It is difficult to believe that July is nearly over. That might be in part because it is raining today and that rather clouds my view of the weather. I have lived in England almost all of my life. I really ought to learn that the sun is not always out in the English summer.
Leave to Remain
Much more exciting than comments on the weather is the news. Some of the people who you have been supporting, whether that is with Wi-Fi or with housing or with other things, have been awarded their Leave to Remain in the last month. It is the usual bittersweet moment. Why on earth have they had to wait a year and a half or two years for the Home Office to conclude that they are in fact refugees? It would be alright, if while you are waiting, you could work and/or claim universal credit. Instead you are forced to live in substandard housing, with strangers, off £39.50 a week. At least here in Brighton, the kind community will provide an Internet connection, might provide a house and will certainly provide other bits and pieces that you need. In addition, there are great projects, like the Hummingbird, Refugee Radio, the Jollof Café, the Migrant English Project, the Brighton Exiled Refugee Trauma Service and others that
can support you. One of the young men who got his Leave to Remain said to me, “I’m so happy that I get to live in a country with people like you in it”. It is all very gratifying, but undeserved. I am quite nice, but I am only able to be so nice to him, because I am one face of a vast network of support. If he phones me up and needs help, I am able to arrange it because you exist and put up the money. Thank you.
The other exciting is that live events are back. On 7 August we have a Midsummer Night’s Music at Knoyle Hall. There will be Alaa and Jamal, About Now, crack*a*jack*crow, and Pog. There will also be a vegan supper and a raffle. It is all yours, if you get in there quick, for £15 or the nearest offer. I am really looking to seeing some old faces and hopefully some new ones.
if you cannot make it, our sister project, the Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Group are back with their Jollof Café. They are in a new venue, the West Hill Hall on Compton Avenue. They are now holding the café on a Wednesday. Hopefully, some of you who were not able to make it are now working from home and will be able to pop down to partake in a delicious lunch and the joyous celebration of hospitality that is the Jollof.
Clamping Down on Movement
Despite all the joy, we have a problem. Despite widespread opposition, including from the oppositions’ front benches, the Nationality and Borders Bill has now passed its second reading and is going to the committee stage. It seems clear to me that the current government’s policy is that there only obligation to refugees is to ensure that they don’t die, and even then they’re not that bothered if they do. It’s not just the government in the UK. It seems to be a position shared by the powers that be in the EU. Refugees are to be held in camps, preferably far away from European territory and, if that’s not possible, far away from metropolitan centres. It’s why we see evermore permanent camps on the Greek islands, the corralling of people in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and similar infrastructure being developed on the Canary Islands. It also underpins the new bill’s fantasy of holding those who arrive by irregular means in processing centres in as yet to be specified countries in the Global South. Even if they failed to achieve that, no doubt they will be using barracks, hotels and detention centres to hold those who do arrive.
With all the headlines quite rightly focusing on these abusive proposals, it is easy to miss the second strand which is the criminalisation of those who move without the state’s permission. The bill, as I understand it, changes the definition of “assisting unlawful immigration” to a. remove the requirement that the assistance is done for financial gain and b. make it a crime to assist someone to attempt to arrive in the UK. Apparently, they cannot prosecute people under the current definition because the current crime requires assisting someone to enter the UK. If you claim asylum on arrival in the UK, you do not “enter” the UK. You are granted immigration bail on arrival. It seems clear that they are going to bring prosecutions against anyone they can show to have been holding the tiller on the small boats used to cross the Channel. They may also go after NGOs, like the RNLI, for carrying out rescues. Goodness only knows what they will make of organisations like Channel Rescue.
That criminalisation, worrying in itself and with echoes in Greece, Spain and Italy, is, I think, symptomatic of a view that refugees have no right to try to rebuild a life in exile. The only right that you have is to the minimal level of protection provided for you by a displaced persons camp under the auspices of the UNHCR. It is very important to remember that the majority of the world’s refugees are languishing in such situations in places like Kakuma in Kenya. This is their much vaunted commitment to human rights. You have a right to life. Good, it has not been breached if you are still alive, albeit under canvas with no prospect of a future. What you do not have a right to is the chance to take your destiny into your own hands. You do not have the right to challenge their social order. You do not have the right to try to rebuild your life somewhere else without their permission.
But this is an inhuman, authoritarianism. It has to be resisted. As Wole Soyinka says in his memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn:
Movement is the palpable essence of freedom. That seems obvious enough, since restraint is its negation, but it needs to be stated and restated. Freedom expresses itself in many ways, but its real essence is movement— that is, the right to exercise the choice to move or not to move.
We cannot accept a world in which where and how we live, where and how we love, where we go and what we do are dictated to us by the prejudices and proclivities of members of the European establishment. If you don’t believe me, watch any of Powell and Pressburger’s oeuvre. Their films are all passionate defence of the rights and virtues of the uncommon individual against the maniacal desire to bring everything into good order.
Ramping Up the Joy
It’s also why, in the opinion of this scribe, we should be so wary of the siren call of “safe passage”. Even if the UK was offering a million refugee visas a year — not in any way an impossibility as the experience of Germany in the long summer of migration showed — it would take 60 – 70 years to clear the current backlog of people. I am assuming that a fair proportion of the 80 or so million refugees and internally displaced people have no desire to come to the UK. There is also no way that the UK is going to go from reluctantly dealing with 20,000 to 30,000 asylum seekers to the sort of numbers needed to give people a realistic chance of fulfilling their dreams.
Instead we should be celebrating freedom and movement. We should be celebrating diversity we should be building our communities. We should be doing what the Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Community did when they held their Eid barbecue a week and a half ago. People of all faiths and none from across at least three continents gathered to share food together, to celebrate each other’s cultures and beliefs and to give each other a moment of reprieve. What started as a nominally Islamic event ended with another member leading the collective in Christian songs of praise and went to all sorts of places in between. Although not strictly a T4K event, it encapsulates everything that we are about. We are a community who is open to others, who sees each stranger as a potential friend and who knows that kindness and joy always triumph over hate.