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Go Home public meeting report

Go Home public meeting report

On Wednesday evening, a group of activists, lawyers and campaigners gathered in East London to discuss the Government’s ‘Go Home’ campaign and to demonstrate their solidarity with immigrant and refugee communities. The event was attended by Garden Court’s Marketing Assistant, Amy Carrington.

Amy Carrington
Amy Carrington

On Wednesday evening, a group of activists, lawyers and campaigners gathered in Stratford for a public meeting on the Government’s ‘Go Home’ campaign. The event was one in a series of meetings, organised by the Migrants’ Rights Network, which aims to demonstrate support of and solidarity with migrant and refugee communities across London, as well as galvanising support for potential future campaigns.

The catalyst for this series of workshops was the pilot scheme, run by the Government from 22 July, during which vans with the words ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’ were driven around six London boroughs in a week-long campaign. The boroughs were chosen because each one had either a particularly low or particularly high level of voluntary return amongst migrants. The evening included discussions about reactions to the ‘Go Home’ campaign, the proliferation of immigration spot checks and campaigning tips for concerned organisations and individuals.

The evening began with Sasha Rozansky of Deighton Pierce Glynn discussing the ways in which the vans compromised the Public Sector Equality Duty. She argued that “having the vans going around communities in this way clearly was not fostering good relations, tackling discrimination and harassment or promoting understanding,” all of which are duties set out in s.149 of the Equalities Act. Rozansky also explained why the vans encouraged negative reactions from many different sectors of society. At local level, Rozansky argued, the vans were reminiscent of the National Front marches in the 1980s which urged immigrants to ‘go back to where they came from.’ And at political level, local councillors were outraged that they hadn’t been consulted before the vans were rolled out throughout their boroughs, thus threatening to undo the hard work that had been carried out over the years to foster good community relations.

Estelle de Boulay of the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) and Sophie Naftalin of Bhatt Murphy commented on another aspect of the current immigration crackdown: the vast increase in the number of immigration spot checks and their increasingly public character. Both agreed that the targeting of migrants has been “reinvigorated” since the riots of the summer of 2011 and that there has been a significant increase in visible policing and the apparently discriminatory targeting of individuals by immigration officers. Naftalin, a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, was keen to deliver the message that, “there is no compulsion to respond if an immigration officer stops you in the street and you cannot legally be targeted for your accent, your race or your so-called “foreign” appearance.” She urged individuals who felt that they had been targeted in this way to pursue a claim against the police or immigration officials for discrimination.

The evening concluded with Rita Chadha, of the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (RAMFEL) offering advice on how individuals and organisations can rally around this cause and can make their voices heard quickly and effectively. RAMFEL, a non-profit organisation, works across London to develop new services for migrants and is dedicated to working towards eradicating disadvantage and discrimination. RAMFEL led the legal campaign against the ‘Go Home’ vans and galvanised local campaigners and, in some cases, police officers and politicians, against the campaign. Chadha advised that in order to campaign effectively, responding quickly is essential. She also highlighted the importance of fact-finding and that sharing information with interested parties must be done as quickly as possible in order to maximise support. Chadha also talked about the importance of galvanising allies from NGOS, voluntary organisations, the police, councils and community groups in order to pool resources and to amplify the collective voice of the campaign.

This sentiment was encapsulated in the words of a barrister in attendance:

As barristers, we can target this kind of discrimination through individual cases. However, if we are truly to make our voices heard and to have a greater impact across society, we need to work with organisations, with politicians, and with the teachers and doctors who are now being turned into immigration officers, to create a coherent movement with a clear and powerful message.

With the prospect of a national ‘Go Home’ campaign currently under review, the mood amongst those gathered at the event on Wednesday was one of determination. If the Government does decide to roll out the ‘Go Home’ vans nationally, it is clear that this decision will be vehemently challenged by members of the legal sector, the voluntary sector and even by certain members of the Government and the police force.

First published on the Garden Court Immigration Blog.

Amy Carrington

I graduated last year with a Masters in Human Rights from Kingston University, during which I focused predominantly on the issues of human trafficking, female genital mutilation and the potential problems that Western activists may encounter when defending women’s rights in developing countries. I have several years’ experience of volunteering in charities and campaigning organisations in the UK, the US and in South America.

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