For once I am sending out a missive a little bit early, but that’s because I don’t want any of you to miss out on the chance to come to the T4 ceilidh. It’s next Saturday. There are still tickets available and I can think of no better way to repudiate the Illegal Immigration Act and all that it stands for than by joining in a community ceilidh dedicated to fun, love and silly dancing.
Tickets are available here, https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thousand-4-1000-ceilidh-2023-tickets-638290312507, for between £10 and £20. The music and calling will be provided by Moves Afoot. It will be at Saint Mary’s Church on Surrenden Road. There will also be food provided, so hopefully see you there on 29 July at 19:00.
Illegal Immigration Act
I have to say something about the new Immigration Act. It is by far and away the most shameful piece immigration legislation ever passed by the UK government. The reason is simple: it removes the right to asylum from anyone who enters the country by a back route. This is a fundamental attack on the right to asylum itself. Asylum, as I think I have said before, is more than a place to hide while the shooting lasts. To offer someone asylum is to offer them the chance to rebuild their life in exile. That this is a fundamental human need, and thus a fundamental human right, is something that has been recognised across history and across cultures.
The biblical city of refuge, the Hawaiian pu’uhonua, the the 1951 Refugee Convention (Article 31) and every other example of sanctuary that I have ever come across all acknowledge the obvious fact that those in need
of protection will be fleeing for their lives. There is no regular route to sanctuary. On top of that, they all acknowledge that sanctuary itself is something bigger than mere physical safety. It is a chance to be renewed. Sanctuary is something sacred. It is a rebirth. Once you are granted asylum, the journey has only just begun. You must cease to be a refugee and become a citizen.
The asylum seeker is beyond the protection of any legal system. Refuge brings you back in, but being under the protection of a new legal system does not yet make you belong. The convention recognises the need of the refugee to belong in her new home so Article 34 guarantees that right to her. But I am not just talking about the narrow, legal sense of citizenship here, important though that is. To be a citizen in a broader sense is to be part of the community. It is to have standing. To be protected by a legal system is a precondition of being able to have a place from where you can take part. It is that which will end your exile. So, by offering her protection, a refugee is given the chance to take part. The more that she does so, the more she ceases to be a refugee. The more she belongs. That is the journey which she must undertake once she has been granted asylum.
This new act is underpinned by the idea that sanctuary is a privilege that a state has the power to grant. In the name of saving lives, the state wishes to withhold that privilege from people who arrived by dangerous means. It is not good enough to oppose this development by calling for safe routes and humanitarian visas. To do so is to accept the logic that sanctuary is in the gift of the state. It is to accept the nightmare vision of the vast majority of the world’s refugees being trapped for generations in refugee camps. But note well that this vision is fairly close to reality. The UNHCR estimates that 4 million people already dwell in semi-permanent refugee camps.
Instead, we must insist on the absolute nature of the right to asylum. It is a human need that trumps any so-called need of the states to control its borders. As a bare minimum, we need to be calling for the end to the militarisation of the border. If like the ancients, we are going to expect the asylum seeker to run the gauntlet before she can reach a place of sanctuary, we should at least give her an even break. If you are going to insist that somebody has to reach your borkedder before she can claim asylum, you cannot do everything in a modern state’s power to prevent her from getting there.
Practice and Resistance
Leaving aside the highfalutin philosophy for a moment, this act is unworkable. People will arrive by irregular means. Moving is what humans do. You can rule their claim
inadmissible, but where are they going to go? Rwanda has agreed to take some of those who have come to the UK for refuge. The scheme is of dubious legality and, even if the government eventually wins, there is no way that serious numbers of people can be forced to East Africa. We are going to see tens if not hundreds of thousands left in limbo to be exploited by the ruthless and the criminal. We have to up our game. If the state is going to refuse asylum to those in need, the citizenry must provide it instead. This project becomes more important than ever. People need homes and people need income. You provide that. We can do more and we can do it better. That takes more money and more people. Hospitality is something that you do. It cannot be done alone. We have a village working together to bring in the stranger. We need to make it a town and then a city. When your friends despair at what has just happened. Tell them how they can help. It is through practical solidarity that we will restore the right to asylum.
I know this because when I look round Brighton or any other town or city in the UK, I see the basic fact of human mobility writ large. I can see it in my own face and the faces of the people that I pass. I hear it in the music played and the languages spoken around me. I can taste it in the food that I eat. I smell it everywhere I go and I feel it when I open my heart to the joy of diversity. Whatever philosophers and politicians have said and done, people have moved despite the wishes of the powerful. It has brought very little else beyond joy and discovery. At some point we will relax into that. Generations to come will be puzzled by our fears and our anxieties. They will not understand how we could have worked
so hard and killed so many just to exclude from our communities those whom were not yet known. I envy them because their world will be richer and more wonderful. They envy me though because I can go to the T4 ceilidh. The T4 ceilidh is the true essence of fun, love and silly dancing. You cannot ask for more than that. See you on the 29th.
Jacob and all of from T4K