'Go Home' vans defeated, but . . .

The British government has abandoned plans to send vans around the country telling 'illegal immigrants' to Go Home. That doesn't mean the official policy of hostility towards migrants has softened.

Les Back and Shamser Sinha
6 November 2013

Credit: thedrum.comOn 31 October, immigration minister Mark Harper revealed to the House of Commons the results of 'Operation Vaken', known popularly as the ‘Go Home’ Van or the 'Racist Vans'. The Home Office had sent vans touring London boroughs, bearing the message: "In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest." The minister claimed that, as of 22 October, there were 60 voluntary departures that can be directly attributed to this pilot. The total cost of the operation was £9,740.   He went on proudly to point out that the average cost of a voluntary removal is £1,000, and the average cost of an ‘enforced removal’ — that is, the violent muscular tearing out of migrants from their life in Britain — is up to £15,000. Trying to save face Harper claimed the 60 ‘voluntary removals’ had more than justified the cost of the van campaign and had actually saved the British taxpayers money.   The Home Office evaluation of Operation Vaken featured a series of individual profiles of ‘voluntary removal’, presenting the scheme as the 'humane face' of immigration policy, aiding trafficked sex workers or migrants with mental health problems to return home. It contains evidence that is less flattering. During the operation a total of 1,561 text messages were received and 1,034 of these were hoax messages. The Home Office claimed that on average, it took staff one minute to deal with each text resulting in 17 hours of wasted staff time. Of the ninety-two phone calls received thirteen were hoax calls.

 What of the social cost to the fabric of our city? Border policing is moving into the heart of London life. Home Secretary Theresa May said on 22nd October the advertising vans were “too much of a blunt instrument” and will not be used again. Other blunt instruments remain, including monitoring Oyster Cards, text messages, fingerprinting students and the use of biometrics. From the lecture theatre to the workplace, the crèche and the rental landlord there is a proliferation of mechanisms for tracking and catching people. As society scrutinises the stranger it is also turning on itself. One thing the Minister cannot quantify is the harm such measures are doing to us all.

Yesterday OurKingdom asked the Home Office to explain the name of the pilot: Vaken. Was it an acronym and what did it stand for? A spokesman said Home Office operations were named alphabetically. (Like hurricanes? said OurKingdom. Exactly, said the spokesman.) He said Vaken means Awake in Swedish, but that’s not why it was chosen.

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