that as a result, ‘  large flows of irregular immigration have effectively been channelled towards Greece’s perilous though still porous borders by ever-tightening restrictions imposed across Europe upon irregular immigration from other parts of the world, in the form, for example, of stricter policing of national borders and narrowed opportunities for accessing asylum and visa procedures.’

This combination has left nearly 400,000 undocumented migrants trapped inside Greece, on the desperate margins of a society in crisis, working in the largest shadow economy in Europe.  Not only have the border controls established by the European Union and successive Greek governments failed to prevent the exploitation of the undocumented migrant workforce, but they have actually facilitated it, since:

‘The massive swathes of irregular migrants who keep crossing the porous Greek borders in search of a better future lend themselves ideally both as exploitable workers and amenable reserves. For one, their numbers help ensure that a sufficiently large pool of ‘surplus’ labourers is always at hand, whilst their desperate predicament as a result of poverty and attendant needs (e.g., to earn a living) further inclines them to exploitability if and when a job becomes available. ‘

The ‘exploitability’ of migrant workers in Greece, Cheliotis suggests, is facilitated by a dysfunctional and protracted asylum system and an inadequate and cumbersome regularisation process that generally issues only temporary work permits, when it issues them at all, and which has transformed migrant workers in emblematic members of the new 21st century precariat living ‘in limbo, shifting between regular and irregular status with long breaks filled with uncertainty and anxiety in between, when their chances of falling victim to unscrupulous lawyers, mafia operators and corrupt state officials are also greater.’

All this is bad enough, but migrant workers are also subject to racist attacks by Golden Dawn fascists and to ‘ intimidatory practices of over-policing, including a greater likelihood of being stopped and searched, alongside so-called ‘sweep’ or ‘cleaning operations’ launched in the name of fighting illegal immigration and associated crimes.’

Unscrupulous employers have found this marginalisation and vulnerability extremely useful.  In some cases Greek employers have actually threatened to call in Golden Dawn to deal with workers who have protested their wages and conditions. The violence directed at migrants, Cheliotis argues, is exacerbated by ‘mainstream political discourse [which] appears to have had an appreciable degree of influence on public attitudes, either inciting or sustaining and exacerbating concern about the impact of immigration on Greek society, fear of crime by immigrants, and punitiveness towards them.’

All these components are part of a process that Cheliotis calls ‘punitive inclusion’ in which

‘ apparently unrelated policies on matters of immigration, welfare, employment and punishment, together with practices of anti-migrant brutality and intimidation by state and non-state actors, have effectively formed a continuum of violence that forces irregular migrants either to submit to any available condition of work or to await for their chance in a disciplined fashion.’

The same could be said of many of the estimated four million undocumented workers in Europe.  In his incisive analysis of  the relationship between illegality and exploitation in Greece,  Cheliotis has also drawn much-needed attention to a generally unacknowledged consequence of our world of proliferating borders.

Many of his conclusions can be applied not only to Fortress Europe, but to the US-Mexico border and other barriers across the world that seek to keep certain categories of  ‘illegal’ people out, even as they ensure that others are trapped inside them,   at the very bottom of the great pyramid of precarious ‘flexible’ labour that our unequal and grossly unjust world increasingly relies on.

For a copy of the paper, contact Joanna Bale, LSE Press Office, j.m.bale@lse.ac.uk.   

 

Europe’s ‘Migration Crisis’ : Repression with a human face

 

Many years ago Franco Solinas, the scriptwriter for Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, was asked by an interviewer why the French colonel Mathieu – a pragmatic exponent of torture –  was portrayed as ‘ too much of a gentleman in fatigues, excessively noble.  He is elegant, cultured….’  Solinas replied that ‘ There is no intention to create nobility.  Mathieu is elegant and cultured because Western civilization is neither inelegant nor stupid.’

I’ve often found myself thinking of Solinas’ s observation, while watching the way that European politicians have responded to the continent’s ‘migration crisis’ during the last weeks.  Listening to these politicians one would easily be forgiven for thinking that European governments mulling over the crisis are motivated by nothing more than the noblest humanitarian principles.

Last week I watched the French prefect Fabienne Buccio and other officials justifying the demolition of the Calais ‘jungle’ as ‘the most humane option’.  Buccio was photographed, looking earnest and concerned, as police demolished the shacks and tents that have gone up since the summer.  On Channel 4 News I watched the French ambassador to the UK similarly describing the demolitions as a humane act intended to improve the living conditions of the migrants stranded there.

Similarly humanitarian arguments have been put forward again and again by European politicians to justify actions that often have a very different purpose.  But while politicians talk of destroying smugglers’ ‘ business models’, saving lives and preventing dangerous journeys, the unstated objective of the European Union and most of its member states remains the same as it has always been: to prevent people from coming to Europe by an unacknowledged policy of deterrence and repression.

In recent weeks, this policy of repression has intensified up and down Europe’s borders, as men, women and even children have been teargassed and attacked by police, in migration ‘hot spots’ up and down the continent’s frontiers.   Consider the list of requests for border protection equiptment from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to a meeting attended by Austria and a group of nine Balkan states on 24 February to discuss how to close the ‘Western Balkan’ route for undocumented migrants.

The list was leaked by the excellent EurActiv website, and its requests give an indication of Macedonia’s priorities – and those of the states to whom the requests were sent.  In addition to engineering equipment to build a 300 kilometer security fence and a 400 person capacity camp, vehicles, and expenses to cover the ‘technical capability of an army’,  its demands for ‘equipment for crowd control’ include

  • Crowd control dispenser
  • OS spray (pepper spray)
  • “TASER” X26 – an electrical device
  • Weapon with rubber bullets
  • Special bomb (shock, with rubber balls)
  • Acoustic device to break the mob
  • Launcher (grenade with rubber balls)

According to EurActiv, the only objection from the states that received these requests was that this equipment  might be used for ‘internal repression’ in the lead-up to Macedonia’s snap elections in June.  ‘External’  repression, against migrants and refugees, it seems, is not a problem.

There is a grim logic to these developments.  For years, Europe’s policy of deterrence has been based on the belief that the worst things get for migrants, the more likely they are to stop coming.   The events of the last 12 months have made it glaringly obvious that this is not happening.  In these circumstances, Europe must either reconsider this policy and consider more humane solutions – or escalate the level of deterrence still further.

Despite the brief shift towards the former by Germany and other states last summer, Europe as a whole has remained firmly committed to deterrence, and last night’s breakthrough deal with Turkey is no exception.   Europe now proposes to send all refugees back to Turkey, and it has even sent NATO to the Aegean to make sure that this happens.

In effect, the EU has bribed Turkey – a country with a population of 75 million people – to take primary responsibility for absorbing the refugees that Europe – a continent with a population of 500 million – regards as a ‘crisis.’  Not only will Turkey accept all refugees ‘readmitted’ from Europe, but it will also take on responsibility for ‘readmitting’ them to their countries of origin.

To achieve this, the EU has empowered the gangster government of Recep Tayib Erdogan to take on the role once played by Colonel Gaddafi, and turn Turkey into a migrant holding ground and dumping ground for Europe’s unwanted refugees, even as Erdogan’s government is engaged in a reckless and headlong assault on Turkishcivil society and democracy.  No wonder Erdogan’s crony Ahmet Davutoğlu can’t stop smiling – you can’t blame him really.

This sleazy deal should be shameful and disgraceful, but Europe’s leaders, it seems, no longer feel any shame when it comes to migration.  They no longer appear willing even to uphold the principles on which the European Union was founded.  The treatment of refugees in Idomeni, Calais, Dunkerque and so many other places suggests that they are no longer even concerned to uphold elementary principles of civilized behaviour.

But even as they depart from these standards in practice, European governments continue to proclaim their commitment to refugee protection in principle.  So no one should be surprised to hear Donald Tusk, Cameron and others, boasting that they have ‘solved’ the migration crisis, even as Europe’s governments squirt migrants with tear gas and ask for tasers and rubber bullets.

Because no matter how thin and threadbare Europe’s civilized mask becomes, there will always be politicians who will never stop wearing it, and who, like Colonel Mathieu, remain ‘elegant and cultured’ even as they oversee the ongoing barbarity taking place at Europe’s borders .