Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Around 2,000 children are detained under immigration powers in Britain every year. These children and their families are locked up behind the wire of immigration removal centres (IRCs), with meals, play and schooling overshadowed by uniformed officers. This has been going on for seven years, against a background of growing unease and increasingly large- scale protests by trade unions, churches and community groups outside the IRCs at Dungavel in Scotland and Yarl’s Wood near Bedford.
Last year the parliamentary joint committee on human rights saw a mass of evidence from Save the Children, Bail for Immigration Detainees and the Refugee Council documenting the destructive effects of detention on children’s lives, and calling for alternatives to be found. Now the Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA), under the hardest-line immigration minister to date, former merchant banker and venture capitalist Liam Byrne, the Home Office has a new strategy in mind.
Families selected for the BIA’s ‘Alternatives to Detention’ project working with families from the Portsmouth area are informed they must move to a hostel in Millbank, near Ashford in Kent (100 miles from Portsmouth), or lose all accommodation and support. Once in Millbank they spend eight weeks during which they are interviewed by caseworkers from the charity Migrant Helpline, who encourage them to commit to the ‘voluntary assisted return and reintegration programme’ and advise them that failure to do so will lead to forced removal proceedings being initiated.
Migrant Helpline is funded entirely by the Home Office to carry out this casework and the charity’s performance during the 12-month pilot scheme will be judged, in part, on the number of families who take up the voluntary return package. At the end of the eight weeks, families who have not agreed to do so are either detained and removed compulsorily or dispersed back into the community – usually in Wales, the midlands or the north.
The ‘voluntary’ nature of return in this pilot project is crucial to its success. It is extremely difficult to obtain travel documents from the embassies of Iran, Eritrea and Algeria, among others, for example, and just about impossible without full cooperation from the individuals being returned. Other barriers to forced removals include there being no reliable route of Somalia, Iraq and Palestine) or the high likelihood of a UK court blocking the removal (currently affecting Sri Lankan Tamils, Zimbabwe and Congo).
There are far fewer barriers to voluntary return, though one wonders who will explain this distinction to the families at Millbank. Of course integrated families, supported in their communities by school teachers, religious leaders, neighbours, friends, doctors and social workers are unlikely even to consider returning voluntarily to a third-world country where they and their children have no one to turn to. Families who have all this taken away from them, and are subjected to eight weeks of intensive ‘caseworking’, on the other hand, just might.
Unlike the children of Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, the children in this project will not have their bedroom doors locked behind them and they will not be prevented from going out to play in their local park by a barbed-wire fence. But their education will still be disrupted, their family’s informal support networks will still be broken and their families, deliberately isolated, will be subjected to enormous anxiety about their future.
Is this really how we want to treat vulnerable families and their children? Do we really need an alternative to leaving children in the local communities in which they have settled?
The Haslar Visitors Group has a destitution fund for asylum seekers trying to survive ‘in the community’ when they have been refused all support, accommodation or work. ‘We give them food, advice and sometimes money,’ says coordinator Michael Woolley. ‘The advice is about ways they can get help from the government. We give money to tide them over till that arrives – sometimes weeks later. How much? £15 a week, just enough to buy food. Even this small payment makes them less of a burden on a friend offering a sofa to sleep on. In a typical month we give away about £1,500.’ The group receives Lottery money for an office and salaries, but is barred from spending any of this on the destitute, so the fund relies entirely on donations.
Haslar Visitors Group, All Saints, Commercial Road, Portsmouth PO1 4BT
Tel/fax: 023 9283 9222
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going