In the comic 'I'm only happy when it rains', migrants exchange stories about retribution and rendition.
I heard they kidnap foreigners in the night…
In our comic ‘I’m Happy When it Rains’ migrants sit around a fire discussing living and working in Britain. One mentions that ‘I heard they kidnap foreigners in the night and deport them’. James Walker provides a brief sketch of recent political events that may have helped shape such anxieties.
According to Open Society Foundations, from 2001 to 2005 the United States used a global network of 54 countries to transfer terrorism suspects to secret detention sites across the world. These flights were known as ‘extraordinary rendition operations,’ and used private civilian aircrafts to conceal detainee transfers. Despite constant denials of British involvement by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw, reports published in 2018 found that MI6 and MI5 were indirectly involved in hundreds of torture cases and numerous rendition cases.
Circumventing the Rule of Law defined government attitudes post 9/11. Anything, it would seem, was fair game in the War on Terror. You could kidnap, interrogate, detain, extradite, or torture suspects. You didn’t even need to inform family or read out rights. We are feeling the reverberations of this today, not least in the lack of trust in the political process or in ‘truth’ as an ontological concept.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the War on Terror which has seen the erosion of basic rights. The 2018 ‘Windrush Scandal’ saw British Caribbean citizens subject to the whims of bureaucracy and facing deportation. This was particularly harrowing for those who had been born in Britain and lived here all their life.
In 1948 an advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the Empire Windrush for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. Over the coming decades, migrants from the Commonwealth would help rebuild postwar Britain, working in manufacturing, public transport and the NHS.
Fast forward to 2013 and the government placed a very different type of advert on the sides of vans that were driven around six London boroughs: ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest’. Statistics backed up the ominous warning: ‘106 arrests last week in your area’. And then neatly juxtaposed below a picture of some handcuffs was an olive branch of sorts: ‘We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.’
The campaign was part of the Conservative party’s election pledge to reduce net migration which, in addition to stoking anti-E.U sentiments that would bring about Brexit, culminated in the 2018 Windrush Scandal that saw British Caribbean citizens deported by the Home Office for dubious bureaucratic reasons.
Many had been born in the UK and some had lived here before 1973 and so were granted an automatic right permanently to remain. As this right did not necessitate documentary evidence, the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act was later created to protect such citizens against enforced removal. However, this clause was conveniently omitted from the 2014 Immigration Act, thus ushering in the scandal that would see people lose their homes, jobs, benefits and medical access as well as have their passports confiscated. If this could happen to people who have lived here all of their life, is it any surprise that new and emerging communities are a little paranoid?
At the time of writing, The Guardian newspaper has reported that the Conservative party placed 47 adverts in the lead up to the May 2021 local elections that pledged to remove unauthorised Travellers’ camps. This will be made possible via the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which effectively sees trespass upgraded from a civil to a criminal offence. If the Bill is approved, anyone parked up on land without permission or perceived to be a ‘nuisance’ can be moved on or arrested.
This is the latest systematic attack on the liberty and culture of traveller communities, but it also represents a threat to anyone trying to live an alternative lifestyle. As the price of housing continues to rise and job security plumets, vans, for many, have become a means of fending off destitution. We have not yet become that efficient as a society that you can simply outlaw poverty as a ‘nuisance’.
What these examples illustrate is a cumulative attitude towards certain groups of people as ‘other’ as illicit as not really belonging here. Migrants fall into this category and so it is little wonder that some we spoke to as part of the research for this comic had fears about being deported on whim. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote, ‘There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment’.
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Cobain, Ian and MacAskill, Ewen. ‘True scale of UK role in torture and rendition after 9/11 revealed’ (2018, Guardian) UK Role in torture and rendition after 9/11
Gentleman, Amelia. ‘Chased into 'self-deportation': the most disturbing Windrush case so far’ (2019, Guardian) Windrush Scandal
McDowell, Linda. ‘How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain’ (2018, British Library) How Caribbean migrants rebuilt Britain
McIntyre, Niamh. ‘Removal of Traveller camps pledged in Tory Facebook campaigns’ (2021, Guardian) Tory's Traveller camps pledge
Open Society. 2013. ‘Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition’. (2013, Open Society) CIA Globalising torture