Can Europe Make It?: Opinion

It’s time for a migrant rights movement

“ This lurch to the right, towards escalated attacks and rhetoric, will not end on its own.”

Aliya Yule
8 October 2020
BA. Jimmy Mubenga.
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Some rights reserved.

On October 12, 2010, Jimmy Mubenga was bundled onto a British Airways charter flight by G4S security guards. He was 46 years old. A father to a young family, Jimmy had been fighting for the right to remain in Britain with his wife and children.

After speaking with his wife over the phone, he became emotional, telling her that he didn’t know what he was going to do if separated from her. Returning to his seat he was handcuffed into his chair and forcibly held down by G4S security guards. Passengers on the flight report that Jimmy said to them “‘All you people are watching them kill me. I can’t breathe. They are going to kill me.’”

Despite Jimmy’s death being ruled an unlawful killing, nobody has ever been held responsible. The G4S guards were cleared of manslaughter charges: at their trial, evidence from their phones which were littered with obscene racist ‘jokes’, was deemed inadmissible.

There has never been justice for Jimmy, but this weekend a nationwide mobilisation will seek to mark the tenth anniversary of his death and call for justice for him and all those killed by the brutality of British immigration policies.

Jimmy’s killing is but one in a string of deaths associated with Britain’s cruel border regime. This includes those whose lives were cut short in obvious ways – killed by the police, immigration officers or private contractors – as well as many thousands of others drowned at sea, suffocated in trucks, denied healthcare or forced to eke out an existence at the margins of society unable to work, rent, study or live freely.

And it is sobering to think how drastically worse things are today than they were in 2010. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, with capitalism in crisis, migrants became the target for governments looking to divide working class communities and force through their austerity programme. Migrants were the scapegoat for failing and underfunded public services, with asylum seekers blamed for everything from inadequate social housing, to robbing ‘native’ Britons of their jobs, hospital beds and school places.

Two Immigration Acts in 2012 and 2014 made things considerably worse by embedding the insidious ‘Hostile Environment’ policies across society.

Two Immigration Acts in 2012 and 2014 made things considerably worse by embedding the insidious ‘Hostile Environment’ policies across society, turning public servants, teachers, doctors, and landlords into border guards, all against the backdrop of an escalated fear-mongering in the media. Hostile Environment policies have reinforced racism and facilitated the exclusion of those racialised as ‘migrants’ from public services.

Fast forward to today, and the levels of barbarism have only increased. The small number of migrants arriving by boat on England’s south coast are being relocated to old military barracks without access to basic healthcare and legal advice, or the ability to contact loved ones. And they aren’t done yet. Leaked documents from the Home Office reveal discussions about placing newly arrived migrants on oil rigs, empty ferries, or isolated islands in the South Atlantic.

Make no mistake, Britain is well on its way to fascism.

The migrant justice movement we need

This lurch to the right, towards escalated attacks and rhetoric, will not end on its own. Neither can it be stopped by fragmented campaigns or initiatives. Instead, as organisations and as communities, we have to work together to build a movement that can challenge and reverse this dangerous trajectory.

Where do we begin? Elsewhere, comrades have written about the causes of our current predicament and how the radicalism of migrant communities and groups has been undermined by a combination of state capture and suppression, NGO-isation and bureaucracy. This has forced many migrant organisations to rely on models of advocacy and lobbying which can occasionally be successful but are increasingly ineffective in the face of Government intransigence and authoritarianism. This is attested to by the hundreds of open letters, private letters, or petitions that migrant groups have signed and sent, which the Government rarely acknowledges, and to which they even less frequently reply.

To overcome this political dead-end we need to build more substantial roots in our communities, creating powerful institutions linked together in the form of a dynamic and inclusive movement that can unite us in the fight for justice. We need radical solidarity where we fight for each other in the face of increasing far-right attacks and attempts to divide us.

To overcome this political dead-end we need to build more substantial roots in our communities.

Our guide for how to do this can be found all around us. It can be found first and foremost in migrant communities today, in the strength and capacities of our organisers. It can be found in our history, where the ‘migrant justice movement’ – as part of a much more broadly conceived racial justice organising – posed a serious threat to Britain’s capitalist-driven colonial structures. It can be seen all around the world, from the US to France, where vibrant, broad movements fighting to overturn racist migration policies have organised themselves and won in the face of overwhelming odds.

These are more than merely inspiring stories, they provide ideas and blueprints for how we need to take forward our own work. Most importantly, their examples show us precisely what the structure of a movement can bring in terms of force and ability to achieve principled wins and structural change. The collective question that migrant organisations, communities and campaigners must now tackle together is how we create such a movement in Britain today.

As a tentative answer, Migrants Organise has facilitated the creation of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Charter, a collectively conceived document that sets out the demands and movement principles articulated by migrant communities. In the document, ‘migration’ is not a distinct phenomenon from racism and colonial injustice, but rather, appears as the most visible expression of these oppressive structures and ideologies. The FIRM Charter calls attention to the serious societal changes needed to establish a fair, just and rights-based migration policy. However it is not definitive, but rather the start of a conversation about how we go forward. This urgent conversation requires collective input from the entirety of those to whose work and lives it is relevant.

This urgent conversation requires collective input from the entirety of those to whose work and lives it is relevant.

The first, tentative steps of this movement-building initiative will take place over the next few days, as part of a weekend of action against the brutality of the British immigration system. Despite the complications created by Covid-19, organisers have prepared public actions – some in person and some online – that are the first mobilisation directed at creating this wider movement. All are invited to join.

From Liverpool to Coventry, Folkestone to Sheffield, London to Hastings, migrant-led groups, together with community associations, anti-racist oganisations, renters’ unions, climate groups, healthcare workers, and many more, are joining together to stand up to the increasingly authoritarian forces that seek to divide us, to demand justice for Jimmy Mubenga and all those whose lives have been destroyed, and to ensure that it never happens again.

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