Today our activist group, Our Future Now, have installed subverted adverts on London Underground trains calling out the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ and its brutal and racist policies. The adverts were put up early on Friday morning, to mark Refugee Week. The covert protest also occurs on the eve of the anniversary of the Windrush generation’s first arrival to Britain. Today was chosen as our day of action to highlight the Home Office’s routine targeting of those who were part of the Windrush generation and asylum seekers who are treated in an inhumane and unjust manner by the Home Office.The posters are constructed to appear as if it is the Home Office who are exposing themselves. Through the subverted ads, the Home Office themselves ‘admit’ to how many Black British citizens they detained and deported during the Windrush scandal. They call themselves out as being racist. They acknowledge how many people are locked up in detention each year. They confess to creating a society of border guards. And they profess to their incompetence which has led to many asylum seekers being wrongfully deported.
Back when Theresa May was Home Secretary the Home Office developed the most inhumane migrant policies the UK has ever seen. The aptly named ‘hostile environment’ polices turned doctors, teachers and landlords into border guards by getting them to check the immigration status of anyone who appeared to be a migrant (i.e. not ‘white’ enough to be British). When he came in last year, Sajid Javid unveiled the compliant environment, a feeble attempt at rebranding Theresa May’s poisonous hostile environment legacy. This policy was presented as a means of righting a wrong, an attempt at ensuring that the adverse effects of the hostile environment wouldn’t affect those who have the right to be here. The Home Office’s jargony press release cleverly forgot to mention that the hostile environment was in fact designed in the full knowledge that it would get at ‘those who have a right to be here’. The merciless targeting of the Windrush generation was no accidental flaw but a calculated and cruel attack aimed at a vulnerable, ageing and forgotten part of our society. More than a year since the scandal, we are still seeing doctors, landlords, teachers and MPs turned into border guards, making society more hostile than ever to migrants, with or without documentation.
The criminal and inhumane Home Office policies must be stopped, not only for the sake of migrants but also for the sake of all of our collective humanity. The Home Office consistently makes decisions which send people to their deaths. Zainadin Fazlie and Nancy Motsamai to name just two from last year. In September the Home Office deported Zainadin Fazlie to Afghanistan where he was murdered for opposing the Taliban. In March last year they accused Nancy Motsamai of faking illness to avoid UK deportation. She died just five days after being deported to South Africa.
For those who remain in the UK, detention centre conditions are violent and inhumane. Detainees are often forced to work for £1 an hour, while staff in UK detention centres have been known to brag about how they mistreated vulnerable detainees and how they cover up the evidence. In 2017 a BBC Panorama documentary showed guards choking, mocking and abusing individuals at a G4S-run detention centre, and resulted in G4S suspending nine staff members.
Our posters also make another important statement about the importance of having meaningful conversations in public spaces. Our trains, buses, tube stations and streets are filled to the brim with content urging us to consume the planet to death. Our posters hope to awaken empathy and love for those othered. They offer an alternative in which public spaces are seen as a commons we use to express ourselves freely and creatively criticise racist government policies which dehumanise migrants and refugees.
A society is only as good as its treatment of its most vulnerable citizens, and the cruelty this government is showing migrants is emblematic of the diabolical politics waged against the homeless, the penniless and all those made voiceless in this country. Years of austerity and constant dehumanisation of migrants have made us numb to the stories of people being stripped of their humanity and shipped away from their loved ones. We hope that this campaign, done with passion and righteous anger, will ignite our collective rage anger, and help end the hostile environment and begin to tear down the walls keeping us apart.
Our Future Now is an autonomous campaigning group fighting for justice for all, affiliated with Global Justice Now.