This past Saturday, the 29th of June, hundreds took to the streets to protest the deliberate policy of destitution practiced by the British government, which has been instituted in a bid to dissuade asylum-seekers from coming to the UK. The idea is that if the conditions are horrible, people will just “go home”. Or, that they will pass on the news that the UK is an impossible place to seek sanctuary and embark on a journey somewhere else.
But these ideas are not only blatantly racist and deeply colonial, they are also wrong. Evidence suggests that asylum-seekers have little idea of the social policies which will affect them when they leave their home countries. Also, conditions in the countries they’ve come from will generally be worse, so as a disincentive this policy just doesn’t work. People have many reasons for leaving their country: persecution, experience of violence, intolerable social conditions, the desire to pursue a better life. Asylum-seeking is different from economic migration, being a claim to safety from a situation where it was impossible to remain. But let us not forget that other journeys are important and valid as well. There is no point building social understanding in relation to refuge-seeking at the cost of creating some other form of scapegoat. The point is to recognise the validity of the choices and experiences of each and every person who lives alongside us on this planet. If there are issues of economic and material resources, then we need to look far wider than the individual scale.
It is easy to forget that most of us have arrived where we are because of our ancestors’ decisions, actions, and journeys. It is easy to forget that we are able to move towns and countries as we like – the vast majority of us don’t live now where we are born – whilst others are portrayed as criminals if they do. Finally, it is easy to forget that the privilege to move is more associated with empire-building than any other factor. The British can move where they like because they first asserted their right to property over lands, environments and peoples in places where the concept of property did not exist. It is funny how quickly we resort to the idea that we are “too small an island” to cope with a small flow of incomers, when we were quite big enough an island to colonise hundreds of other countries for our good.
This was what the march was about on Saturday. There were colourful banners, a fantastic puppet goat (the ‘scapegoat’) and wonderful boiler suited costumes. There was music, a band of drummers and a carnival feel. We took over the road from Malcolm X to the M32, and, for the first time ever, stopped the motorway traffic to make our point. We continued along Stapleton Road, stopping outside the new Easton library and Trinity Road police station, before going on to Broadmead and a huge picnic dinner at Castle Park. It was beautiful, and fun, and a wonderful expression of solidarity. But above all it was a statement that this has got to stop. We want dignity for asylum-seekers, and dignity for ourselves.
Well done particularly to all the organisers, and to everyone who took part!