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How the Government is creating a climate of fear for migrants and ethnic minorities

Immigration has always been a topic arousing passionate debate. Yet, recently, Home Office tactics for countering irregular immigration have hardened and become increasingly politicised. On 3 July, 2013, a tweet was sent from the official UK Home Office account which read ‘There will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new #ImmigrationBill.’ Attached to this message was a photo of police officers putting a faceless brown-skinned man into the back of a police van. Later that month, adverts reading ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest’ were mounted onto the back of a van and driven around a selection of London boroughs with large migrant heritage populations. This was followed by an intensification of immigration checks, targeting tube stations in poor, mixed urban areas, which according to Doreen Lawrence and eyewitness accounts have involved racial profiling and intimidation. Meanwhile, the Home Office Twitter feed intensified its Orwellian-sounding immigration stance, reporting the arrest of suspected visa over-stayers and naming them as “immigration offenders”. According to John Scott QC, the use of the term ‘immigration offenders’, prejudices legal proceedings as it presumes those arrested are guilty.

Such measures need to be seen in seen in the context of a wider raft of measures such as proposals to require tourists from six Asian and African countries to pay a £3000 bond; to charge non-EU migrants for healthcare; and to require private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants all of which open the door to a great deal of discrimination and abuse. These measures represent a concerted effort to make Britain a hostile environment to unwanted immigrants. Indeed, earlier this month, Sarah Teather MP revealed that an internal ministerial group on immigration when first conceived, "on the explicit instructions of the prime minister", was called the “hostile environment working group” before being renamed. Street enforcement actions, through which the state legitimises the demands of the far right, must be seen against this background.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has already demanded an explanation for the spot checks of the past week and are currently assessing whether ‘unlawful discrimination’ has taken place in the targeting of ethnic minorities.

Inspired by activist groups (such as Southall Black Sisters, Migrant Rights Network and Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London) and in the wake of the Race Critical Public Scholarship Conference at the University of East London, a group of academics and activists have come together in a new collective (Action Against Racism and Xenophobia) to co-ordinate a response to these heavy-handed tactics. We consider these actions to be deeply harmful and regressive. They promote a climate of fear among local communities and at a national level.

Our campaign so far involves three actions. Firstly, a petition has been launched (by Black Feminists and Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London) on Change.org. attracting over 1000 signatures in the first day of being online. Secondly, a letter signed by over 200 people including barristers, academics, the Runnymede Trust, Liberty, Owen Jones and people from the creative industries such as actor Maxine Peake and playwright Nell Dunn, has been sent to the Guardian outlining opposition to these measures . Thirdly, the collective are conducting street research to gauge the impact of and public response to the ‘go home’ van and immigration spot checks in some of the local areas affected.

Despite the ongoing work of many activists to highlight these issues, it seems that these measures in particular have touched a nerve as some of the comments to the petition testify.We hope that this collaborative initiative will provide a platform for registering our opposition to these measures and promoting dialogue among researchers, activists, communities and policy-makers. Furthermore, we aim to assess the impacts on communities at street level by documenting and analysing the current wave of high-profile Home Office campaigns against undocumented migration.

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