The Conservative government regards refugees who cross the English Channel as migrants to be deterred, even if they are escaping war zones or repression. The Home Office, under the direction of Priti Patel, has therefore organised regular deportation flights back to mainland Europe – usually France or Germany. The next flight is planned for 3 September to Spain:
Maltese @hifly_airline is running today's deportation charter flight of asylum seekers to Spain for the Home Office. #Malta kills thousands in the Med by refusing to rescue migrants in distress, and still wants to profit from ruining their lives after arrival #canceltheflights pic.twitter.com/IhK79qAHQH
— Calais Solidarity (@calaisolidarity) September 3, 2020
But anecdotal evidence indicates that once the refugees arrive at their destination they are likely to be expelled back to the country of birth or left stranded.
Moreover, it is perhaps no coincidence that these measures have been introduced at a time when pandering to right-wing and far-right sensibilities, such as that of the neo-fascist Britain First, appears to be the new norm.
A ‘spectacle of enforcement’
According to Corporate Watch and Calais Migrant Solidarity, once refugees arrive on shore in the UK the procedure is to:
systematically obstruct their asylum claims and, where possible, deport them to France or other European countries. In practice, there is no way the Home Office can deport everyone who makes it across. Rather, as with the vast majority of immigration policy, the aim is to display toughness with a spectacle of enforcement – not only in an attempt to deter other arrivals, but perhaps, above all else, to play to key media audiences.
They add that:
The Home Office has tried to present these deportation flights as a strong immediate response to the Channel crossings. The message is: if you make it across, you’ll be back again within days. Again, this is more spectacle than reality. All the people we know of on the flights were in the UK for several months before being deported.
On UK soil
Once on UK soil, refugees are invariably taken to a holding centre or a police station and from there usually to the Yarl’s Wood ‘short term holding facility‘. After that, people are likely to be housed in hotels specially selected by the government, followed by a raid by the Immigration Enforcement squads, and then to a holding centre at Gatwick or Heathrow.
So, what happens to someone deported in this way?
Well, on the night before the 26 August flight, eight people who were listed to be flown out either self-harmed or attempted to kill themselves. Some of the refugees had been on hunger strike. However, after basic first aid or similar had been administered, all were required to depart via the flight.
Next, in the early hours of the morning “three or four guards enter rooms with shields, helmets, and riot gear and beat up prisoners if they show any resistance”. The refugees were then taken to Stansted airport. The initial destination was Düsseldorf, where some of the refugees were taken off the plane and handed over to the German authorities. The plane then flew to Clermont-Ferrand, France where the remaining refugees were handed over to the French authorities.
Abandoned or expelled
In Germany what then happened to the refugees is unknown, though it appears that after initial dealings with the authorities they were simply left to their own devices with one person reporting that:
German police on arrival in Dusseldorf gave him a train ticket and told him to go to the asylum office in Berlin. When he arrived there, he was told to go back to his country. He told them he could not and that he had no money to stay in Berlin or travel to another country. The asylum office told him he could sleep on the streets of Berlin.
The situation was mostly similar in France. However, some of the refugees:
were given expulsion papers ordering them to leave France (OQTF: Obligation de quitter le territoire français), and banning them from returning (IRTF: Interdiction de retour sur le territoire français). These papers allowed them only 48 hours to appeal. The British government has said that people deported on flights to France have the opportunity to claim asylum in France. This is clearly not true…
alongside expulsion papers people were also given orders that they must report to the Clermont-Ferrand police station every day at 10:00AM for the next 45 days (potentially to be arrested and detained at any point). They were told that if they failed to report, the police would consider them on the run.
According to one of the refugees: “After giving me the expulsion papers the French policeman said ‘Now you can go to England’“. Indeed:
most of the people who arrived at Clermont-Ferrand on 26 August were not given any opportunity to claim asylum – instead they were issued with expulsion papers ordering them to leave France and Europe. They were also only given 48 hours to appeal these expulsions orders without any further legal information
But it’s open to abuse: “All the people we know of on these flights were “Dublined” because the UK claimed they had previously been in France, Germany or Spain”. Moreover, should the UK government be unable to agree to a Brexit deal with the EU, the “pattern of expedited expulsion without a proper screening process established with France could be a taste of things to come”.
UK government is now Britain First
As always, there’s a wider context that cannot be ignored:
- In July, Breitbart praised far-right opportunist Nigel Farage for drawing attention to the UK hotels housing refugees. In the following month, Farage was seen migrant-spotting off the Kent coast.
- In August, Priti Patel announced a bill for new immigration laws that would “send the left into meltdown”.
- On 21 August, members of the Britain First identified a hotel in Birmingham that housed refugees.
- On 26 August, to coincide with its flight carrying refugees to Germany and France, the Home Office published a video on Twitter, saying (see below) on how it intends to carry out more flights to deport ‘migrants’ over the coming weeks.
- The next day and after a second flight to Germany and France, Britain First members invaded several hotels where refugees were being housed to harass them (see also below).
- Two days later, fascists unfurled the British Union of Fascists flag at a conspiracy theorists rally in Trafalgar Square.
Join the dots:
Join the dots…
— Tom Coburg (@Undercoverinfo1) August 29, 2020
We are seemingly in an era where not only are the far-right openly sporting fascist flags at large public gatherings, but in Epping Forest, one councillor has called for the town of Epping to be ‘ideally whites only’. Unless such interventions as these are tackled directly, they will become more frequent and even acceptable.
One such intervention involved prime minister Boris Johnson and the Land of Hope and Glory faked ‘row’ (the plan was for the BBC to broadcast the Elgar piece without voices, due to Covid-19 restrictions). According to Nesrine Malik, writing in the Guardian:
the story was given the imprimatur of truth by the prime minister – who supposedly defied the restraint of his own minders to speak out against the dangerous “wetness” stalking the land. By the end of the week, parts of the public had been whipped into a frenzy, as seen in several polls helpfully asking how they felt about the BBC’s craven surrender to rampant wokeness. Land of Hope and Glory raced up the charts as a rebuke to the imaginary censors.
It doesn’t matter, of course, that Edward Elgar despised how his composition was hijacked by war-mongers:
But essentially, in true Johnson style, Malik asserts that this was all a mix of nationalism, contrivance, and power politics:
The reason that these made-up stories preoccupy journalists, politicians and the public is that culture-war skirmishes are no longer a sideshow to our politics – they are the politics. They are how right wing electoral prospects are now advanced; not through policies or promises of a better life, but by fostering a sense of threat, a fantasy that something profoundly pure and British is constantly at risk of extinction. What our most successful politicians understand is the insatiable public appetite for these falsehoods, the wish for these lies to be true – for Britain to be a precious damsel in distress rather than a battered country impoverished by the misrule of its governing class.
Whether it’s about the deportation of refugees or the so-called ‘banning’ of jingoistic singing by the BBC, it all boils down to the replacement of government-by-policy with government-by-culture. A far-right Tory culture, to be exact, with the Johnson Gang as beneficiary and refugees as scapegoats.
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