Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Defend All Migrants

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Five years ago on the day after the Brexit vote, Friday 24 Jun 2016, socialists and anarchists marched in London in support of migrant rights and against racism and against the attacks and scapegoating of immigrants not only by right wing extremists but by mainstream parties and media over many years. The pictures in this post are from that march. The most recent of these attacks has come from a Tory peer who has proved herself a serial failure over the years and seems likely to be rewarded for this by being put in charge of the NHS.

One of the most disturbing trends during the last eleven years of Coalition and Tory governments has been the increasing politicisation of public appointments, with jobs in charge of public bodies increasingly being awarded to people on the basis of their political views rather than any relevant experience or competence.

Of course there are many other things to be worried about, not least the many dodgy contracts awarded to family, friends and party donors, particularly those lucrative Covid-related contracts. One major benefactor has been Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding, married to the Tory MP and United Kingdom Anti-Corruption Champion at the Cabinet Office since 2017. No, you really couldn’t make it up.

In 2015, when Harding was the much criticised CEO of TalkTalk, following a cyber-attack in which the personal and banking details of up to four million customers, many not encrypted, were though to have been stolen, Marketing Magazine ran a story under the headline “TalkTalk boss Dido Harding’s utter ignorance is a lesson to us all”. The Information Commissioner agreed, though the fine of £400,000 seems far too low for a company which she said failed “to implement the most basic cyber security measures.” Harding, who had been made a Tory Life Peer the previous year, stood down from TalkTalk in 2017 to concentrate on her public activities, following the party line on all her Lords votes and joining the board of the Jockey Club.

Her appointment as Chair of NHS Improvement in 2017 was a clearly political one, and Harding rejected the recommendation of Parliament’s Health Select Committee that she should resign as a Conservative peer and become a cross-bencher.

Her appointment to run the track, trace and test programme in 2020 (later misleadingly named NHS Test and Trace) was highly controversial. It had little or no connection with the NHS, simply outsourcing work to private contractors including Serco, Mitie, G4S, Boots and Sodexo and paying several thousand consultants from Deloitte and elsewhere on average £1,100 a day each.

Harding is now expected to be appointed as Chief Executive of the National Health Service (NHS) and has pledged to make the NHS less reliant on foreign doctors and nurses. At the moment about 1 in 7 NHS staff are not British, including many Indian, Filipino and Irish. There are many others too who while themselves British are the sons and daughters of migrants to this country, some of whom came here as health workers.

We currently have over 40,000 nursing vacancies and are heavily reliant on the contribution of foreign healthcare professionals who have made great sacrifices during the Covid pandemic. They already suffer from having to pay an immigration health surcharge fee of £470 per person per year for themselves and their families.

Nursing Notes quotes Andrew Johnson of the grassroots campaign Nurses United UK as saying:

“Dido Harding remains as incompetent as ever as she panders to her political party.”

“The UK has always benefitted from international staff. Whether it was Indian, Pakistani or Caribbean nurses like my grandma in the 50s and 60s, or our colleagues from Europe and the Philippines in more recent times, we needed them to keep our loved ones safe.”

“The NHS would not exist without international staff and if Dido wants to grow homegrown staff, we would need greater investment in our schools, a living bursary, a substantial restorative pay rise and an end to the privatisation she has been a part of.”

Nursing Notes

There are good reasons for the UK to train more doctors, nurses and other medical specialists. We are a wealthy nation and as well as caring for the health of our own population should be sending trained staff to other countries around the world, particularly those less able to train them. But as well as sending people abroad there is also much to be gained from having migrants coming to work here and foreign medical staff should be welcomed, not denigrated.

More about the 24th June 2016 Defend All Migrants rally and march.

Immigration Detention – a National Shame

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Detainees seen through the wire fence, Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Sat 7 Jun 2014

Recently the Home Office under Priti Patel got its knuckles rapped in court, when the High Court ruled it broke the law by housing cross-channel migrants in the run-down Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Public Health England had earlier warned that the barracks were unsuitable for accommodation for asylum seekers during the Covid pandemic, and with 380 detained in poorly sectioned off rooms of 12-14 with shared bathrooms and toilets the spread of infection was clearly inevitable, with around 200 people catching Covid-19.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires the Home Office to provide “support” for asylum seekers who are unable to support themselves, including if needed accommodation, but this must be adequate for their needs. Clearly in this case they were not, and the situation was worsened by employing a private contractor to run the barracks, who in turn outsourced much of the work required.

John McDonnell MP speaking

Many of those sent to the barracks were clearly unsuitable to be housed there because of pre-existing mental health issues arising from trafficking and/or torture before their arrival in the UK – and the Home Office’s own assessment criteria should have prevented them being sent to the barracks.

The whole judgement is complex and lengthy but reading the evidence it examines leaves the impression of a total lack of concern for human rights and common humanity in the operation of our asylum system, and one which is evident across the whole range of how we deal with migrants and asylum. In 2020 over 23,000 people were held in detention centres in the UK, around a third held for more than a month; but it is indefinite detention with no limit to the time they may be held and for some their stay has lasted around three years. Over half of those detained have claimed asylum.

Of those detained in 2019, just over a third were deported, some illegally. A small number – just over 300 in the year ending 2019 – received compensation, averaging £26,000, after proving their detention was illegal. (figures from https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/ The Migration Observatory.)

On Saturday 7th June 2014 I went to the neighbouring detention centres (a polite name for these immigration prisons) of Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, just across the A4 Bath Road north of Heathrow Airport, along with campaigners organised by Movement for Justice, who had come to protest with prisoners inside the immigration prison against the unjust ‘Fast Track System’ and mistreatment of detainees by private security firms.

The were joined outside the prisons by local MP John McDonnell who has a long record of supporting asylum seekers, who told us that when he first became MP for the area in 1997 the immigration detention centre was only a small building housing a dozen or so detainees. Now these two large blocks house several thousands – and their are other large immigration prisons across the country.

After the rally on the pavement outside, the protesters – who included many former detainees – marched onto the site and began to make a circuit on the roadway which goes around the Harmondsworth centre, most of which is enclosed behind tall fences. The stopped at places on the way where they knew that those inside the prison would be able to see and hear them, making a lot of noise chanting and shouting as well as with whistles and other noise-makers.

Detainees are allowed to have mobile phones and the protesters were able to contact a number of those inside, some of whom were able to speak by holding the phone they were calling to a microphone of the protesters’ megaphone. Many inside feel they are forgotten and all had complaints about the way they were treated by the detention centre staff and the poor conditions.

At later events here that I photographed, police prevented the protesters marching around the 20ft fences that surround it, limiting them to an area in front of the administration block. Clearly the tall fences mean there was no security risk, but the sight and sound of the protest was important in raising the morale of those held in the centres – and something those private contractors running the jails wished to avoid in future.

More pictures at Support Detainees in Harmondsworth

Strangers Into Citizens 2007

Friday, May 7th, 2021

One of the great failures of British politicians in my lifetime has been over immigration. Since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham in April 1968, both major parties have engaged in a desperate contest to show they are tougher on immigration than the other.

Immigration as we moved from Empire to Commonwealth wasn’t just a moral issue of living up to the promises the country had long made to its overseas subjects – but had failed to live up to. It was also a matter of economic and social need, for workers, nurses, bus conductors, doctors and more to keep the United Kingdom running. By the 1960s, a third of junior doctors were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in 1963 Enoch Powell, then minister of health launched a campaign which recruited a further 18,000 doctors from India and Pakistan.

Immigration controls had of course begun earlier, but the 1962 Conservative Commonwealth Immigrants Act began a new series of anti-immigration measures. Labour followed this with their 1968 Act, a panic measure to restrict the arrival here of Kenyan Asians. The 1971 Immigration Act and further legislation restricted even restricted the numbers of foreign nurses – who the NHS was and is still very reliant on.

On and on the politicians have gone, increasing the restrictions and playing the numbers game promoted by racists rather than adopting a positive approach and stressing the great advantages that immigrants have brought to this country. While in the Tory party attitudes have largely been driven by straight-forward racism and the residues of imperialism, Labour’s policies seem more cynical and solely based on middle-class electoral assumptions about working-class racism.

Of course there are working-class racists. But there is also working class solidarity that crosses any lines of race, and which could have been fostered by the Labour Party and the trade unions. Instead they have left the field largely open to the likes of the EDL and the lies of the right-wing press. In this and other ways Labour has not lost the working class, but abandoned it.

The vicious and racist policies imposed in recent years by Theresa May against migrants, particularly those here without official permission but also those with every right to be here but without a huge archive of paperwork by which to prove this – the Windrush generation have met with opposition from some mainly on the left in Labour, but they built on the policies of the New Labour government before here.

Labour have abstained rather than voted against so much discriminatory legislation, and their opposition to Priti Patel’s draconian bill which aims to criminalise Roma, Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles and increase the surveillance powers of immigration officers as well as introducing new ‘diversionary cautions’ against migrants to allow police to force them to leave the country has at best been half-hearted.

Of course there are exceptions. Honourable men and women in both parties who have argued against racist policies, and MPs who have voted with their consciences rather than follow the party line – and sometimes lost the party whip. And of course those in some of the smaller parties and outside parliament, particularly various religious leaders, some of whom took a leading role in the Strangers into Citizens March and Rally on May 7th 2007 which called for all those who have worked (and paid their taxes) here for more than four years to be given a two year work permit, after which if they get suitable work and character references they would be given indefinite leave to remain.

Although this still would not change our terrible mistreatment of those who arrive seeking asylum, it did seem a pragmatic solution to a major problem which governments have found intractable. But as the organisers of the event and many of the speakers insisted, it needed to be part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration. But the political parties were not listening and seem only able to think of more and more restrictive, racist and authoritarian policies which drive us further into becoming a police state.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2007/05/may.htm


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Brixton march against government racism

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Brixton in south London has a special place in the history of our country, as it was in this area that the first wave of post-war Black migrants found homes and jobs, with those who had arrived on the Empire Windrush being given temporary accomodation a short distance away in an underground bunker on Clapham Common.

Brixton had the nearest government Labour Exchange where they went in search of jobs, and many found them in local businesses and found cheap lodgings in the area, and in time brought their families to the area. Soon this working class area of London was developing the more vibrant and colourful culture that now, together with its location close to central London and good transport links makes it a prime target for gentrification.

Brixton has also been a flashpoint for social unrest, with riots (or uprisings) in 1981, 1985 and 1991 after heavy-handed and racist policing as well as in the London riots of 2011. The 1981 riots came at a time of high unemployment, particularly among the local African-Caribbean community who felt under attack by excessive policing and also by lurid press stereotyping of them, their culture and the area.

I began going to Brixton regularly in 1991, when a photography collective I had links with moved from near Clapham Junction in Battersea to the heart of the area on the edge of Brixton market and reconstituted itself as Photofusion. For years I went to most of their exhibition openings as well as visiting to take prints in to their picture library, which was then an important source for images of British social life. Photofusion is now in new premises but just a short distance away, though I think all the people I knew there are gone and it’s a year or two since I last visited the gallery.

But I have continued going to Brixton, mainly to photograph protests and events, particularly at Windrush Square, outside Lambeth Town Hall and at Brixton Police Station. And on September 14th I found myself again in Brixton, beginning at Windrush Square. This is a rather bleak and windswept area in front of the Ritzy Cinema, the Tate Library and the Black Cultural Archives, with a busy road along its west edge, ‘landscaped‘ a few years back by Lambeth Council apparently with the aim of making it a less attractive place for people to gather.

Here’s what I wrote about the protest on My London Diary:

Movement for Justice and Lambeth Unison Black Workers’ Group protest in Brixton against the continuing persecution of Windrush family members and other migrants, calling for freedom of movement, the closure of immigration detention prisons, and an end to Brexit which is being used to whip up immigrant-bashing and nationalism to establish a Trump-style regime in Britain under Boris Johnson.

After speeches in Windrush Square they moved to Brixton Market where wide support was shown by the public for speeches. Before they left Green MEP for London Scott Ainslie spoke about his LDNlovesEU campaign. They then marched up to Atlantic Road and back along the main street, Brixton Road for a final short rally in Windrush Square.

More pictures at Brixton anti-racist march.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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