anti racism tracking
The death of a Kenyan woman has stirred anger about the treatment of women and asylum seekers in Germany.
The circumstances surrounding the death in Brandenburg, eastern Germany of Rita Awour Ojungé, a 32-year-old woman from Kenya, earlier this year, have led to refugee rights organisations speaking up about institutional neglect in accommodation centres. ‘Women in Exile and Friends’ (WiE), an initiative founded by refugee women fighting for their rights in Germany, are organising a demonstration, ‘Justice for Rita’ on 25 November. They are protesting violence against refugee women and demand the closure of the accommodation centre in Hohenleipisch, where Rita was staying. But they are also adamant that violence against refugee women is not racialised and that the structural factors that accentuate women’s vulnerability are examined.
Rita had the status of a ‘tolerated’ asylum seeker (a temporary status of deferred deportation) and had been staying in an accommodation centre for refugees in Hohenleipisch for seven years with her two young sons. Hohenleipisch is a small village of 2,000 people in southern Brandenburg, close to the Saxony border. The camp is located in a forest about two kilometres from the village centre, in a former barracks. The current 80 residents are accommodated in two so-called ‘bungalows’, one for unaccompanied women and families, and one for unaccompanied men, which house a maximum of 152 people. Many of the residents have lived in Hohenleipisch for years with little prospect of being able to stay in Germany.
Rita was reported missing by her partner on 7 April 2019. The organisation ‘Opferperspektive e.V.’, a counselling service for victims of right-wing violence and racist discrimination, helped Rita’s partner get in touch with the police and filed a complaint of suspected homicide in his name. The police started a big search operation in the woods surrounding the accommodation centre on 11 June, two months after Rita went missing and after Opferperspektive had repeatedly pressured them to expand their inquiries. On 20 June, the southern Brandenburg police announced that skeletal human remains had been found, and a few days later they confirmed a match with Rita’s DNA. The circumstances of Rita’s death are still being investigated.
The public prosecutor service claims that neither it nor the police neglected the case. The police say they first started looking for Rita on 11 April. The question is: why were the remains found over two months after Rita’s partner had reported her missing, only 200 metres from the accommodation centre? Opferperspektive criticises the way the police conducted the case – not just their seeming reluctance to search for a missing African woman, but also the fact that when the organisation asked to have a specially trained policeman talk to Rita’s four-year-old son about the day she went missing, a policeman replied that he could take care of it as he had a son himself. Even since the body was found, communication from the police is still inadequate, Opferperspektive’s Martin Vesely explains. The deceased’s relatives as well as the attorneys were at first not informed at all and later misinformed about how long the investigation would last. Having been told that a funeral could take place in September, relatives travelled from Kenya to Berlin, only to find out that this was not the case as investigations were still continuing.
In the months following Rita’s death, other refugee rights NGOs became involved, and spoke about the case and the situation in the accommodation centre in Hohenleipisch. With the Refugee Council of Brandenburg and other organisations, WiE organised a first ‘Justice for Rita’ demonstration on 27 August outside Brandenburg’s interior ministry in Potsdam, demanding clarification of the circumstances of Rita’s death. Elizabeth Ngari of WiE said, ‘If Rita had been a white German woman, the failure of police and authorities would be a public scandal. How is it possible that it took two months for her remains to be found near the camp, exactly where the police allegedly had been searching for weeks? The police’s slow investigation and the authorities’ failure to inform the residents of the camp in Hohenleipisch show the institutional racism that we have been calling out for years.’
Criticism of the Hohenleipisch accommodation centre
WiE, Opferperspektive and other migrant and refugee rights advocates call for the accommodation centre in Hohenleipisch to be shut down. According to Vesely, the camp is not suited to accommodate refugees, mainly because of its remote location. The lack of infrastructure ‘socially and materially isolates the residents’, he told IRR. Moreover, the county of Elbe-Elster assigned the centre to a private company, which means that profit often appears to be more important than improving the accommodation facilities. Vesely said this has happened before in other refugee camps. He also mentioned two other accommodation centres in Brandenburg where refugees were facing right-wing motivated violence in recent years, and where Opferperspektive had called on the authorities and the public to recognise the racism the residents were facing and provide support.
In July, the residents of the Hohenleipisch accommodation centre wrote an open letter asking for help to be able to leave the camp. They feel cut off from society, the letter explains, due to the remote location in the middle of a forest. Buses do not run after 17.30 during the week and not at all on the weekends. After Rita’s death, the residents do not feel safe in the centre, do not feel they are understood or supported. ‘We want to be helped, to leave this horrible place. None of us needs huge apartments in the city centre. We just want to get out of here. We need humane accommodation,’ the letter says. There has been no official response, but the district administration invited the Refugee Council to a meeting about the situation in Hohenleipisch. A member of WiE who also attended told IRR: ‘It was clear that they feel the camp meets the “normal” standard of what is required for such accommodations and see no immediate need for closing it.’
WiE are continuing their fight to abolish all camps and provide safe and humane housing for refugees, especially for women*  and children. Women ‘are often taken advantage of, by the men who are living in the camps with them and also by those who are working in these refugee institutions and by local men’, they told IRR. But, with other feminist anti-racist organisations, WiE are also adamant that violence against refugee women must not be racialised. They point out that violence against women and girls is systemic. International Women* Space (IWS), a political group based in Berlin, visited Hohenleipisch after Rita’s death, and published a report in which they addressed the portrayal of non-white people, especially men, as ‘aggressive’ and thus as a threat from which people must be protected by deportation.
The report says: ‘We must not fall into the trap of seeing violence against women as a social problem brought to Germany from outside. As we know from the BKA statistics of 2018, a woman is killed by her (ex-)partner every three days in Germany and most of the perpetrators are German men. Violence against women is a global problem, and misogyny a global system that cannot be scapegoated to particular non-white groups.’ It points out that ‘There are no comparable findings from statistics or investigations on attacks on refugee women, be it by the security personnel, the camp management, social workers, other residents or police, apparently such data is not worth collecting. How can that be?’
‘Violence against women*, abuse and harassment are a global phenomenon in this sexist and racist world’, WiE write on their flyer for the demonstration planned on 25 November, the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’. The demonstration, part of WiE’s campaign to abolish camps for asylum seekers, is organised as a bus tour starting at Oranienplatz in Berlin, moving on to the town hall in Elbe-Elster and the accommodation centre in Hohenleipisch. With this event, Women in Exile and Friends seek to remind the authorities that the accommodation centre in Hohenleipisch needs to be shut down, and to show solidarity with Rita and the camp’s residents.
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A fortnightly resource for anti-racist and social justice campaigns, highlighting key events in the UK and Europe.ASYLUM AND MIGRATION Asylum and migrant rights
1 November: The international protection and other provisions law, rushed through the Greek parliament in a matter of days, aimed at curbing the sharpest increase in arrivals since 2015, will restrict access to safeguards for asylum seekers, with serious consequences for fundamental rights, says Human Rights Watch. (Guardian, 1 November 2019)
5 November: The French government announces that migrant workers’ quotas will be introduced for the first time, in a move that is widely seen as an attempt to woo voters away from the far-right National Rally in advance of local elections in March 2020. (Guardian, 5 November 2019)
8 November: Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit says thousands of EU national children in care will be unable to obtain settled status post-Brexit and will risk homelessness and possible detention and deportation owing to lack of documentation. (Guardian, 8 November 2019)
8 November: At the inquest of Osman Ahmed Nur, the senior coroner for inner north London criticises the Camden and Islington NHS foundation trust for failure to properly assess the mental condition of the 19-year-old, one of four young Eritrean refugees in the same friendship group who took their own lives in the space of a year. While the coroner says, he took his own life on 19 May 2018, she is not clear whether it was suicide because he may have been suffering from psychosis. (Guardian, 8 November 2019)Reception and detention
28 October: Detainees at Mesnil-Amelot CRA, near Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, revolt against their treatment, setting fire to a number of cells. (Are you Syrious, 1 November 2019)
31 October: The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) report that in 2018, only 44 per cent of people leaving UK detention were deported. Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) says the figures show that ‘detention fails to achieve its stated aim in the majority of cases and is frequently used to coerce people into leaving the UK’. The boards also raise concerns over excessive use of restraints and the prevalence of mental health problems and self-harm. (Independent, 31 October 2019)
2 November: Sixteen women prisoners from Syria and Palestine, including one minor, start a hunger strike at the Petrou Ralli detention centre in Athens, demanding immediate transfer to the islands for processing of their asylum claims, and protesting the dirty, unhealthy conditions of their detention. (Enough is Enough, 3 November 2019)
2 November: The Irish justice minister postpones the transfer of 13 female asylum seekers to a hotel on Achill Island, County Mayo because of fears for their state of mind, saying that the ongoing ‘protests’ against an emergency direct provision centre on the island ‘would add further to the vulnerability of the women’. (Irish Times, 2 November 2019)
3 November: Over 100 charities sign a letter to the Home Office calling for urgent action over the state of asylum housing. They say living conditions have worsened since the charity Migrant Help took over asylum support from G4S in September 2019, citing reports of rat infestations, no heating and ‘drastically increased’ waiting times. (Independent, 3 November 2019)
3 November: A 25-year-old Nigerian man sleeping rough in Calais dies from smoke inhalation in his tent, where he had tried to light a fire to keep warm and prepare food. A protest is held against this, the third death in Calais this year. A recent mayoral decree preventing migrants from gathering in the town centre during cultural festivities is also criticised as an attempt to strip migrants of ‘their humanity and label them as parasites that have to be hidden or walled in’. (Guardian, 3 November 2019)
4 November: In Ireland, Ballinamore residents set up a ‘welcoming committee’ for refugees, seeking to provide an ‘alternative voice’ to those holding round-the-clock protests in the Co Leitrim town where a Sinn Fein councillor’s car was recently set alight. (Irish Times, 4 November 2019)
6 November: A public inquiry begins into allegations of abuse at Brook House, a G4S-run immigration detention centre in Gatwick, after a 2017 BBC Panorama programme revealed evidence of mistreatment of detainees by staff. The inquiry, chaired by specialist custody investigator Kate Eves, will also investigate whether monitoring mechanisms were sufficiently robust. (Independent, 6 November 2019)
7 November: French police evict over 1,600 people from makeshift migrant camps in northern Paris after President Macron announces a new tougher stance on migration. A spokesperson from the migrant solidarity organisation Utopia56 says the police operation will mean more people attempting the dangerous journey to the UK via camps in France’s Channel ports. (BBC, 8 November)Anti-refugee protests
1 November: A priest in Skyda, West Macedonia in Greece, is filmed at a town meeting threatening that he and residents will ‘take the law in their hands’ and use guns should displaced people be resettled in the town as part of government plans to relieve pressure on the Greek Islands. (Keep Talking Greece, 1 November 2019)
3 November: In Greece, over the weekend of 2-3 November, multiple racist protests and blockades are held in Giannitsa, Serres, Kos, Chios, and Leros, against the arrival of refugees, and in Thessaloniki the far Right organise protests against the transfer of refugees from the islands. (Are You Syrious, 4 November 2019, Greek Reporter, 3 November 2019)
5 November: Questions are asked in the Greek parliament about the lawfulness of a planned ‘barbecue protest’ announced by the United Macedonia group near the Diavata refugee camp, a few miles west of Thessaloniki, where attendees have been invited on social media to consume pork and alcohol to protest at the growing number of immigrants in Greece. (Deutsche Welle, 5 November 2019)
7 November: Fifty pupils at a vocational high school in Giannitsa, Central Macedonia, occupy their school in a protest against refugees and migrants. They then march through the centre of town chanting ‘illegals out of schools’ and ‘Macedonia is Greek’. Watch a video here. (Keep Talking Greece, 7 November 2019).
7 November: Residents of Karitsa village, near Larissa in Central Greece, block a main road in order to prevent a bus with 40 unaccompanied minors from reaching a reception hotel. (Keep Talking Greece, 7 November 2019)Borders and internal controls
29 October: The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Foxglove, a new advocacy group promoting justice in the technology sector, launch a legal case to force the Home Office to explain on what basis a new algorithm that filters UK visa applications streams applicants. The two groups fear the AI ‘streaming tool’ would lead to ‘speedy boarding for white people’ while ‘poorer people of colour get pushed to the back of the queue’. (Guardian, 29 October 2019; Electronic Immigration Network, 30 October 2019)
31 October: Italian NGO Open Migration reports that the daily illegal pushbacks between France and Italy are increasing, with 1,855 pushbacks registered in October alone. (Are you Syrious, 31 October 2019)
31 October: The body of a young man, thought to be between 25 and 30 and presumed to be a refugee, is found off the coast of Gumusluk, Mugla in Turkey. His mobile phone is being used to try to identify him (Are you Syrious, 31 October 2019)
31 October: Italy renews its agreement with Libyan authorities whereby it provides assistance to the Libyan coastguard to stop people attempting to come to Europe. This is despite the criticism of Libyan treatment of displaced people in its detention camps. (The Local, 31 October 2019)
4 November: The foreign affairs select committee calls for a rethink in immigration policies in the wake of the Essex lorry deaths, saying closing borders only drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and agreements with Libya, Niger and Sudan to stop migration risks fuelling human rights abuses. Read its report here. (BBC News, 4 November 2019)
4 November: In northern Greece, the driver of a van is arrested after police carrying out a check at a motorway near Xanthi discover 41 migrants, believed to be from Afghanistan, alive in a refrigerated truck. Seven people are rushed to hospital with respiratory problems. (Guardian, 4 November 2019)
4 November: After urging those with information about the 39 Vietnamese nationals found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex to come forward ‘without fear’ last week, Essex police refuse to confirm that they will not share data on respondents’ immigration status with the Home Office. Human rights barrister Parosha Chandran says ‘The police need to be very careful that they are not betraying the trust of frightened and vulnerable people’. (Guardian, 4 November 2019)
5 November: 15 organisations sign an open letter urging local authorities to suspend their cooperation with the Rough Sleeping Support Service, a new Home Office scheme involving the embedding of immigration surgeries in community and religious organisations, saying it ‘makes no sense from a support perspective’ and is ‘being used to co-opt councils and charities into the delivery of immigration controls’. The Public Interest Law Centre says the scheme has a ‘strong element of racial profiling’. (Guardian, 5 November 2019)
5 November: Following a high court challenge by the Public Interest Law Centre, the homelessness charity St Mungo’s apologises for sharing information with the Home Office about rough sleeping migrants, some of whom were subsequently wrongly deported from the UK. (Guardian, 5 November 2019)
9 November: A 20-year-old refugee from Syria who was rescued by his family from a forest in the south of the country dies from hypothermia and exhaustion in the town of Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia, as medical assistance arrives too late. (Are You Syrious, 9 November 2019)
9 November: Hundreds of civil society activists join members of Sea Watch and Mediterranea on the streets of Rome to demand the abolition of the new state Security Laws which rescue NGOs complain keep their ships idle in port. (Are you Syrious, 9-10 November 2019)Citizenship
6 November: The Cyprus government strips 26 individuals of citizenship they received under a secretive passports-for-investment scheme amid concerns that the ‘golden passport’ scheme facilitates crime and money laundering. (BBC News, 7 November 2019)
ELECTORAL POLITICS – UK
3 November: In the run-up to the general election, leading politicians sign a pledge issued by the campaign group Compassion in Politics to avoid hateful language during the general election campaign. (Guardian, 3 November 2019)
8 November: Labour parliamentary candidate Gideon Bull withdraws his candidacy after allegations that he used the word ‘Shylock’ at a meeting where a Jewish councillor was present. (Guardian, 8 November 2019)
11 November: Former aide to Boris Johnson, Anthony Browne, faces calls to withdraw his candidacy for a safe Tory seat over ‘abhorrent’ articles he wrote for the Spectator from 2002 to 2005, blaming immigrants for bringing ‘germs’ and HIV to the UK. (Guardian, 11 November 2019)
11 November: British Indians in Harrow, north-west London, criticise messages by supporters of the Hindu nationalist BJP telling Hindus to vote Tory, saying they should not interfere in the British general election. (Guardian, 11 November 2019)ELECTORAL POLITICS – EUROPE
31 October: The Independent exposes a trip by far-right European MEPs from the Brexit party, Alternative for Germany, and the National Rally in France, to the Kashmir region where they voiced support for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ‘fight against global terrorism’. (Independent, 31 October 2019)
7 November: In Kozani, Greece, the governing centre-right New Democracy party expels a local official after he posts on Facebook ‘These blacks […] should be thrown in the Aegean Sea.’ (Keep Talking Greece, 7 November 2019)
8 November: More than 1,600 academics sign a statement denouncing the manipulation of crime statistics by the far-right Vox leader during a TV election debate. Santiago Abascal falsely claimed that 70 per cent of gang rapes in Spain are committed by foreigners, and singled out the unaccompanied minors’ centre in Hortaleza as a centre of crime. On the same day, a colleague stood outside the gates of an unaccompanied minors’ centre in Seville and labelled it a serious problem. (El Pais in English, 8 November 2019, Observer, 10 November 2019)
8 November: In an open letter, 17 Christian Democrat (CU) politicians in Thuringia say coalition talks with ‘all democratically elected parties’ should be considered. This is seen as a reference to an alliance with the far-right Alternative for Germany, a demand the CDU leadership rejects. (Guardian, 8 November 2019)ANTI-FASCISM AND THE FAR RIGHT
29 October: A judge in Warsaw finds fourteen anti-fascist women not guilty of unlawful assembly, saying that they were right to unfold a poster saying ‘Fascism Stop’ at an Independence Day rally in the Polish capital in November 2017. (Euronews, 29 October 2019)
30 October: It emerges that the alleged neo-nazi killer of CDU politician Walter Lübcke was known to the Hesse authorities. The alleged murderer had maintained a relationship with controversial official Andreas Temme, who was present at the murder of one of the victims of the National Socialist Underground, and was responsible for running the Hesse intelligence agency’s informants within the neo-nazi scene (World Socialist, 30 October 2019)
2 November: A German offshoot of a US-based neo-nazi group, Atomwaffen Division Deutschland, which has been linked to several murders and planned terror attacks, appears to be behind an execution threat sent to Cem Özdemir a former leader of the Green party and one of Germany’s highest-profile politicians with Turkish origins.(Deutsche Welle in English, 2 November 2019)
2 November: The city council in Dresden passes a motion declaring a ‘Nazi emergency’, noting that since the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA emerged in the city in 2014, Dresden has become a bastion of the far Right. (Deutsche Welle in English, 2 November 2019)
2 November: US white supremacist Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief of the white nationalist publishing house Counter Currents, is arrested in Oslo prior to giving a speech at the far-right Scandza Forum – Human Biodiversity conference. (Deutsche Welle, 2 November 2019)
9 November: In Germany, 15,000 anti-fascists mark the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht by organising a counter-protest in Bielefeld, North-Rhine Westfalia against a march by the neo-nazi party Die Rechte. A human chain was formed outside the synagogue. (Deutsche Welle, 9 November 2019)POLICING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
29 October: A new medical report into the 2005 death of asylum seeker Oury Jalloh finds he sustained bone fractures before he died. His charred body was found with the hands bound to a bed in a police cell in Dessau, east Germany. The authorities always claimed that he killed himself by igniting his mattress with a lighter in his cell. (Deutsche Welle in English, 29 October 2019)
3 November: The children’s commissioner describes the youth justice system in England and Wales as “chaotic and dysfunctional” after almost a decade of cuts and court closures, while a Guardian investigation finds the system plagued by increasing delays, confusion and poor child protection. (Guardian, 3 November 2019)
4 November: The Ministry of Justice reveals that the proportion of children convicted of a crime who are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds has nearly doubled in eight years (Guardian, 4 November 2019)
5 November: Austerity-linked violent crime in the West Midlands has risen 103 per cent since 2014, according to a House of Commons briefing paper. (Guardian, 6 November)
7 November: The Crown Prosecution Service announces murder and ABH charges against unnamed police officers in connection with the death of Dalian Atkinson. A former footballer, Atkinson died in 2015 following the use of force by officers of West Mercia police, including restraint and taser. (Inquest press release, 7 November 2019)HOUSING
3 November: Lawyers launch a legal challenge to councils’ use of public space protection orders (PSPO) which criminalise homeless people for begging and rough sleeping, after a crowdfunding campaign reaches its target. (Guardian, 3 November 2019)
4 November: Local authorities in London are moving families into council estates that are planned for demolition, and campaigners in Tottenham, Haringey say it disproportionately affects black, Asian and minority ethnic residents, whose mental and physical health is suffering. (Guardian, 5 November 2019, See also IRR interview with Tottenham temporary accommodation tenant Tash here.HEALTH AND WELFARE
31 October: Data published by the Department for Education show a 30 per cent increase in referrals of asylum-seeking children to social services and significant increases in children affected by trafficking and abuse related to religion. (Guardian, 31 October 2019)
3 November: The Home Office is blocking plans agreed by the health secretary and NHS bosses to bring more trainee medics to the UK to help ease acute staff shortages in the NHS. (Guardian, 3 November 2019)
4 November: North Bristol Trust launches a Red Card to Racism campaign after staff report an increase in racist and sexist language, gestures and behaviour at Southmead Hospital. (BBC News, 4 November 2019)
8 November: A Local Government Association survey finds that for children’s services in England, domestic violence, poverty, poor housing and substance abuse are driving a surge in children at risk, as austerity pushes families over the edge. (Guardian, 8 November)DISCRIMINATION
10 November: In the first march of its kind, 40,000 people take to the streets of Paris to protest against the state’s Islamophobia. (CCIF, 11 November 2019)
11 November: A former Financial Conduct Authority board member warns that banking tools which identify unprofitable customers risk exacerbating discrimination and exclusion. (Guardian, 11 November 2019)MEDIA AND CULTURE
1 November: The Spectator is criticised for running a piece by Rod Liddle which appears to call for elections to be held on days when Muslims are forbidden by their religion to vote. Editor Fraser Nelson says that the article should not have been published in the form that it was but defends Liddle’s right to satirise UK politics. (Guardian, 1 November 2019)EDUCATION
6 November: A 17-year-old pupil from Edinburgh is threatened with suspension after reporting to teachers how she had been abused, including use of the ‘N’ word, by fellow pupils. The victim is asking the local council to do more to help victims. (BBC News, 6 November 2019)EMPLOYMENT AND EXPLOITATION
31 October: Migrant workers at 5 Hertford Street, a private members’ club owned by millionaire Robin Birley, who has donated £268,000 to UKIP and £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, ballot for strike action. Their union, the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), says they are demanding the London Living Wage of £10.55 an hour and proper occupational sick pay. (Left Foot Forward, 31 October 2019; iNews, 31 October 2019)
7 November: A Polish chef who was repeatedly harassed, abused and discriminated against by a member of staff at a restaurant in Co. Londonderry is awarded £15,000 by an employment tribunal. (BBC News, 7 November 2019)
11 November: Outsourced porters and cleaning staff at St Mary’s hospital occupy the A&E waiting area demanding a meeting with management, on the fourth day of their strike over pay and conditions of work. (Socialist Worker, 12 November 2019)
12 November: McDonald’s workers across the UK, supported by War on Want, the TUC and trades unions, strike for £15 per hour and guaranteed hours, as part of a global action uniting the company’s staff from Brazil and New Zealand to France and Belgium. McDonald’s employs 130,000 workers in the UK, and its chief executive ‘earned’ £12 million in 2018. (Manchester Evening News, 12 November 2019)SPORT
3 November: Brescia forward Mario Balotelli is targeted for monkey chants at Brescia’s away match against Verona, but later, Verona’s manager denies any racist abuse took place. (Guardian, 4 November 2019)
4 November: Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla is charged by the Football Association with using abusive language (discriminatory comments) towards Charlton Player Jonathan Leko during a match on 28 September. (ITV News, 4 November 2019)
7 November: In Italy, a new ‘Love Lazio, Fight Fascism’ football fan group is launched. It aims to challenge the image of the club as far-right supporting, while also preventing neo-nazis from using the club’s north stand to indoctrinate young football fans. (The Local, 7 November 2019)
8 November: England captain Gareth Southgate, Kick it Out and others criticise the sanctions against Bulgaria following sustained racist abuse from their fans towards England’s black players during last month’s 2020 qualifier. Bulgaria was merely ordered to play two matches behind closed doors and the Bulgarian Football Union was fined £65,000 by UEFA. (Independent, 8 November 2019)RACIAL VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT
29 October: Police investigate an assault in Tidworth on a man and his 3-year-old niece in which the assailant racially abused the victims. (Andover Advertiser, 29 October 2019)
31 October: A video showing a young woman being verbally and physically attacked on a Madrid bus by a man shouting ‘go back to your country’, is leaked online, three months after a man was arrested for a racist attack against a black woman on a bus. The Madrid municipal transportation company, EMT, claims to have no record of the incident. (El Pais, 6 November 2019)
2 November: Watford police seek witnesses to a racially aggravated assault on a teenage girl in Watford High Street on 22 August. (Watford Observer, 2 November 2019)
5 November: A 25-year-old man pleads guilty to a racially aggravated assault on an Uber driver in Bristol and is given an 18 months community order for punching the victim several times, biting him in the back of his neck and racially abusing him. (Bristol Live, 5 November 2019)
7 November: The newly-erected Romani Rose True Holocaust Memorial in Govanhill, Glasgow, thought to be the first of its kind in Scotland, is vandalised. (The Scotsman, 7 November 2019)
7 November: The head of operations at First Eastern Counties investigates the allegation that a paralysed wheelchair-bound black man was abused by a Cambridgeshire bus driver who also refused to help him and his wheelchair on and off her bus. (Cambridge News, 7 November 2019)
7 November: In Italy, 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, a lifetime senator, is given police protection after receiving hundreds of threats, including death threats, on social media following her call for the establishment of an extraordinary parliamentary commission to combat racism. The measure was passed, though The League and Brothers of Italy abstained. (BBC News, 7 November 2019)
This calendar was compiled by the IRR News team with the help of Laura Wormington and Graeme Atkinson.
In the wake of the deaths of 39 migrants in a lorry container, daikon*’s Kay Stephens writes on the global structures of capitalism and imperialism and the deadly border regimes that led to their deaths.
On 24 October, daikon*, a group of anti-racist creatives of east and south east Asian descent, organised a vigil outside the Home Office with SOAS Detainee Support and members of the Chinese community to grieve for the 39 people found dead in a truck container in Essex – 39 people who died horrific deaths in miserable conditions in a desperate attempt to reach the UK.
These deaths are no accident, but the direct result of global structures of capitalism and imperialism that marginalise, if not violently exclude, working-class undocumented migrants and people of colour. The mainstream’s response – calling for harsher borders, criminal justice for ‘greedy and unscrupulous’ traffickers and safe passage for ‘genuine’ refugees –fails to interrogate the global conditions that lead people to risk dangerous travel, and the deadly effects of border controls on all migrants.
The global context
Although initially identified as Chinese nationals, news is emerging that the majority of victims were from the neighbouring Vietnamese provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh, both amongst the poorest regions in the country. In 2016, Hà Tĩnh suffered a water pollution disaster affecting over 200km of coastline, resulting in at least 70 tonnes of dead fish washing up on local shores. It was found that the Hà Tĩnh steel plant – a joint venture between the Taiwanese company Formosa, China Steel Corporation and Japan’s JFE Steel – had been discharging toxic waste into the ocean, devastating local marine life and directly affecting some 40,000 workers who relied on fishing and tourism for their livelihood. The affected communities have faced crackdowns on protest and are still seeking justice. Today, the region is a key site of people-smuggling to the UK.
We can see neo-colonial dynamics playing out here. Big corporations from richer countries come in to exploit resources and low labour costs to produce wealth for themselves. When they cut corners to maximise profit, local working-class communities bear the brunt of the fallout, often in the form of irreparable environmental damage. These same countries then benefit from a hyper-exploitable migrant workforce: Taiwan and Japan, for instance, are on the receiving end of Vietnamese labour export programmes. These are effectively systems of debt servitude, whereby migrants work long hours for low pay in often poor conditions in order to send remittances to support their families back home, on top of repaying debts incurred to obtain work abroad. In Taiwan, low wages and rampant abuse drive many workers to break away from their contracts and seek criminalised forms of work. In Japan, Vietnamese workers commonly report experiences of racism and social exclusion, with many even dying of overwork.
This year, we also saw the inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) style mechanism in EU-Vietnam trade deals. This effectively gives foreign investors the power to sue host governments when their court rulings, laws and regulations – many of which serve the public interest – undermine their investments. Globally, ISDS has been used by corporations to sue governments when hard-won social and environmental protections negatively impact their production and profits. Currently, two British oil firms are using ISDS to sue the Vietnamese government to avoid paying taxes in the country. With the EU-Vietnam trade deal, we can expect European corporations to continue to exploit this mechanism at the expense of the local environment and people, who may increasingly seek to build their lives elsewhere.
The UK response
It is in this context that smuggling networks develop and operate. Those seeking the prospect of a better life abroad may hire the services of smugglers who facilitate illegalised movement across borders. Many will incur debts to finance their journeys, and expect to undertake difficult work upon arrival at their destination. One response of the UK Home Office is to support IOM (International Organization for Migration) Vietnam, both in delivering propaganda campaigns that attempt to deter people from illegalised migration, and in criminal investigations aimed at prosecuting smugglers and traffickers – policies that do nothing to address the conditions that lead people to migrate. Politicians and commentators are also insisting that to avoid tragedies like the Essex 39, we need increased border security and continued collaboration with EU law enforcement and anti-trafficking units. Yet we have witnessed the prosecution of aid workers helping migrants to safety under EU trafficking laws, and there are countless reports of police brutality against migrants in EU border enforcement operations. In reality, tougher borders only lead migrants and smugglers to risk increasingly deadly and secretive migration routes in order to evade detection by improved security technology. Securitised responses also shift the smuggling industry away from community-based networks towards increasingly violent and highly organised criminal networks that are able to maximally exploit migrants’ vulnerability to increase their profit margins. In short, borders kill. If we want to prevent migrant deaths, we need to work towards the abolition of borders, starting with practical solidarity resisting borders in public life and our communities – refusing complicity in the hostile environment, visiting people in detention, and resisting immigration raids.
The impact of criminalisation
We should also be concerned about how an increased emphasis on anti-trafficking legislation may further endanger precarious migrant workers in the UK. In 2016, we saw ‘anti-trafficking’ police raids on massage parlours in Soho and Chinatown lead to the violent arrest of many migrant sex workers on immigration grounds. Whilst ostensibly aimed at addressing exploitation, these kinds of ‘rescue’ raids on brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms are basically indistinguishable from immigration raids, leading as they often do to the detention of migrant workers, who then either face deportation or a protracted legal battle to remain. Often underlying such operations are gendered and racialised assumptions of Asian migrant women as passive and helpless victims in need of rescue, and Asian men as unscrupulous and predatory traffickers, who control and exploit those helpless victims. The reality is that in the context of border regimes that push them into debt and underground economies, many migrants make a constrained choice to work under conditions that are to varying degrees exploitative or abusive in order to pay off debts to smugglers, send money to dependants, and indeed, to survive. The fact that the British state does not guarantee indefinite leave to remain, nor adequate social support to those it identifies as survivors of trafficking shows its fundamental failure to grasp the central role that borders and capitalism, rather than individual traffickers, play in producing conditions for exploitation and abuse.
Whatever their circumstances, we need to ensure migrants are able to assert labour rights and access safe housing, work, healthcare and other public, legal and social services – all without fear of immigration sanctions or criminal convictions. At a minimum, this means ending the ‘hostile environment’ which embeds immigration checks throughout public life, and decriminalising industries such as sex work whose criminalisation only pushes undocumented workers deeper into secrecy and silence.
As heart-breaking stories of victims continue to emerge, we must recognise that such deaths are an inevitability of the neo-colonial, securitised regimes being built globally, designed to marginalise working-class migrants and people of colour, who are rendered exploitable or disposable. Systemic analyses that centre anti-capitalism, no borders, building migrant workers’ rights globally, and the decriminalisation of sex work are not distractions but central to bringing an end to senseless deaths such as those of the Essex 39.
Ian Macdonald, whose death was announced on 12 November, was a pioneer of committed anti-racist legal practice, as a criminal lawyer and later, as the founding father of immigration law.
The son of a Scottish senior police officer, Ian started out in an ‘establishment’ set of chambers in the early 1960s, which he left after some years to join the new, radical young set later known as Garden Court chambers (then Farrars Building) – lawyers working with community activists in the squatters’, women’s and anti-racist movements to broaden access to justice and defend the rights of marginalised people. He came to prominence through his legal defence of the Mangrove Nine (1970), in which he showed his fearlessness in confronting police and judicial racism. Other important political trials in which he played a central part included the Angry Brigade and the Balcombe Street Siege trials, and the Newham Seven, tried in 1985 for seeking to defend their community against racist attack.
At the same time as taking on police racism, Ian confronted racist immigration laws and practices. I met him at the IRR when he was working on the politics of the 1971 Immigration Act – the Act which removed the right of abode in the UK from citizens without an ancestral connection with the UK, which closed off mass migration from the Commonwealth, and provided the infrastructure of modern immigration control. Immigration law was not taught then, and Ian realised that lawyers needed to know about immigration laws and the practices of the Home Office in order to fight them. So, he set about writing the textbook which became Macdonald’s Immigration law and Practice, or Macdonald for short, now in its 9th edition and the immigration practitioners’ bible.
Ian’s concern for justice led him to activism in the anti-apartheid movement as well as close collaboration with black feminists and educationalists, and with trades unionists in defence of workers’ rights. He chaired the Burnage inquiry into the death of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah in a Manchester playground in 1984. He loved recounting his battles with the establishment – particularly the story of when he applied to become a QC, and the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, in whose gift it was, said ‘Over my dead body!’ Hailsham died in 1987, and Ian finally became a QC in 1988.
We have lost a fearless fighter who spoke truth to power.
Photograph of Ian MacDonald outside the Royal Courts of Justice, September 1977, following Darcus Howe’s release from prison, with Selwyn Baptiste, Darcus Howe, John La Rose and Barbara Beese. © Here to Stay, Here to fight (Pluto 2019)
Two new anthologies of pieces from the magazines Race Today and Race & Class recall important struggles on the streets, the factory floors and in communities, linking them to both class and global internationalism.
It is salutary that at a time when racism is getting redefined in some sectors and official investigations as identity loss, unconscious bias and microaggression, we are reminded just how connected the struggle against racism was in the 1970s and ‘80s to class, to exploitation, state power and to liberation movements. It is significant that two new collections, A. Sivanandan’s Communities of Resistance: writings on Black Struggles for Socialism (Verso, 2019) and the new Race Today anthology, Here to Stay, Here to fight (Pluto press, 2019), come from magazines that were radicalised into political tools during the heydays of the 1970s.
Race Today had started life as the Institute of Race Relations’ (IRR) 1960s bland, upright, uptight A5 IRR Newsletter, telling of ‘race’ policy developments. In late 1969 the IRR decided to change it into a monthly illustrated magazine Race Today. And after the internal struggle to change IRR in 1972, it was decided that the magazine was too hot a political potato and a new (non-charitable) organisation Towards Racial Justice (TRJ) was created to publish Race Today; and activist and Mangrove protagonist Darcus Howe appointed its editor. As funding was removed from IRR from traditional sources, since it was seen as dangerously radical, all departments now worried about paying wages and rent. TRJ decided to do a flit from Kings Cross to Brixton where the now Race Today Collective was to squat at 74 Shakespeare Road as an independent body.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, as we had to negotiate to move into the basement (subject to floods and rats) of our building, we were also transforming another bland journal, the academic RACE, then published by Oxford University Press into Race & Class – a journal for Black and Third World liberation. What is fascinating is the fact that Darcus Howe and Sivanandan (now IRR director) both scholarship boys of the colonies were also schooled in Marxist Leninism and saw in a magazine their Iskra. Editorials in 1974 spelt out their respective visions. Howe wrote,
‘Our task is to record and recognise the struggles of the emerging forces as manifestations of the revolutionary potential of the black population. We recognise too the release of intellectual energy from within the black community, which always comes to the fore when the masses of the oppressed by their actions create a new social reality.’
Sivanandan, editor of the other transitioning journal, wrote about the role of academics and thinkers in holding back social change,
‘a scholarship that engenders a colonialism of the mind, brings credibility to power, and helps further to enslave the oppressed and the exploited. The function of knowledge … is to liberate – to apprehend reality in order to change it.’
If there were a rift between the two magazines and their editors, it was possibly around the notion of organisation. Howe, a relative of CLR James, was a proponent of mass self-organisation and viewed Sivanandan’s more classic Marxism as an old-fashioned vanguardism. Such nuanced differences probably look ridiculous now in hindsight, and certainly if you examine the two collections there is significant overlap in subjects covered: e.g. Grunwick, Broadwater Farm, Notting Hill Carnival, the black middle class, and in terms of contributors: such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, John La Rose and Walter Rodney.
The two collections both reflect the times in which they were written and present the struggle against racism as a militant and material one. But the books are somewhat dissimilar. The Race Today anthology, Here to Stay, Here to fight, carries some fifty-five different pieces, many of them short, from a variety of contributors to the monthly from Howe, Farrukh Dhondy and Linton Kwesi Johnson to US-based Toni Morrison, Martin Glaberman and David Roediger. Communities of Resistance: writings of black struggles for socialism, on the other hand, is a reissue of a 1990 collection of eleven analytical articles, all by Sivanandan. These are topped and tailed by an interview with the late author, and a newly-commissioned preface from Gary Younge and Introduction by Arun Kundnani plus a bibliography of Sivanandan’s writings.
Most of the pieces in the anthology Here to stay, Here to fight were originally published between 1974 and 1988 in Race Today and have never seen the light of day before as a collection. Gathered into chapters on British politics, ‘Youth in revolt’, ‘Sex, race and class’, Asian workers’ struggles, British (in)justice, culture, Third World liberation and ‘Legacies’, it gives an excellent taster – sometimes story-telling, sometimes analyses, sometimes record, sometimes poetry – of the hard-fought struggles and creative ripostes of those times.
Here we learn about campaigns against policing from Brockwell Park (1973) to Broadwater Farm (1981)) the Bradford 12 (1982) and Jackie Berkley (1985), against trade union racism at Imperial Typewriters (1974) and Grunwick (1977). Some stories such as that of ‘The New Cross Massacre’ are well known; others like the East End’s Bengali Housing Action Group (1977) have been relatively unsung. This collection acts not just as record but also provides a political flavour of how racism was conceived and how struggle was enacted, when Black, like, Red, was a political colour.
Most importantly, Race Today was not just a magazine foregrounding ‘the voices of the protagonists’, its Collective was also a mobiliser – most notable for the unique Black people’s Day of Action through London in March 1981 following the New Cross fire, and the mass squat in Tower Hamlets (1975-77). In 1982, it, with Bogle L’Ouverture (Jessica and Eric Huntley) and New Beacon Books (John la Rose et al), got the annual International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books off the ground. For Race Today ‘saw culture and politics as inseparable’; its writers ‘argued that liberation movements and cultural movements emerged hand-in-hand’ with for Dhondy, ‘the conscious interplay of political and material reality with the act of creation and the lives of the creators’. The creative took in participating in Notting Hill Carnival as well as producing annual Race Today Reviews which showcased the work of black artists, novelists and poets.
If Here to stay, Here to fight showcases the issues, campaigns and people of the time, Sivanandan in Communities of Resistance provides the lenses through which to view them. To give the magazines their due, they both saw racism as inextricably bound up to class, eschewed divisive ethnic nationalism and espoused internationalism. But in Sivanandan’s eleven ‘influential essays’ (which all appeared in Race & Class) these concepts are analysed in depth. He considered himself a pamphleteer, a kind of agitator-cum-educator-cum-organiser. For him the key was that racism did not stay still but changed its shape and form according to external conditions; and that meant weighing up the forces and changing the fights. The collection starts with his excoriating polemic against Thatcherism and a section of the Left ‘The hokum of New Times’ and takes in his ‘ground-breaking analysis of the newly emerging world of globalised capitalism’, ‘New circuits of imperialism’ and his vision of the impact of 1992 and Fortress Europe. The central part of the book is devoted to black struggles in Britain, where he challenges both state policies (whether in brutal policing, racist immigration controls, or the velvet glove of multiculturalism) and also the way black struggle was being degraded by politicians and a section of the middle class buying into state blandishments and ‘awareness training’ remedies. For him ‘The means are the ends…there is no socialism after liberation, socialism is the process through which liberation in won.’ And his call for the need to build ‘Communities of Resistance’, first articulated in Hackney Town Hall in 1991, was, in the light of what we see happening today, particularly prescient. These two books, despite their different formats, complement one another. Here to Stay is written from the fray, Communities of Resistance has more wisdom ‘recollected in tranquillity’. But both stay true to a wholistic politics which sees liberation as indivisible.
Darcus and Siva would probably both laugh me out of court for suggesting these (subversive) books as invaluable Christmas presents – but please do buy them. They are what the times demand.Related Links
Complete backfiles of Race Today from March 1969 to March 1079 and of Race & Class are available to consult in the IRR’s Black History Collection. Race & Class is also available online.
Here to stay, Here to fight, edited by Paul Field, Robin Bunce, Leila Hassan & Margaret Peacock, Pluto Press, 2019, £17.99
Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, by A. Sivanandan, Verso, 2019 £16.99 available on special offer from IRR at £12.99 (excluding delivery).
This week sees the publication of How the hostile environment creates sites without rights, a 99-page book containing the testimonies and written submissions heard and read last November by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal London hearing on violations of migrants’ rights.
The evidence from over forty organisations and individuals – migrants, trades unions, support groups, activists and professionals – provides a unique and comprehensive picture of the policies of ‘intentional cruelty’ comprising the ‘hostile environment’, from upfront charging in the NHS to rip-off immigration fees and the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule.
The evidence shows how such policies create ‘sites without rights’ and ‘spaces for exploitation’ for migrant workers in all the sectors which cannot be outsourced to the global South – construction, care, hospitality, agriculture and food processing, cleaning and domestic work. But it also demonstrates the growing networks of resistance and solidarity.
Copies of How the hostile environment creates sites without rights are available from IRR, 2-6 Leeke Street, Kings Cross Road, London WC1H 9HS, for £5.00 + £1.32 p&p (UK). Cheques should be made payable to JPIC Links.