Political Storm Swirls Around Britain’s Refugee Surge

Of note:

Some held their hands aloft in celebration; others simply slumped to the ground in the 24°C heat, exhausted from the ordeal they’d just endured.

That was the scene on the south coast of England this week, when at least 430 migrants — including infants too young to walk — made landfall. They had braved the 20-mile crossing from either France or Belgium, navigating the world’s busiest shipping lane aboard flimsy inflatable boats.

Meanwhile, 70 miles away in Westminster, the fate of those who’ll arrive in the months and years ahead was being aired, as UK lawmakers debated the government’s planned reform of refugee policy.

Undocumented migration is a convulsive political issue in post-Brexit Britain. Departure from Europe was sold as a chance to buttress the country’s creaking borders — yet, since the start of the year, some 8,000 people have reached British soil with the help of boat-borne smugglers. Monday’s surge represented the highest number of arrivals on record, with 2020’s total of 8,417 likely to be topped in the coming weeks.

Addressing this is the job of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, a divisive politician who’s pinned her reputation on stemming the flow of refugees.

She is the brains behind the ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’ — legislation that will make it a criminal offence to enter the country without permission, with a penalty of up to four years in prison. It also raises the prospect of a new overseas detention scheme, in which asylum-seekers could be sent to a “safe third country” while their claims are considered. Thus far, no third-party nation has agreed to participate.

It would be a firm but fair system, Patel says, designed to deter vulnerable people from placing their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers. Instead of crossing to the UK, asylum applications should be made wherever in Europe refugees first find themselves, the government argues.

It’s a legally dubious position. Though, under European law, migrants should have their claims processed in the jurisdiction of their arrival, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention makes clear that asylum-seekers must face no legal discrimination, and suggests that their unlawful entry to a country shouldn’t result in prosecution.

And there’s another, more human consideration that critics say must be accounted for: that no amount of securitisation will deter needy people enticed by the UK’s reputation for defending human rights, offering legal protection to those in direst need, upholding the rule of law, and celebrating — not condemning — multiculturalism .

That is why migrants have always been drawn to British shores, often in far, far greater numbers than those seen today. (Arrivals topped 100,000 per year in the early 2000s).

The difference now, partly thanks to COVID-19 shutting rail and road migration routes, is that their arrival is a more visible, maritime spectacle. Headlines are hard for politicians, but photos of foreigners wading ashore is a whole different level. Coupled with a bureaucratic meltdown at the Home Office — the number of asylum-seekers awaiting a decision has doubled since 2014 — it’s little surprise the British government is coming down hard.

The truth, however, is that the UK’s refugee situation is far less onerous than it is for its nearest neighbours. Britain ranks 17th out of 28 European countries in terms of asylum applications, with around a third of those confronting authorities in France and Germany.

Such stats obscure the human story. That every one is a person, often vulnerable and fleeing persecution or poverty, willing to risk it all for a better, brighter future.

Source: Political Storm Swirls Around Britain’s Refugee Surge

Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers

Yet again:

Hundreds of people arriving in England in small boats are being immediately detained in immigration removal centres, raising fears of a new, secret Home Office policy to deport them without their asylum claims being properly considered.

Among the detainees are apparent trafficking and torture victims from countries including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, who would normally be allowed asylum accommodation in the community while their claims are processed but instead are effectively imprisoned.

Children are also among those who have crossed the Channel and have been sent directly to immigration removal centres, with solicitors claiming the Home Office has classed minors as adults despite not age-assessing them in person.

Some small-boat asylum seekers have been denied access to a lawyer since early May after landing and being immediately detained in a removal centre.

Campaigners said the development was “not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation”.

The outcry follows the publication of home secretary Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill on Tuesday. It claims to reform the asylum system but has been described by the UN as having an “almost neocolonial approach” in allowing the UK to shirk its international responsibilities to refugees.

Immigration lawyers say the apparent undisclosed policy change, which appears to have been introduced over the past two months, is unlawful and they are preparing to challenge it.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis, described it as a potentially “grave abuse of power”.

Hossain added: “They have effectively started bypassing the asylum system and saying to individuals with strong claims that their claim is weak, that they may not get an appeal and that they intend to remove them quickly.

“The whole starting point is to disbelieve people arriving from places where the Home Office knows individuals have a well-founded fear of harm and persecution.”

The shift appears to have affected hundreds already, with Duncan Lewis receiving reports that the UK’s network of immigration removal centres is overwhelmed.

Harmondsworth removal centre near Heathrow airport – whose capacity is 670 – is understood to be “overwhelmed”. The Home Office is also filling Brook House at Gatwick airport and Colnbrook, near Heathrow – combined capacity 850 – with small boat arrivals.

“Detention centres are being filled with people who have just arrived but who are not being released into the community,” said Tom Nunn of Duncan Lewis.

He added they are aware of more than 50 Vietnamese nationals, a country which is one of the top sources for trafficking into the UK.

In addition, there is speculation that the Home Office has chartered a deportation flight to Vietnam at the end of July for small boat arrivals, although the government would not confirm this.

Nunn said the firm was aware of Iraqis and Afghans who had indicators of torture, but whom the Home Office had apparently detained in contravention of the established asylum process.

“There have been a few cases where medical advice from doctors in the immigration centre is that they are victims of torture,” said Nunn. “But we are seeing a lot of cases where the Home Office is pushing back on this, basically saying that: ‘You’re a victim of torture but we believe we can remove you quickly and therefore we’ll keep you in detention.”

Clare Moseley of charity Care4Calais said: “To detain and deport such vulnerable people in this way is not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation. If we fail to ensure that those who need our help are treated in a fair and decent manner we risk losing our reputation as a decent and honest society.”

Usually asylum seekers are placed in special accommodation while their claims are heard, a process that can often take longer than a year. Currently there is a record backlog of 109,000 cases in the system with over 79,000 being processed for more than a year.

This is not the first time that the Home Office appears to have quietly introduced measures that reduce the rights and protection of asylum seekers.

Last year the Home Office secretly shortened asylum screening interviews for arrivals in the UK, a move that meant torture and trafficking victims could be deported far more quickly.

Last week, however, the high court ruled that Patel should quickly bring back to the UK a small boat asylum seeker and Sudanese torture survivor who was removed to France.

The 38-year-old was tracked down by Liberty Investigates and the Observer in an investigation whose evidence paved the way for last week’s government defeat.

Called Omar in the investigation, he had nine of the 11 indicators of trafficking and torture yet was deported to France last August after just two months in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We assess the suitability of all new arrivals and only detain people when there is a realistic prospect of their removal within a reasonable timescale, and evidence of their vulnerability is outweighed by immigration considerations.

“It is inaccurate to say unaccompanied minors are being classed as adults during age assessment interviews. The Home Office makes every effort to ensure people’s age is assessed correctly, in the interests of safeguarding and to avoid abuse of the system.”

They added that the government would “crack down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it”.

The spokesperson said: “People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in and we must ensure dangerous journeys are not incentivised.”

Source: Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers

China slams Olympic boycott call, ‘politicization of sports’

The Special Committee on Canada-China Relations should stop making virtue signalling calls for the Olympics to be moved (won’t happen) and join the British parliamentary committee in calling for a boycott:

China on Thursday criticized what it called the “politicization of sports” after British lawmakers urged a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics unless China allows an investigation of complaints of human rights abuses in its northwest.

A boycott “will not succeed,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

The British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee called for the government to urge British companies to boycott the Beijing Games, scheduled for February. The appeal adds to pressure on China’s ruling Communist Party over reports of mass detentions and other abuses of mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

“China firmly opposes the politicization of sports and the interference in other countries’ internal affairs by using human rights issues as a pretext,” Wang said. “Attempts to disrupt, obstruct and sabotage the preparation and convening of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games out of political motivation have been met with strong opposition from all sectors of the international community.”

China, which rejects the accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, has denied the United Nations unfettered access to the region to investigate the claims.

Source: https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/china-slams-olympic-boycott-call-politicization-sports-78731310

British Jews’ fear and defiance amid record monthly anti-Semitism reports

Of note:

A monthly record number of reports of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded following the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in May, a charity says. So how does it feel to be Jewish in the UK?

Rabbi Nicky Liss had been preparing to give a midnight talk at a north London synagogue last month, when he began to feel nervous.

A rabbi of 13 years, he was used to giving speeches. This one, to mark the start of the Jewish festival of Shavuot on 16 May, should not, on the face of it, have been any different.

But that afternoon, events built to what he describes as a “crescendo”.

He’d learned that his good friend and fellow rabbi, Rafi Goodwin, had been attacked outside his synagogue in Chigwell, in Essex – allegedly struck over the head with a brick.

Two men have denied causing grievous bodily harm, robbery and religiously aggravated criminal damage and are due to appear at Chelmsford Crown Court for trial in November.

In a separate incident that afternoon, a man was filmed apparently using a megaphone to shout anti-Semitic abuse from a convoy of cars with Palestinian flags that travelled through St John’s Wood in north-west London – an area that is home to a Jewish community. Four men were arrested and remain on bail until mid-July.

Over the next few hours, worried phone calls and messages buzzed through Mr Liss’s community. Some feared the situation in north London could become “very threatening” by the evening.

Orthodox Jews do not use cars on religious holidays or the Sabbath, so Mr Liss had planned to walk the 25 minutes from his home on-site at Highgate synagogue to the synagogue in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

But the day’s events left Mr Liss with an agonising dilemma over whether he should go ahead with his talk – and what, as chair of United Synagogue’s rabbinical council, he should advise concerned colleagues to do.

Advice was sought from the Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish charity that provides security support and monitors reports of anti-Semitic incidents.

Mr Liss says the advice was to go ahead with the events – but with increased vigilance and precautions, including local patrols being stepped up.

“This is the first time I’ve felt physically threatened,” he tells the BBC.

“I can’t believe that in 2021, I was thinking, was it safe for me to go on the street and walk to another synagogue to give a talk. It was incredibly worrying.”

A record number of anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded in the UK since the start of last month’s violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the CST says.

From 8 May to 7 June, 460 incidents were reported to the charity – the highest monthly total since records began in 1984 – with 316 happening offline and 144 online.

The previous record was 317 in July 2014 – coinciding with the last major eruption of violence between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a decades-long conflict.

In the month before 8 May, 119 anti-Semitic incidents were reported to the CST.

On 17 May, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons that there had been a “deeply disturbing” upsurge in anti-Semitism in recent years, particularly on social media.

Police forces in London, Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire did not have readily available data on the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to them in May.

Last month, Greater Manchester Police’s Det Ch Insp Paul Coburn said that “following recent tensions in the Middle East”, officers had seen a “rise in hate crime directed towards members of specific communities” – which he told the BBC has since “stabilised” since the force launched a dedicated response, Operation Wildflower.

Dave Rich, CST’s head of policy, says 416 of the 460 incidents “used language or some other evidence” related to Israel. He adds that generally, most incidents involve verbal abuse, with a “relatively small” number involving violence.

“Every time Israel is at war… 2014, 2009, 2006 being the main ones, we’ve seen record totals each year, each time, [that are] always higher than the last,” he tells the BBC.

Mr Rich says the current trends that have “stood out” are the car convoys that have driven through areas where Jewish people live – as well as the “disproportionate impact” on school pupils, teachers, and university students – with 30% of all reports recorded linked to the educational sector.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not the only global event to spark a backlash against minority groups in the UK.

Whether it is the targeting of East Asian and South East Asian people at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic; or Islamophobic attacks following terrorist incidents, major news events have real-life consequences for ordinary people.

Tell Mama UK, which monitors anti-Muslim hate incidents, says it received a “rise in reports both online and offline” after last month’s violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

From 8 May to 31 May, it says it recorded 131 incidents – up from 59 in April. Of the 131, Tell Mama says 93 were directly linked to the conflict.

Iman Atta, the organisation’s director, says the majority of cases involved “abusive behaviour” – with some including threatening behaviour, and others mentioning assault.

“Although the political conflict in the region can stir up a lot of emotions, there is absolutely no room for anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic rhetoric,” she says.

“We fear that such behaviour threatens to harm social cohesions between Muslim and Jewish communities here in the UK.”

From 8 May to 15 June, around 50 anti-Semitic incidents were reported that were related to university campuses, according to the Union of Jewish Students.

Rebecca Lyons, vice-president of the UCL Jewish Society, says “threats of death and physical violence” have been sent to the social media accounts of the Jewish and Israel societies.

In one private message, an Instagram user told the student-run Jewish society: “See you on campus. We’ll be waiting to say hello to you, Arab style.”

Rebecca, 21, says initially she feared the online threats and comments “might be actualised,” adding that the abuse had left her feeling a “loss of identity” as a British Jew.

“I was born and raised in London, I worked hard to achieve highly in a British academic curriculum and yet I’ve been made startlingly aware of how clearly unwelcome I am in my own university space.”

She says the “memory of how intense and bloodthirsty” those weeks were was “embedded” in her mind – and has added to her uncertainty over her future in London.

Despite the abuse, Rebecca adds that “we as a Jewish student community remain very much Jewish and proud… and no amount of harassment will deter that”.

Jonny Eintracht, a 26-year-old PhD student from London, says there are always going to be pockets of anti-Semitism – and the best way to tackle them is by staying true to your own values.

“As long as I can behave in a way that… if people looked at me, or my friends and family, and think ‘my experience of observant Jews, or Jews is general, is different to what I thought,’ or ‘that’s someone that I would like to emulate one day’ – I think that’s the best way to combat anti-Semitism.

“It’s a kind of responsibility that I feel. We stay proud, and we stay true to what we believe in and we continue to contribute to the world however we can.”

Jonny, who wears a kippah, the head covering traditionally worn by male Jews, says since moving to London from Australia three years ago he has never felt unsafe or that he needs to change his behaviour – even after facing recent verbal anti-Semitic abuse in the street.

He says when events have become more volatile, he has felt a “large sense of unity” as Jewish people around the world come together – adding that he’s also had support from people who aren’t Jewish.

“I’ve had non-Jewish colleagues ask me if I’m OK or if I want to talk about the situation… I think when you’re able to sit down and talk about it in a calm way, and out of concern for one another, then that’s the first step to having any sort of constructive way forward.

“It gives me hope for the future.”

Jenny Tamari, a mother-of-three from north-west London, says she is reconsidering her family’s future in the UK, as she feels it has become “open season on the British Jews”.

The former marketing consultant says she has “been feeling anti-Semitism for a while” in Britain, but with every “flare-up” of tensions in the Middle East, “people always see how far they can go… to let out their hatred for the Jews”.

After watching the widely-circulated video of the car convoy that travelled through north London, Jenny thought of her six-year-old daughter.

“At the time, I heard cars beeping and I didn’t actually know what was happening. But then I saw the video and went to my kitchen away from my kids and just cried.”

Jenny, 40, admits recent events have left her increasingly scared for her family’s safety.

She says she even took off her son’s kippah as they walked to a friend’s house for a recent Sabbath lunch.

“I told my son he had to take his kippah off. And he said, ‘why Mummy, I don’t want to’, and I got really frustrated and said, ‘you can’t wear it in the streets’. I got really scared and he felt that, as a four-and-a-half-year-old child, and just said ‘It’s OK Mummy, I’ll take it off’.

“I just feel so disappointed in myself, so sad for him, so sad for my grandfather who came from Vienna and escaped the Holocaust, so that he could be actively, outwardly Jewish in Britain – the country that took him in.”

Jenny has recently started a podcast called Jewish in the City, which despite being “born out of” anti-Semitism, is designed to “uplift, inspire and encourage” Jews; and to highlight their “positive contributions” to communities.

In Essex, Lindsay Shure, the chair of the Chigwell and Hainault synagogue, is “determined that something good” will follow the attack on their own Rabbi Goodwin.

Lindsay, 70, says the Jewish community and the residents of Chigwell’s Limes Farm estate – where the synagogue sits – had never had “terribly much to do with each other”, but the support from non-Jewish people has been “incredible”.

He says people have left flowers and cards outside the synagogue and others have left kind messages on social media, including one which said: “Your community is our community”.

For him, the outpouring of support “emphasises that it’s the people on the extremes who show the hatred… generally, people are very supportive and treat each person on their merits”.

He says he is meeting the local residents’ committee soon to discuss how they and the Jewish community can work together on future social projects. They are hoping to do some work in a care home later this year.

“If we get closer, we get a better understanding of people as human beings… I hope this will lay the foundations for something even more important and longer-lasting.”

Source: British Jews’ fear and defiance amid record monthly anti-Semitism reports

Ethnic makeup of Buckingham Palace workforce not ‘what we would like,’ says senior source

Smaller gap than I would have guessed but perhaps London would be a better benchmark than the UK as a whole (40 percent ethnic minorities):

Buckingham Palace has for the first time released figures on the ethnic makeup of its staff, following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s allegations of racism in the Royal Family.

The Royal Household said Thursday that 8.5 per cent of its staff come from ethnic minorities, compared with a target of 10 per cent by next year. The latest census data shows that ethnic minorities account for about 13 per cent of the U.K. population. The staffing figures were released as part of an annual report on royal finances.

A senior palace source said publishing the figures was an effort to ensure greater accountability because there would be “no place to hide” if diversity goals aren’t met. The source acknowledged that much more needed to be done.

Source: Ethnic makeup of Buckingham Palace workforce not ‘what we would like,’ says senior source

David Olusoga on race and reality: ‘My job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good’

Thoughtful interview:

History’s purpose isn’t to comfort us, says David Olusoga, although many in the UK seem to think it is. “History doesn’t exist to make us feel good, special, exceptional or magical. History is just history. It is not there as a place of greater safety.”

As a historian and broadcaster, Olusoga has been battling this misconception for almost two decades, as the producer or presenter of TV series including Civilisations, The World’s War, A House Through Time and the Bafta-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. His scholarship has been widely recognised: in 2019, he was awarded an OBE and made a professor at the University of Manchester. (He is also on the board of the Scott Trust, which owns Guardian Media Group.) Yet apologists for empire, in particular, like to dismiss him as a “woke historian” in an attempt to politicise his work or flatly deny the realities that he points out.

Now he can expect more flak, thanks to the new edition of his book Black and British: A Forgotten History.

First published in 2016, and made into a TV series the same year, the book charts black British history from the first meeting between the people of Britain and the people of Africa during the Roman period, to the racism Olusoga encountered during his own childhood, via Britain’s role in the slave trade and the scramble for Africa. It is a story that some of Olusoga’s critics would prefer was forgotten.

Hostility to his work has grown since the Brexit vote, shooting up “profoundly since last summer”, he says, speaking over Zoom from his office in Bristol. “It has now got to the point where some of the statements being made are so easily refutable, so verifiably and unquestionably false, that you have to presume that the people writing them know that. And that must lead you to another assumption, which is that they know that this is not true, but they have decided that these national myths are so important to them and their political projects, or their sense of who they are, that they don’t really care about the historical truths behind them.

“They have been able to convince people that their own history, being explored by their own historians and being investigated by their own children and grandchildren, is a threat to them.”

A recreation of the Empire Windrush at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012
‘You have to have a real tenure in the country to play your ancestors’ … a recreation of the Empire Windrush at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP

For Olusoga, 51, this hostility can in part be explained by ignorance. “If you were taught a history that the first black person to put his foot on English soil was stepping off the Windrush in 1948, then this can seem like a conspiracy,” he says.

But there is a deeper issue at play. “If you have been told a version of your history and that is part of your identity, it’s very difficult when people like me come along and say: ‘There are these chapters [that you need to know about].’ People feel – wrongly in my view – that their history is being undermined by my history. But my history isn’t a threat to your history. My history is part of your history.”

When the book was published in 2016, it ended on a hopeful note. Olusoga was writing just a few years after the London Olympics, in which a tantalising view of Britain emerged – a country at ease with its multiculturalism, nodding with pride to the arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948. Black Londoners dressed up as their ancestors for the opening ceremony, “with long, baggy suits, holding their suitcases”, says Olusoga. “You have to have a real tenure in the country to play your ancestors.” That moment, he says, was profoundly beautiful.

But that upbeat note has begun to feel inaccurate – an artefact of a more optimistic time. In the new edition of Black and British, which includes a chapter on the Windrush scandal and last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, Olusoga describes that moment in 2012 as a mirage. The summer afterwards, vans bearing the message “Go home or face arrest” were driven around London as part of Theresa May’s notorious “hostile environment” strategy, aiming to make the UK inhospitable for undocumented migrants. Thousands of people who had lived legally in the UK for decades, often people who had arrived from the Caribbean as children, were suddenly targeted for deportation.

In 2020, protesters in more than 260 British towns and cities took part in BLM protests, thought to be the most widespread anti-racist movement since the abolition of the slave trade. A statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol; a Guardian analysis suggests about 70 monuments to slavers and colonialists have been removed, or are in the process of being removed, across the UK.

But this movement for racial justice has been met with a severe backlash. In January, Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said he would introduce laws to protect statues from what he called “baying mobs”. The government’s recent review on racial equality concluded controversially that there was no institutional racism in areas including policing, health and education, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

“I’m really frightened about the future of this country, and frightened about people using forces of race and racism for electoral reasons and not being cognisant about how difficult it is to control those forces after elections have been counted,” says Olusoga. “I’m really frightened about the extent to which people are able to entirely dehumanise people who they deem to be their enemies in this culture war.”

Olusoga was born in Lagos in 1970, to a white British mother and a Nigerian father, moving to his mother’s home town, Gateshead, at an early age. As one of a handful of mixed-race families on the council estate where they lived, they were regularly terrorised by the far right. The violence culminated in a brick being thrown into the family’s home, wrapped in a note demanding they be sent “back”. He was 14. Eventually, the family had to be rehoused.

His early experience of education was also distressing. “I experienced racism from teachers in ways that are shocking if I tell them to young people at school now,” says Olusoga. He was dyslexic, but the school refused to get him tested until he did his GCSEs: “It was the easier story to believe that this kid was stupid because all black kids are stupid.” When he finally got his diagnosis and support – thanks in large part to his mother’s fierce determination – Olusoga went to study history at the University of Liverpool, followed by a master’s degree at Leicester.

Olusoga was confident about having two identities, despite the prejudice he had encountered. He was proud of being a black Nigerian of Yoruba heritage and was perfectly happy being part of his mother’s white working-class geordie tradition. But he has always had a third identity.

“I’m also black British – and that had no history, no recognition. It was presented as impossible – a dualism that couldn’t exist, because whiteness and Britishness were the same thing when I was growing up. So, to discover that there was a history of being black and British, independent from being half white working-class and being half black Nigerian, that was what was critically important to me,” he says. His book does its best to uncover that history, exploring the considerable presence of black people in Britain in the age of slavery, as well as the part played by black Britons in both world wars.

He says that some of the aggression shown towards black historians who write honestly about Britain’s past comes from people who think “this history is important because it gives black people the right to be here”. They hold on to the belief that the UK was a “white country” until the past few decades and refuse to accept evidence that shows the presence of black people goes back centuries. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand what drives him and also why this history is important for black people.

“I don’t feel challenged in my right to be proud to be British,” he says. “I’m perfectly comfortable in my identity. I’ve looked at this history because it’s just exciting to be part of a long story. This comes out of wanting to enrich life, not seeking some sort of needy validation of who I am.”

He found it refreshing to see the UK’s history of empire and colonialism acknowledged in last summer’s anti-racist placards, with one popular slogan stating “The UK is not innocent”. “A generation has emerged that doesn’t need history to perform that role of comfort that its parents and grandparents did,” he says.

As for black people’s experiences in Britain, he says, there is a “hysterical” level of anger if you point out that many have lived in some form of slavery or unfreedom. Recently, historians have uncovered notices of runaway enslaved people or advertisements for their sale. This adds to the evidence that thousands of black people were brought to Britain, enslaved as well as free.

“It brings slavery to Britain and therefore undermines the idea that it doesn’t really matter because it happened ‘over there’,” says Olusoga. “It short-circuits an idea of British exceptionalism. And there are a lot of people for whom that idea of exceptionalism is a part of how they see themselves. I’m really sorry that the stuff I do and that other people do is a challenge to that, but my job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good.”

Olusoga is often accused of pursuing a political agenda. He is asked, for instance, why he doesn’t speak about the Barbary slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries, in which Europeans were captured and traded by north African pirates. He has a simple response: that he has been trying to get a programme made about it for his entire career and it is finally happening.

He gives another example: “I have been accused literally hundreds of times of ignoring the slavery suppression squadron that the Royal Navy created after 1807.” Its task was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of west Africa. “I think the chapter in Black and British about that is 30,000 words, which is as long as some books.”

What his more extreme critics fail to understand, he adds, is that he is loyal to history and not a political agent. He remains committed to one goal: to uncover the stories of those who have long been deemed unimportant. When he wrote his first book on the 1904-08 Namibian genocide, he went to mass graves where he saw bones sticking out of the ground. “We promised the victims of that genocide that we would be their voice, we would fight for them and we would tell their story – and we use every skill we have to do that.

“I care deeply about people who were mistreated in the past. I care about the names on slave ledgers, I care about the bones of people in Africa, in mass graves in the first world war and in riverbeds in Namibia. I care about them. I think about them when I read the letters, when I look at their photographs and their faces. No one gave a damn about them. That’s my job – to care about them. And I will be ruthless in fighting for them.”

Source: David Olusoga on race and reality: ‘My job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good’

How imperial hopes for the Commonwealth led to British citizenship being redefined along racial lines

Interesting history of the policies and policy objectives:

It’s just over a year since the government released the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, an attempt to come to terms with the Windrush scandal. Recommendation six of the Review states among other things that Home Office staff should ‘learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world’. Meanwhile, recommendation eleven states that the Home Office should make sure its staff ‘understand the history of immigration legislation’. Policy reviews don’t usually redirect to history in such a definite way, and we should pay attention to the fact that this one does.

As it turns out, the connections and correlations between immigration laws and Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world in the post-war era are many and strong. The legal architecture (a mix of immigration law and nationality law) at stake in the Windrush scandal did not begin with the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. Nor did it begin with Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary. The story is much bigger and more intrinsic to Britain’s gambit in the post-war world. This story began in 1948 and was largely complete by 1971 (a year mentioned 35 times in the Review). Fifty years ago this year, the 1971 Immigration Act was the legislative culmination of Britain’s struggle against its own nationality law, and began Britain’s modern immigration system.

The 1948 British Nationality Act set the tone for post-war Britain. It was greeted by a New York Times headline that declared ‘British empire gets new nationality act’. In other words, the act might have been named the British Imperial Citizenship Act. The 1948 act created a single, non-national citizenship around the territories of the British Isles and the crown colonies. It was momentous because it gave rights of entry and residence in Britain to millions of non-white people around the world on the basis of their connection to existing crown colonies or independent Commonwealth states. These citizenship rights were given to  ‘citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies’ – the forerunner to what is now called British citizenship – and to ‘Commonwealth citizens’.

The true motivations behind the 1948 Act were squarely imperial – namely, keeping the colonies and Commonwealth unified at the level of nationality, and keeping a soon-to-be-republican India in the Commonwealth. Yet, despite the fact that Britain’s formal empire was all but over by 1965, successive governments refused to dismantle these imperial structures of British nationality and citizenship, instead passing immigration laws as so many bandages on nativist wounds as the imperial heartland became home to more and more non-white migrants.

There was something strange going on here: immigration laws were targeting citizenship rights provided in British nationality law. Bizarrely, it was the post-war immigration laws (in 1962, 1968, 1971), not British nationality law itself, that dictated who ‘belonged’ in Britain, both politically and legally. At the level of British nationality and citizenship, decolonisation did not begin in Britain until 1981 and the British Nationality Act of that year. In other words, British nationality and citizenship remained imperial throughout the age of decolonisation.

These confusions intensified in the late 1960s. Worried about South Asian British citizens in East Africa migrating to Britain, a Commonwealth Office official wrote to his colleagues in 1967 that ‘we had obviously made a big mistake’ in passing the 1948 Act, which was equivalent to ‘handing out British citizenship to large numbers… Having made this mistake, we have somehow now got to pay for it’. Most of the South Asians in Kenya facing majoritarian policies in the late 1960s held an identical citizenship to Labour prime minister Harold Wilson himself and an unrestricted legal right of entry to Britain. The 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was designed to block their entry and left them with ‘the husk of citizenship’, as the home secretary put it in a key Cabinet meeting. This was the first time that an immigration law had been levelled at British citizens per se, and left them stateless in reality, despite their still being described as British citizens in law.

Three years later, the 1971 Immigration Act was an attempt to bring order to Britain’s immigration system. By placing the administrative burden of proof on individuals themselves, it also laid the foundation for the Windrush scandal. The 1971 Act created a peculiar new concept – a ‘patrial’, a term that referred primarily to a person’s birth in or ancestral connection to the territories of the British Isles. The home secretary himself admitted that he was not quite sure how to pronounce the archaic word. It was the patrial who now commanded the right of entry (now called ‘right of abode’) in Britain. Because patriality now served to grant rights of citizenship (entry and residence), this effectively detached citizenship rights from both citizenship of the UK and Colonies and Commonwealth citizenship. Being a patrial meant that you ‘belonged’ in Britain. As Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of Henry Asquith and grandmother of Helena Bonham Carter, put it in a House of Lords debate during this period, ‘a belonger usually has a white face’. The Economist, meanwhile, described the word patrial as ‘a nasty piece of tribal jargon’.

This was indirectly a tiering of British citizenship (citizenship of the UK and Colonies) and Commonwealth citizenship along racial lines, allowing in practice white settlers to ‘return’ to Britain but keeping out non-white migrants. Tanzania’s prime minister, Julius Nyerere described British immigration policies as ‘decadent racism’. Swaran Singh, India’s minister of external affairs, lambasted the ‘racial overtones’ of the proposed 1971 Act in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, adding that it ‘introduces the concept of “patrials” as a privileged category’. In Port of Spain, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, subsequently condemned Britain’s ‘open unadulterated and ambiguous racialisms’. But the most devastating criticism came from the veteran Indian diplomat, Apa Pant, then the Indian high commissioner to the UK. Pant intervened with home secretary Reginald Maudling, telling him that the ‘concept of “patrials”’ was ‘unmistakably racialist’ and ‘breaks up the Commonwealth into white and non-white’. Its provisions on police registration would make ‘the already tense police-immigrant relation more tense and intolerable’, while those on employment turned the working migrant into ‘virtually a “brown/black” slave labourer’. This was to say nothing of the executive powers of deportation attendant on the 1971 Act.

Britain suffered a significant reputational cost at the hands of its exclusivist immigration laws, including at the European Court of Human Rights in 1973. Why did Britain create such laws without dismantling the imperial structures of the 1948 British Nationality Act? The answer is that the 1948 Act was a constitutional pillar of what various officials, diplomats, and politicians hoped would be a British-led imperial Commonwealth – a vehicle by which to contend in the making of the post-war world. To dismantle the 1948 Act was to give up on the imperial promise of the post-war Commonwealth.

‘There is in the Commonwealth a complex of links, not only political, but economic, educational, administrative and professional’, wrote Commonwealth Office officials in 1967. The Commonwealth was ‘a special asset which could give Britain a position of central importance in the world in, say, the last two decades of this century, out of proportion to her comparative economic and military strength’. Britain wanted to have it both ways: a grand Commonwealth based on a perceived ‘Anglocentricity’ abroad and exclusivist immigration laws at home.

Source: How imperial hopes for the Commonwealth led to British citizenship being redefined along racial lines

Home Office handling of Windrush citizenship claims ruled ‘irrational’

More on Windrush:

The Home Office’s handling of some Windrush citizenship applications has been irrational and unlawful, the high court has ruled in a judgment that will prevent the department from refusing citizenship to Windrush-generation applicants due to minor, historical convictions.

The court was ruling on the case of Hubert Howard, who was repeatedly denied British citizenship over the course of a decade, despite having lived in the UK since he arrived from Jamaica at the age of three in 1960.

The Home Office sought to deny him citizenship, despite the 59 years he had spent continuously in the UK, because of a number of minor convictions, most of them committed in the 1970s and 1980s – none were serious enough to trigger a jail sentence. He was still fighting for naturalisation from his intensive care bed as he was dying in hospital in October 2019.

Source: Home Office handling of Windrush citizenship claims ruled ‘irrational’

A new Windrush is in the making. Its victims are the most vulnerable of young people

Of note:

Three years on, the individual tales of Windrush injustice still have the power to catch my breath. Men and women who moved to Britain as children decades ago, who found themselves banished from the UK for the remainder of their life after a holiday abroad, wrongfully arrested, detained and threatened with deportation, and denied life-saving care on the NHS. So many stories of the British state ruining black lives, but one stands out for its exquisite cruelty: that of Jay, the son of a Windrush immigrant.

Jay was born in the UK and taken into care as a baby. When he applied for a passport as a teenager he was told he did not have enough information about the status of his estranged mother. After his third unsuccessful application, the Home Office threatened to deport him to Jamaica and forced him to declare himself stateless. He was only able to secure a passport years later, after the Windrush scandal broke and his case received significant media attention.

Source: A new Windrush is in the making. Its victims are the most vulnerable of young people

UK Home Office: new deportation law may discriminate against ethnic minorities

Of note:

The Home Office has admitted that a new immigration rule to criminalise and deport migrant rough sleepers may discriminate against ethnic minorities, including Asian women who have survived domestic violence.

An internal document outlines the department’s analysis of how the new power – which prompted widespread outrage when it came into force four months ago – would also indirectly affect at-risk groups, including people with disabilities.

The eight-page equality impact assessment, obtained by Liberty Investigates, accepts the potential of the rule to indirectly discriminate on the grounds of race, since some factors leading to homelessness disproportionately affect people from particular ethnicities. “The main reason Asian women give for being homeless is because of domestic violence,” the assessment states.

Source: Home Office: new deportation law may discriminate against ethnic minorities