Breaching two worlds: seeing through borders in Calais

The first of four MMB blogposts exploring the material and symbolic infrastructure of border regimes in the port city of Calais.

By Bridget Anderson.

As we walked around Calais, one of the group remarked ‘It’s just like The City & the City!’ She was spot on. In his novel The City & the City (2009), China Miéville describes a murder investigation that takes place in what, from the outside, looks like one city, but is for its residents two, Besźel/Ul Qoma, which occupy the same space. From childhood, citizens of one are taught to ‘unsee’ the residents, buildings and events of the other. Ignoring or accidentally forgetting this separation is called ‘breaching’, a crime worse than murder. Calais is a manifestation of this hallucinatory dystopia. It is both seaside town and bidonville, both tourist trap and migrant hub. The seaside town markets itself with a certain irony (maybe particularly appreciated by a British sensibility) as ‘Calaisfornia’. In the shopping mall that borders Calais’ Channel Tunnel terminal there is an escape room called the Prison Island adventure game. The escape room backs onto the border police station and an immigration detention centre. To comfortably inhabit Calais(fornia) it is necessary to see past exclusion and violence, and to accept brutal immigration enforcement as a minor inconvenience.

The escape room, Prison Island adventure game, backing onto the border police station by the Eurotunnel (image: Emma Newcombe)

In July 2023, the MMB team, Challenge leads and Leverhulme Visiting Professor Victoria Hattam, of the New School for Social Research, visited Calais. We were guided by a long-term activist and researcher who has been working in the town for over ten years. It was his knowledge and experience that enabled us to commit a ‘breaching’ and see the gaps between the cities. Calais(fornia) is crosshatched (Miéville fans will catch the analogy) with fences and barbed wire. For Calais(fornia) visitors, they enclose random spaces: running along both sides of a long, thin strip of disused yard; closing off a space under a bridge; enclosing a small piece of land in front of some residential flats. Indeed, the randomness helps invisibilise the practice: there is nothing of note here, nothing exciting or dangerous that is guarded by these fences, just concrete and grass. But breaching enabled us to see these spaces were once hubs where people on the move gathered, hosting community kitchens, they were meeting and distribution points, places where people could sleep. In January 2015, when people were forcibly evicted from the centre of Calais and pushed to the outskirts of the city, the spaces they vacated were enclosed to ensure that they could not be used again. The fences can be read as maps of struggles against deportation and eviction.

An area where migrants once camped is now fenced in for ‘wilding’ and conservation with all access prohibited (image: Nariman Massoumi)

These evictions were the origin of the so-called Jungle* as people were pushed to a piece of land that had been a neglected dump for city rubbish, toxic waste and dredgings from the port expansion (Van Isacker 2022). This became the gathering point for people attempting to cross from France to the UK and was a constant source of dispute for the two governments. In October 2016, the French Government destroyed the encampment completely and declared the area subject to ‘ecological restoration’ and ‘landscape reconquest’. It was converted into a nature reserve, with the UK Home Office a key investment partner. The topography was changed to make it attractive to waterfowl but impossible for humans to camp on, and anti-intrusion features made it difficult for humans to traverse. ‘Fort Vert’ was transformed into a reserve where the citizens of Calais could ‘reconnect’ with nature and where the endangered native species Liparis Loeselii fen orchid could flourish. This would mean the space could achieve designated status in France’s ‘National Restoration Plan’. The then UK Immigration Minister was delighted, describing the project as facilitating a ‘return to nature’ and as preventing the return of migrants to the area (Rullman 2020). This eerily silent space is a different form of enclosure. But it is haunted by its recent past: the police access road, the fences around the motorway, the graffiti under the bypass declaring ‘No Border No Nation’ and, in a nod to Calais(fornia), ‘Maybe this whole situation will just sort itself out…’. People on the move today are banished largely to the inhospitable territory of the outskirts, with no easy access to basic necessities like water, food or shops.

Graffiti under the bypass (image: Emma Newcombe)

Calais(fornia) is curiously manicured and carefully landscaped. Flowers and grasses abound, but bushes have been uprooted as they provide shelter. We roamed freely around Calais(fornia), and about halfway through our walk we arrived at the town hall, a striking red brick and stone building constructed in the early twentieth century and surrounded by well-tended flower beds and grass. One of the group took a photograph of us as we sat down and opened our map to decide next steps. To sit freely should not be taken for granted. After the eviction of 2016 the authorities announced a policy of ‘zero point de fixation’, moving people on within hours to ensure that there is no possibility of informal settlements, destroying tents and goods in processes known as ‘cleaning’. As part of this policy green spaces which could be potential resting spaces are littered with boulders to prevent people from lying down or gathering. As we walked past one such space, I wondered what purposes future archaeologists might attribute to these out-of-place rocks that must have taken such efforts to move and that make public spaces so horribly ugly and unusable. A form of worship? A collective project that builds community? Will such cruelty and racism be imaginable?

Boulders by the canal prevent groups from resting on the grass there (image: Nariman Massoumi)

We, the breachers, both sat and moved freely. The thousands of people on the move who attempt to breach the national border that separates Britain and France enjoy no such possibility. To be able to inhabit Calais(fornia) and to see Calais is indeed a privileged position. But I left feeling the importance of not being paralysed or silenced by that acknowledgment of privilege. Rather, having seen, we now have a responsibility to speak.

* There are in fact many ‘jungles’ around Calais, but this site is the one most strongly associated with the word.

Bridget Anderson is the Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship in the School for Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol.

Other MMB blogs and projects connected to this post include the (de)Bordering plot, a space for exploring the politics of immigration and the environment through planting, which contains a Hearth modelled on shelters in the Calais ‘Jungle’. See also Travis Van Isacker’s post on ‘Environmental racism in the borderland: the case of Calais’ analysing how the French and UK governments have created a hostile environment for migrants trying to cross the Channel from Calais.

Imperial denaturalisation: towards an end to empire

By Colin Yeo.

As the British empire gradually remodelled itself into a British nation state over the course of the twentieth century, it was inevitable that problems would arise. There was no masterplan or strategy on how to achieve change and successive governments tended to react rather than plan. Nowhere was this more evident than in the process of redefinition of membership of the emerging nation state.

Until as late as 1 January 1983, all citizens of all Commonwealth countries were, according to British law, British subjects. This had been the legal regime at common law, before British subjecthood was put on a partially statutory basis by the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914. It remained the legal regime when the British Nationality Act 1948 became law.

(Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

What the 1948 legislation did change was the constitutional nature of British subjecthood. Until then, British subject status derived from a person’s place of birth and a direct relationship of allegiance to the crown. In future the question of who was or was not a British subject would effectively be decided by the legislatures of independent Commonwealth countries. In the United Kingdom and its colonies, the legislature was the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the local citizenship within the Commonwealth was citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

Both before and after the 1948 legislation, a British subject was free to enter and reside in Britain. At least, that was the legal position. In practice, informal barriers to entry and residence were used to try to interfere with the rights of some racialised subjects. In the case of Bhagwan [1972] AC 60, about alleged illegal entry by British subjects, Lord Diplock held in the House of Lords that a British subject ‘had the right at common law to enter the United Kingdom without let or hindrance when and where he pleased and to remain here as long as he liked.’

This is arguably not quite correct as it was more of a freedom than a right, given that aliens (meaning everyone not a British subject) had historically also been free to enter and live in the United Kingdom. As the legislation of the twentieth century was to show, it was a freedom that could be curtailed for aliens and subjects alike.

The right to enter and reside in a country is one of the fundamental rights of membership of that country, whether labelled subjecthood or citizenship. But the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 removed that right from a wide range of British subjects. The separation of rights of entry and residence from nationality law status was further cemented by legislation in 1968, 1969 and 1971. British subject status was then formally terminated by the British Nationality Act 1981 with effect from 1 January 1983.

This process is not traditionally classed as ‘denaturalisation’, a term usually reserved in modern usage for involuntary loss of formal nationality status on an individualised basis by means of administrative action. On this traditional understanding, denaturalisation is seen as exceptional, albeit to have undergone something of a revival in recent years. Withdrawal of rights of entry and residence from colonial peoples should nevertheless be considered denaturalisation by the central imperial power. With significant caveats, the process was comparable to massive scale denaturalisation by legislative means by certain states in the early to mid-twentieth century.

It might be said that the whole point of independence is to achieve a new citizenship of a new state, which might necessarily involve shrugging off the yoke of the old subjecthood. Such ‘denaturalisation’ might be considered not just consensual but actively sought, rather than imposed involuntarily. But there are two major flaws with asserting that this process was benevolent.

First, the British had hitherto felt free to enter and reside in many countries around the world and in the process repatriated much of the wealth of those countries to Britain and gained a considerable leg up in international trade, in industrial, economic and social infrastructure and more, as Nadine El-Enany argues in (B)ordering Britain. Unilateral withdrawal of access to this bounty quite understandably seemed rather unreasonable to many colonial subjects, who were attracted to live and work in the part of the empire that had overwhelmingly benefited from the imperial project.

For others, the loss of the right of entry to and residence in Britain was far more than an abstract and as-yet unrealised benefit. Those colonial subjects who had already moved from their original colony of residence to another were routinely denied the right to re-enter or reside — or at least reside with dignity and rights of citizenship — in their new country of residence. The East African Asians are one such group, for example. They were denied the right to live as full and active citizens in their country of residence: some were also denied formal citizenship and some were forcibly expelled.

Many of those British subjects who moved from colonies to the United Kingdom, later dubbed ‘the Windrush generation’, form another such group. It is thought that a very considerable (but unknowable) number were later denied re-entry to the United Kingdom following temporary absences abroad, for example. Others were later excluded from formal British citizenship status by complex and paid-for registration requirements when nationality law was later reformed. Later, some were denied effective citizenship rights by the suite of hostile environment laws brought into force since the late 1980s.

For those affected by these laws this felt a lot like denaturalisation, and with good reason. ‘I don’t feel British. I am British. I’ve been raised here, all I know is Britain,’ Paulette Wilson told journalist Amelia Gentleman in 2017. ‘What the hell can I call myself except British? I’m still angry that I have to prove it. I feel angry that I have to go through this.’ Wilson was not in fact a British citizen according to law, although she was able very belatedly to obtain leave to remain as a foreign national before she died in 2020. This was not before she had been rendered homeless, denied welfare benefits and health care and even detained for deportation at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Her situation and her feelings of betrayal and estrangement were very far from unique.

Denaturalisation is not a novel or new phenomenon in British law. The involuntary loss of rights occurring as imperial citizenship was withdrawn first de facto then eventually de jure was a prolonged and, for some, ongoing episode of denaturalisation.

Colin Yeo is a barrister, writer, campaigner and consultant specialising in immigration law. He founded and edits the Free Movement immigration law blog and is an Honorary Researcher at the University of Bristol with MMB. His latest books are Welcome to Britain: Fixing our Broken Immigration System (2020) and Refugee Law (2022). We will be posting a second blogpost by Colin on denaturalisation in the autumn.

Previous MMB blogposts by Colin include ‘The hostile environment confuses unlawful with undocumented, with disastrous consequences.‘ You can also hear Colin discussing the UK Nationality and Borders Bill in an MMB webinar in 2021 here.

If you enjoyed this post you may also be interested in Nandita Sharma’s posts, ‘A tale of two worlds: national borders versus a common planet‘, and ‘National sovereignty and postcolonial racism.’

The other side of Partition: tracing Bengal and Bangladesh’s (post-)Partition legacy

By Nazia Hussein and Anushka Chaudhuri.

Since its June 2022 release the Disney Plus series Ms Marvel has brought the conversation around the creation of Independent India and Pakistan – commonly dubbed as ‘Partition’ – to the mainstream. The series has been applauded for introducing the first Muslim superheroine and narratives of the Partition – one of the bloodiest episodes in South Asian history – onto global screens, with recognition of the British colonial administration’s active role in its formal withdrawal from, and cleaving of, British India. However, in line with much academic research and popular culture, Ms Marvel presents a partial Partition narrative via the Two Nation Theory. This theory positions Islam (Pakistan) and Hinduism (India) against each other and disregards the violent and multiple partitions of Bengal, which created West Bengal in eastern India and East Bengal in East Pakistan, the latter gaining liberation as Bangladesh in 1971. This positioning is aligned with most popular representations of South Asia and, as a result, erases past and present lived experiences of Bengali Muslims and Bangladeshis.

Created primarily for young and Western audiences, Ms Marvel erases the brutal realities of Partition. The Partition subplot demystifies the story of Aisha, the protagonist Kamaala’s maternal great-grandmother, who secured her family’s safety by ensuring they boarded ‘the last train to Pakistan’ from Punjab, India, to Punjab, Pakistan. The series’ representation of Partition as a time of tension, fear and existential insecurity, but otherwise a relatively organised migration process, amounts to misinformation for global audiences. What ensued after the announcement of the new borders – severing Punjab and Bengal – to create West Pakistan (now Pakistan), India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on 14th and 15th August 1947 was overwhelming disarray and disorder. Hindus and Sikhs were to migrate from West and East Pakistan into India, and Muslims were to migrate from India into one of Pakistan’s domains. Violence was widespread. Hence, the minor reference to boarding ‘the last train to Pakistan’ risks erasing the harsh truth that, due to widespread violence, train travel was often inaccessible. The limited number of trains that did run often arrived blood-stained or filled with dead bodies and became known as ‘blood’ or ‘ghost’ trains. Therefore, most individuals migrated on foot or by cattle, with many seeking refuge in camps, being killed or dying from disease.

Partition of India 1947 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

Many of the academic and popular representations of Partition are heavily Punjab-centric. Ms Marvel follows the same pattern. Its representation not only neglects Bengal’s Partition story but also latently equates the Punjab province with all of Pakistan by symbolically and linguistically portraying, but not directly naming, Punjabi language, culture and lands when representing Pakistani national identity and diasporas. That Bengal was partitioned twice – first in 1905, which, prompted by protests, was annulled in 1911, and then again in 1947 – is disregarded. Such erasures are dangerous, excluding voices from the ‘other half of Partition’ with its differing socio-political histories and ambivalent religious demographics. It also positions a Punjabi Partition narrative in popular culture as representative of this period, when there are other equally complex and alternative histories. For example, upper caste Bengali Hindus (including Zamindars or landowners) dominated political, arts and agrarian labour systems, subordinating Bengali Muslims and other lower caste workers and prohibiting their access to wealth and land. Coupled with Bengal’s Muslims being the marginal majority, this created a more complex task for the British and Indian political elite when drafting religionised borders.

While the shift of nationalism to communalism in Bengal is blamed for Partition, such narratives erase the agency of contemporary Bangladeshis’ and then-East Pakistani populations’ (denied) choice in their fate. This is observed in the political elite District Congress Committee in Sylhet’s pledge to Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement – a Hindu contextualised Indian anti-colonialism movement which emphasised non-violence – despite the Committee’s lack of commitment to this type of struggle. Furthermore, after Hindu Zamindars learned of Sylhet’s lucrative tea estates and the international demand for tea, Muslim-majority Sylhet was fragmented during its 1947 referendum, with some regions being succeeded to greater Assam in India, despite voting patterns revealing an intention for Sylhet to join then-East Pakistan. The agency of East Bengal as a region and a people during Partition in seeking to choose their own destiny – despite being disallowed – is rarely addressed in either academia or popular culture, with Muslims in pre- and post-Partition India continuing to be presented as violent, communalistic and unpatriotic in curricular textbooks and films such as The Viceroy’s House and Earth. The creation of West and East Pakistan itself drew another line between the two regions and populations. This new ‘border’ induced linguistic, cultural and economic oppression, including genocide and weaponised rape, on the Bengalis of East Pakistan. This led to the Liberation War of 1971 when East Bengal again separated from Pakistan, gaining independence as Bangladesh.

The downplaying of the historical struggles of Bengal and contemporary Bangladesh undermines the legacy of discrimination and deprivation experienced by Bengali Muslims and Bangladeshis in the hands of the British colonists, Hindu nationalism and dominance in India, and West Pakistani state and military. This same deprivation is visible in the UK today. British Bangladeshis show the highest rates of poverty and face the largest ethnic pay gap with, on average, 20% less earnings than their white British counterparts. Indians are just 2.42%, Pakistanis 2.58% but Bangladeshis 3.56% more likely to be economically inactive than white ethnic groups in the UK. Further, the death rate involving COVID-19 was highest for Bangladeshis – respectively 5.0 and 4.5 times greater than white British male and female groups in 2020–2021.

In Britain’s classed and racialised surveillance state, Bangladeshis will continue to be labelled and penalised as ‘bad minorities’, likely to experience the worst of the Conservative’s austerity measures, particularly during the worsening cost of living crisis. Such lived experiences of British Bangladeshis reflect a long history of violence, starting with British and European colonialism.

Nazia Hussein is a Senior Lecturer in Race at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. Her research, teaching and activism focuses on gender, race and religion with a particular focus on Asian Muslim women in South Asia and Britain. Her most recent book is Muslim New Womanhood in Bangladesh (Routledge, 2022).

Anushka Chaudhuri is a Sociology PhD student at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. Her work explores nationalism, migration, ethnicity and racism, and focuses on South Asian histories, politics and diasporas.

Disablement and resistance in the British immigration system

By Rebecca Yeo.

The distinction between deserving and undeserving individuals has always been core to immigration policy in the UK. However, the hostility and restrictions directed at those framed as ‘undeserving’ has steadily increased. The recently introduced Illegal Migration Bill takes these restrictions to a new level to include detaining and preventing new arrivals from even claiming asylum. The need to build effective opposition has never been more urgent. With this goal, it is important to consider the inequities of the current system, possible alternative approaches to resistance and the barriers that must be addressed.

The disabling impact of immigration controls

In 2012, then-Home Secretary Theresa May stated her aim to create a hostile environment. Subsequent legislation (Immigration Act, 2014; Immigration Act, 2016) was explicitly designed to restrict access to such necessities as housing, financial support and sense of safety. These policies prevent people from meeting their human needs. As one Disabled woman subject to asylum restrictions said to me: ‘If they are torturing someone they can’t expect that person to be okay.’ The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) acknowledges that ‘immigration control measures which deny access to services, can increase vulnerability.’ The result is to disable people with existing impairments, as well as to create new impairments. Immigration policy is actively and deliberately disabling.

Mural created with Disabled people subject to immigration controls, led by artist Andrew Bolton, see (Photograph: Mark Simmons)

Compassion in immigration policy

The hostility of immigration policy has always been combined with expressions of compassion. In her speech to the Conservative Party conference in October 2015, while setting out measures to create a hostile environment, Theresa May also proclaimed: ‘Let Britain stand up for the displaced, the persecuted and the oppressed. For the people who need our help and protection the most.’ Similarly, current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asserts that he is ‘balancing’ his pledge to ‘stop the boats’ with assertions that ‘the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable.’ Even the UK-Rwanda partnership includes a clause to allow for resettlement of some of ‘the most vulnerable’ refugees from Rwanda to the UK. This may be considered a welcome alternative to hostility. However, as the ICIBI asserts, Home Office efforts to identify ‘vulnerable individuals is a test not just of its competence but also of its capacity for compassion.’ Expressions of compassion towards ‘vulnerable’ individuals are not used to contest, but to reinforce, the legitimacy of hostility towards others.

A social model approach

Insights from the Disabled people’s movement could help focus resistance against the disabling impact of immigration policy. In 1976, the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation argued it is ‘society which disables.’ This principle was developed by disabled sociologist Michael Oliver, among others, to replace the individual approach of the charity model with what became known as the social model of disability. This approach calls for collective responsibility to address the disabling impact of inequities faced by people with impairments. A similar approach could focus on resisting the disabling restrictions imposed on people subject to immigration controls. Without negating the emotional and physical pain inherent in many forms of impairment, or in being forced to flee one’s home, effective resistance must challenge the socially constructed, and therefore changeable, injustices. A social model of immigration could bring together the Disabled people’s movement, people subject to immigration controls and allies of both, to build solidarity and collective resistance to the restrictions and inequalities of assumed human value, which underpin current injustices.

The barriers to change

It is meaningless to assert the need for a social model of immigration without acknowledging the barriers. Restricted access to services and support is a central tool of immigration policy. Barriers to change are not, however, exclusively at the level of the state.

Lived experience

Manjeet Kaur paints part of the mural that represents her experience: ‘The wheelchair is chained… I feel restricted by the UK Border Agency, I am not free to do anything.’
(Photograph: Andrew Bolton.)

The social model of disability was developed by Disabled people rather than charitable organisations. However, when people are struggling for immediate survival, there is little capacity to lead resistance. As activist Manjeet Kaur explained to me just months before she died, in the face of immediate struggles as a Disabled asylum seeker, ‘I don’t have the energy… I myself am in a floating boat, I can anytime fall down.’ The capacity for solidarity from the wider Disabled people’s movement is reduced by lack of information and individual struggles in the context of an ever more punitive welfare state. The mantra of the Disabled people’s movement ‘nothing about us, without us’ is as valid as ever, however, the solidarity of allies has never been so important.

Voluntary sector

The asylum voluntary sector may be the obvious source of solidarity. However, rather than seeking advice and collaboration from the Disabled people’s movement, all too often asylum voluntary sector organisations have endorsed Home Office and local authority initiatives towards individuals considered ‘vulnerable’ as if this approach is better than nothing. Of course, some compassion is better than none, but these initiatives adopt a regressive individualistic approach to disability. Like most progressive ideas, the social model of disability and associated concepts have been widely co-opted and distorted to remove demands for systemic change. This risks undermining key struggles of the Disabled people’s movement, including demands for the services and support necessary for independent living as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. A broad-based movement of solidarity is needed to focus on addressing causal injustices.

Public response

Collective resistance is further hampered by lack of public concern. Response to the COVID-19 pandemic exposes how publicly acceptable it is to treat some lives as disposable. The majority of people who have died from COVID are Disabled. Yet public response to this knowledge is not to take collective responsibility to reduce the risk, but instead to remove precautions and leave the responsibility with individuals. The result is to exclude anyone concerned about infection from public space, with at least #Forgotten500k facing the fourth year of lockdown.

Widespread disregard for the value of certain lives may increase the barriers to effective action but if current inequalities are socially constructed the issue is not whether change is possible but how it can be achieved. Systemic change may appear unrealistic, but as author and disability activist Ellen Clifford writes: ‘We have no choice. The stakes have become too high’.

Rebecca Yeo is completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Bristol on refining and promoting a ‘social model of asylum’ as a tool to transform responses to disability and forced migration in the UK. Her work draws on her involvement in the Disabled people’s movement and what she has learned from disabled people seeking asylum.

A recording of Rebecca’s webinar, ‘A social model of asylum: disablement and resistance in the British asylum system,’ is available here. This was part of a webinar series co-hosted by MMB and GRAMNet on ‘The Health of Migrants and the Right to Health.’ A recording of MMB’s emergency discussion on the 2023 Illegal Migration Bill can be watched here.

Previous post by Rebecca Yeo: ‘The power of collaborative art in research for social change,’ 8th March 2022.

Asylum and extraction in the Republic of Nauru

New writing on migration and mobilities – an MMB special series

By Julia Morris.

My book, Asylum and Extraction in the Republic of Nauru (2023), looks at the impacts of outsourcing asylum to the world’s smallest island nation. The Pacific Island of Nauru was almost entirely economically dependent on the phosphate industry in the twentieth century. After the wealth it derived from phosphate extraction was depleted in the 1990s, the sovereign state resurged on the back of the asylum industry by importing Australia’s maritime asylum-seeking populations. On an on-then-off-again basis, following 2001 and 2012 agreements with Australia, anyone who makes their way by boat and claims to be a refugee in Australian territorial (now excised) waters is offshored to Nauru for refugee processing and resettlement.

I wrote this book at a time when governments worldwide were hunkering down with populist policies of externalised border enforcement. For decades, the EU has toyed with funding countries across Eastern Europe, North and East Africa, and Central Asia. The US has experimented with several extra-territorial asylum schemes, including processing Haitian asylum seekers in Guantanamo in the 1990s. Many Asian countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, have implemented restrictive detention and temporary visa practices for African migrants, in particular. Now, these arrangements have been given immense visibility with the UK government’s much debated Rwanda deal. Like Nauru, migrants – largely from Albania, the Middle East and South Asia – could be sent 4,000 miles south-east of where they lodged their asylum applications.

My book takes a different approach to tackling the global trend of outsourced asylum. It moves beyond arguments that centre on the erosion of asylum and international law. Rather than a benevolent system under threat, I argue that asylum is extractive. I make this argument by weaving between discussions of Nauru’s mineral and migrant extractive industries. My fieldwork in Nauru starkly revealed just how deeply asylum is an extractive industry. Nauru operated as a company town around phosphate and refugees, where an entire industrial assemblage of labourers and expertise, technologies and representation, worked to bring both sectors into being. By detailing the expansiveness of the phosphate and asylum industries, my work demystifies commodities that have immense fetishistic power. It shifts critical attention toward the international NGOs, state agencies, lawyers, activists and migrants that allow boom town sites to ‘pop into visibility’ in modular fashion, as Hannah Appel puts it when discussing the offshore oil and gas industry.

But, of course, this engineering is place specific and embedded in localised political economies (from Nauru to the Mediterranean), even if the wider asylum industry assemblage is in some ways standardised. Nauru’s boom story around refugees owes itself to the phosphate industry pathways that preceded it. The island’s colonial foundations around global extractive industries shaped its industrial fabric in the present. These structural relations were made evident to me almost daily. Not long after relocating to Nauru, Georgia, a Nauruan friend and phosphate worker, took me to ‘refugee royalties day.’ Similar to ‘phosphate royalties day,’ held down the road, landowners would collect monthly rental payments from the Australian government for leasing their land for buildings connected to the asylum industry. The nineteenth century system of land holdings from the era of colonial extraction structured these contemporary industry land negotiations. Scholars such as Tarcisius Kabutaulaka have found a similar relationship between extraction and land tenure in other colonial industry sectors. The process of resource exploitation produces a culture characterised by rapid monetisation, where land and humans are inscribed as economic commodities for generating financial income.

But while the asylum industry has been immensely profitable for some local islanders, it also – like phosphate mining – has harrowing consequences. The reality of cohorts of migrants from far different regions of the world, none interested in being there, and many with very particular psychological needs, are just some of the repercussions of this economic sector. For asylum seekers and refugees, most with devastating pasts and equally hazy futures, tragic instances of self-harm and suicide were commonplace. Australian psychiatrists and clinicians were on fly-in-fly-out cycles locally: many of them have since spoken out about the policy’s damaging effects.

Many islanders left jobs in Nauru’s schools and public service sectors to work at the regional processing centres. This option was more financially lucrative, but led to a ‘brain drain,’ as one local called it. Residents also described to me the corruption and greed that overtook the government. During my fieldwork, protests against local politicians were commonplace. Opposition MPs would form always-shifting alliances, using Australian media interest in refugees to encourage international and local support. Like the extractive industry communities that anthropologists and other scholars describe, torn apart by internal or intercommunity conflicts, fluctuating prosperity and contentious repercussions, Nauru became tied into the repeating destructions of a resource-cursed state.

In my work I describe the uneven placements of where containment industries are located, and the racialised populations that are governed, as a form of environmental racism. Toxicologists and scholars of extractive industries use this concept to describe the process whereby hazardous waste facilities are overwhelmingly sited in communities of color. In my view, the disproportionate exposures of hypercriminalisation, violence and precarity that largely Black and Brown migrants are subject to is also a form of environmental racism that is enacted on migrants’ bodies, as is the siting of carceral sectors in minority and low-income communities. Much like the toxicological ‘body burden,’ these harms can accumulate in people’s bodies over time. The conversations I had with migrants undergoing the asylum process and with local islanders battling the effects of phosphate extraction form part of the elongated exposures to violence experienced by certain populations and geographies. Both phosphate and asylum extraction centre around unnatural metallurgical processes with untold social and ecological costs. In the phosphate industry, dust and toxins are released into the atmosphere with tremendous pollutant effects. In the asylum industry, people are compelled to present themselves through legal narratives of trauma in order to move elsewhere. Linking the asylum industry boom to previous extractive practices in the landscape shows asylum to be part of the ‘hyper-extractive assemblage’ that scholars of resource extraction, such as Macarena Gómez-Barris and Michael Watts describe, premised on continued racial subordination.

A major difficulty in making these arguments is that many critics and publics have uncomfortable, mixed feelings in approaching people – and especially refugees – as commodities. Periodically, global media campaigns give visibility to the Nauru arrangement but often through a victim-villain binary. Since agreeing to the Australia deal, Nauruans have been targeted through global media and liberal advocacy campaigns as ‘refugee beaters’ … ‘cruel in the extreme’ … a heart of darkness, where refugees are ‘hacked with machetes’ by the local population. Such representations are not unique to Nauru. Based on western colonial stereotypes of the Indigenous, Black and Brown as savage, and the refugee as racialised suffering Other, this construct is mobilised by refugee solidarity advocates on a global scale to leverage against outsourcing asylum. The sorts of racist colonial tropes that Nauruans contend with are already in use by critics who claim that Rwanda is an ‘authoritarian state with extreme levels of surveillance’ and that it ‘tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents.’

These Western mis/representations have troubling effects. In Nauru, the suffering-savage slot instigated fractious relations. As an advocacy strategy, it did little to endear locals to the plight of asylum seekers. In fact, it obscured powerful solidarities between locals and refugees that could have given added momentum against outsourcing asylum. And ultimately, I argue in my research, this imaginary has a fundamentally extractive character. It provides more political economic and moral value to the global asylum industry, which cyclically carries out operations in places like Nauru.

My book gives hope that we can disrupt these models of perennial extraction. By seeing the international refugee regime as an extractive process, we might better imagine alternative systems of free movement that go beyond adjudicating human worth and solidifying hierarchies of suffering. We can move towards using a more egalitarian language of solidarity, coalitions and commonality, rather than one of suffering, salvation and #RefugeesWelcome valuation. The logic of ‘mobility commons,’ put forward by Anna Nikolaeva and Mimi Sheller, is a theoretical framework that I am exploring using the creative arts and design. Together with the Berlin-based Organisms Democracy, I have been working on participatory projects in wild garden spaces with students and publics around cohabitation. Alongside this, I design experiential walking practices that encourage more expansive understandings about borders seen and unseen. These projects are inspired by powerful calls to ‘de-exceptionalise’ and ‘methodologically de-nationalise’ migration to broad publics. Outsourced asylum regimes continue to advance, as do political narratives surrounding migrant deterrence from global south to north. It becomes ever more urgent to explore the relationship between privileged and stigmatised (im)mobility, and commonalities of experiences.

Julia Morris is Assistant Professor of International Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her research focuses on migration governance through the framework of resource extraction, from ethnographic fieldwork in the Republic of Nauru, Australia, Geneva and Fiji to research projects in Guatemala, Jordan and Lebanon. Her book, Asylum and Extraction in the Republic of Nauru, is recently published with Cornell University Press, with a 30% discount available here.

Julia will be giving an open air, interactive talk on ‘Territory and Citizens: Reimagining Cohabitation in the City‘ at MMB’s (de)Bordering plot on 3rd May.

‘An asylum ban’: why the Illegal Migration Bill must be stopped

By Bridget Anderson.

The Athenian Laws introduced by Draco c. 621 BCE were said to be written not in ink but blood. This government’s Illegal Migration Bill currently going through the UK Parliament, is draconian. It is aimed at people who arrive irregularly – people who the government calls ‘illegal migrants’, but who might better be described as illegalised migrants. There is not some pre-existing category of illegal people who migrate, rather people are illegalised by borders and thereby rendered vulnerable to state and personal power.

The Bill places a duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements to remove people who do not arrive via state approved routes (backdated to 7th March 2023) and who have not come directly from the country they are fleeing. The Home Secretary also has a duty to rule their asylum and certain human rights claims inadmissible. Because they are ruled inadmissible rather than refused there is no right of appeal. These people will be permanently banned from claiming asylum and from the removal protections of the Modern Slavery Act. They are an ‘ineligible person’ meaning they will never be eligible for any form of legal status or citizenship, or legal entry to the UK and neither will their family members including children yet to be born.

(Image: UnSplash)

People falling under this legislation will likely be detained for 28 days, which can be extended if the Secretary of State believes there is a ‘reasonable prospect’ of removal. There are three options for where they will be removed to. If they are from EEA countries or Albania they will be returned to their country of origin. If they are not from those states, they will not be returned to their country of origin, but, if there is an appropriate returns agreement, to the country which they left before coming to the UK. However, UK geography means this is likely to be France, so this is not currently an option. (In her response to the Bill suggesting the Labour Party’s direction of travel, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper made it clear that negotiating a returns agreement with France and other European countries would be a Labour Government priority). Non-EEA/non-Albanian nationals will therefore be sent to other states listed in the schedule of the Bill (note some of those listed are deemed appropriate only for men). The list includes Rwanda. As yet, there are no removal agreements with any of the other countries on that list.

The Bill’s preface acknowledges that its provisions may not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is likely to be not compliant with the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the UN Refugee Agency has asserted that it is in breach of the Refugee Convention:

‘The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances’ (UNHCR, 7 March 2023).

The UK is effectively slamming the country shut to all those fleeing war and persecution, regardless of their circumstances. This is an end to the asylum system as we know it. Asylum seekers do not typically fly to the UK directly from their countries of origin – not least because years of carrier sanctions have closed that possibility. Most apply via the UK’s in-country application process having made long and dangerous journeys through several other countries. Should this Bill become law, the principal means of being granted refugee status will be via specific government-approved routes. The Bill requires that the Home Secretary set an annual cap on the numbers of people entering through these so-called ‘safe and legal routes’. The UK government may have set out ‘legal’ routes, but they are not necessarily ‘safe’. The MoD recently had to apologise for telling applicants to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme (ARAP), which relocates MoD approved Afghans at risk of reprisals for working with the UK government in Afghanistan, that their documents needed to be approved by the Taliban to be successful.

There has been a chorus of criticism directed at the Bill. The opposition Labour Party is leading the charge with claims that it is unworkable and will not achieve the objectives of stopping the ‘small boats’. Human rights organisations, charities, religious groups and some lawyers are also challenging the ethics of the Bill – ‘cruelty without purpose’ as the Archbishop of York described it. Sections of the commentariat argue that whether it achieves its aims is a secondary issue (see, for example, The News Agents 2023; Dunt 2023). As Colin Yeo’s helpful analysis of the Bill puts it: ‘It is wishful thinking in legislative form.’

This is performance and the government is looking for a pre-election ‘wedge issue’. The Bill is cunningly drafted in such a way as to make legal challenge both difficult and limited. But challenged it will be, and we can anticipate more attacks on ‘lefty lawyers’ scapegoated for making unworkable legislation well, unworkable. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill set out the number of asylum claims (74,751 in 2022) in clause 9, followed by the ballooning cost of the asylum system (now £3 billion annually) in clause 10. But the cost of the system is not rising simply because of increasing numbers of claims, and there is no reason to think that this legislation will reduce costs.

Meanwhile, it is worth pausing to reflect on the irreparable harm to thousands of people that will be done by this performance piece. Forcible removals of desperate people will require systematic and institutionalised violence. The Home Office has said that ‘Using force on children in family groups may, unfortunately, be necessary if a family is resisting removal.’ There will be a new category of ‘ineligible person’ begging on our streets, permanently shut out of labour protections and services, and this status will be passed on from parents to children. It is estimated that there are over 200,000 undocumented children in the UK, many of whom were born here. This Bill will significantly add to this long-term undocumented population. Should a future government not repeal this Bill large numbers of people will be consigned to illegality, with all the vulnerability and potential for abuse that entails, for their entire lives.

Claims of unworkability sidestep the question of whether workability is desirable. Do we want removal agreements so that people can be efficiently sent to countries with which they have absolutely no connection? Sustained pressure must be put on the Labour Party, should it come to Government, to commit to repealing the entirety of this Bill and to mitigating the harms it will have already done. At a minimum this would mean regularising and expediting the asylum claims of all those caught up by the Bill wherever in the world they may be. This is not only because it is a vicious attack on the rights of people seeking to enter the UK, but it is also an attack on our shared futures. It attacks the rights of future children, and anyone who falls in love with them or wants to work with them or otherwise wishes to spend time with them in the UK. It undermines the global refugee regime. It will create a super exploitable workforce. It will exacerbate divisions in an already divided country. We are already seeing an increase in the criminalisation of those deemed to be assisting undocumented migrants, and more burdensome documentary checking required across employers and the public sector, with all of the racism that stokes. As the undocumented population increases, arguments for ID cards will sound more reasonable. The current government is good at three-word slogans. I have one for them: Stop The Bill.

Bridget Anderson is Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol.

Further resources for understanding the impact and ramifications of the Illegal Migration Bill can be found on our webpage here, and a recording of our online emergency discussion about the Bill on 31st March can be seen here.

The ‘Rwanda Solution’: using Australia’s playbook

By Juan Zhang.

On 19th March, 2023, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman caused yet another controversy during her two-day visit to Kigali, Rwanda, with a photo of her laughing at the building site of future housing intended for asylum seekers to be deported from the UK to Rwanda. This visit drew new criticism from both mainstream and social media, which continued to challenge the Rwanda deportation scheme and the associated Illegal Migration Bill that could potentially violate both the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Publicity for the Australian Government’s Operation Sovereign Borders, aimed at stopping all maritime arrivals of asylum seekers, 2013 (image: Wikimedia Foundation)

This controversial deportation scheme, seen as the Conservative government’s ‘vanity project’, faced strong public condemnation and resistance since it was first announced in April 2022. Observers at the time already pointed out the uncanny similarities between the UK-Rwanda deal and the Australian ‘stop the boats’ policy with its infamous offshore processing scheme. It seems that Australia’s past mistakes and systematic failures at ‘stopping the boats’ for at least two decades offer no deterrence to the UK to pick up the same playbook, when the UK Home Office takes Australia’s harsh zero-tolerance approach as an example of achievement instead of a hard lesson to be learned (see Gleeson 2021, Tubakovic, Murray and Matera 2023).

The Australian offshore asylum programme, introduced in 2001 as the ‘Pacific Solution’ to unauthorised immigration by the Howard Coalition government, targeted people entering Australian waters via ocean crossings and arriving by boat. This programme was closed in 2007 by the Labour government (under Kevin Rudd), but revived again in 2012 as ‘Pacific Solution Mark II’ with a hard-line approach to ‘stop the boats’ (see Bakshi 2020 for a full account). The suffering and inhumanity found in Australia’s offshore detention programme caused worldwide concern and criticism on how Australia ‘privileged migration deterrence goals over human rights considerations’, and how it deliberately normalised ‘moral disengagement from the pain and suffering of people in detention’ for populist political gains (see Barnes 2022). It is therefore bewildering to see such a notorious policy, known for being ‘cruel, costly and ineffective’ for 20 years (Gleeson and Yacoub 2021), now being embraced by the UK government as inspiration for how to manage asylum seekers. The Melbourne-based organisation Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) expressed a profound sense of concern to the Australian broadcaster SBS:

‘It’s appalling that, despite a decade of cruelty that has led to severe harm, death, compensation pay-outs by the government, third-country deals, medical transfers, and international notoriety, the Australian model has influenced global policy.’  

There are already extensive reports and analysis that question whether the UK can actually ‘stop the boats’ with its adapted Australian model (for example, Gleeson 2021, Koser 2022). Apart from the legal obstacles the UK has to deal with, different political as well as geographical contexts also suggest that the Rwanda deportation plan is unlikely to proceed smoothly or result in the same kind of outcome as seen in Australia. Moreover, the ‘Rwanda Solution’ – if we can call it that – provokes deeper concerns over legacies of imperialism, colonialism and entrenching patterns of global inequalities. It is effectively outsourcing border control in a way that perpetuates forced displacement, instituting a form of structural violence that holds life in a ‘permanent state of injury outside any realms of protection and political intelligibility’ (Phipps and Yohannes 2022). The Rwanda scheme has already caused toxic social and political divisions both within the UK and beyond before any individual could be sent on a deportation flight. But the government remains determined despite challenges coming from all fronts. Braverman’s Rwanda tour at this moment seems particularly tone deaf to the wider public debate demanding a compassionate and more ethical process with regard to unauthorised Channel crossing.

Whether the UK manages to ‘stop the boats’ when (and if) the Rwanda scheme is in full play remains to be seen. But this much is clear – the number of people crossing the English Channel on small boats has continued to increase in 2022, despite stern messages that the UK will ‘detain and deport you’. These boat arrivals are played up in the current corrosive narratives on the UK’s state of emergency caused by migrant illegality and compromised border security. The Rwanda solution, then, seems very much like a production of ‘xenophobic spectacle’ (Koram 2022) that distracts the public from deeper problems and crises at home. Braverman seems optimistic that, with this visit, the deportation flights between the UK and Rwanda will take off by summer 2023, when legal loopholes and courtroom battles are finally settled. By then, the public is led to believe, all problems with the small boats will magically disappear. But this short-term, single-minded agenda on deportation and offshore processing creates nothing more than a tunnel vision approach that Australia has tried and failed. What gives the UK government the conviction that the Rwanda solution will deliver a better result?   

Juan Zhang is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol. Her research explores borders and transnational migration with particular interest in Asian borderlands, migrant im/mobilities and transnationalism, cross-border cultural politics and China. She is the co-ordinator of the MMB research challenge, Bodies, Things, Capital.

For more information about the 2023 Illegal Migration Bill see the list of resources on our webpage.

The violence of postcolonial border making

By Maya Goodfellow.

In June 2022 Maya Goodfellow was the discussant for our public lecture ‘Are immigration controls racist? Lessons from history’ by Nandita Sharma. Here we publish her response to Nandita’s lecture.

On the evening of 27th June 2022, they were found on a sideroad in Texas. Fifty-three people in the back of a scorching-hot van. Some of their screams alerted a nearby worker to the abandoned vehicle, which had been left on the side of the road. It was here that they had died – pulled up alongside a railway line and next to Interstate 35, which stretches from a town near the Mexican border right up to the north, close to Canada.

Three days prior, over 5,000 miles away, after ongoing police harassment, 23 people died trying to scale the iron fence that separates Morocco from Spain, many killed in the crush to get over. And 3,000 miles away from here, since the start of the year, 214 people were either dead or had gone missing attempting to cross between Afghanistan and Iran.

Across the world, it is a function of borders that people die trying to cross them. And it is one of their functions that people are killed when they are enforced within countries. 

(Image by Ed Hincliffe on UnSplash)

The response and the counter-reply to such untold death always manage to miss the heart of the problem. In a well-rehearsed sleight of hand, across Europe and the US, politicians loudly and confidently name one foe: people smugglers. Exploitative and violent though this business is, this logic is deeply misleading. A much smaller chorus point out that it ignores the real culprit, which are border policies. Policies celebrated and applied by those same politicians. Few safe routes of travel, pushbacks and restrictive visa regimes. They may not provide as clear an enemy as the ‘smuggler’, but these are the things that produce death and violence.

Discomfort lurks in this counterclaim too. If you look close enough, you can see where it could lead; discussions over how tough the exclusions are, not the reasons why there are exclusions to begin with. Because ultimately, how useful is a country’s border if it doesn’t exclude in some way or another.

Why, too few ask, is bordering obligatory in the first place? People do not die crossing borders just because of border regimes; there is a machinery and process of legitimation that makes bordering possible. That makes it necessary. This is where Nandita Sharma’s Home Rule (2020) takes us. Our attention, she explains, should be on the nation state. Without looking here, we risk reproducing what we seek to dismantle. ‘From the 1950s,’ she writes:

‘the kind of racism resting on pseudoscientific typologies, the kind that normalized atrocities leading up to and including the fascist holocausts of WWII, was made anathema. People did anything to declare they were not racists. However, just as imperial states were replaced by national ones, postcolonialism was also productive of a new, largely normalized, horizontal form of racism. It is best to call this form of racism postcolonial racism, because it depended on ideas of distinct and separate “national cultures,” each with its own territorial claims’ (Sharma, 2020, p. 279).

The nation state ceases to make sense if it is not anchored in the idea that certain territory belongs to a people; the national-natives are distinct from the migrants. How we relate to nation states is organised by these categories. There is a ‘true people’ and this, she argues, is racially encoded.

However much this analysis might apply to Europe and America, this is not where Sharma focuses her attention. Rather, it is to the formerly colonised. Instead of true freedom in decolonisation, there were demands for national sovereignty. And so a system of nation states was born, where the idea of native – thought to have disappeared with colonialism – has persisted. This is one of the ways claims to sovereignty and rights are grounded.  Postcolonialism did not end violent relationships but refashioned them into nationalist subjectivities. Anti-immigration politics is common globally, she shows, including in the so-called ‘poor world’.

This is where the Western left is, arguably, less confident. Used to criticising overtly right-wing, anti-immigrant politics or to challenging liberal nationalism, it shies away from thinking through the ways it supports territorialised, racialised and nationalist politics around the world. This matters because if there is a nation-state there will be an immigration regime, and there will be exclusion.

But there are still questions we must ask: what does the ability of certain migrants, nationalities or racial groups to become ‘part of’ the nation, even if in a precarious way, mean for how we might understand race? Not all groups experience bordering in the same way or continue to experience it in the same way across time, and not all of this maps neatly onto race as a physical identifier.

And perhaps most obviously: what is our way forward?

By spotlighting the nation state, Home Rule gives us an important step to answering this – encouraging us to think about how to create another world altogether.

Maya Goodfellow is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. Her research looks at the relationship between capitalism, racism and immigration. She is the author of Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats (2020), available from Verso at a 30% discount.


Bad intentions: the UK government and migrants

By Ryan Lutz.

At the MMB postgraduate workshop in July, ‘How Not to Think Like a State,’ visiting scholar Nandita Sharma talked to us about the throughlines of her research. One of these, in particular, gripped me: ‘Anti-immigrant sentiments,’ she said, ‘are used as the basis for fascism.’

I am a migrant PhD student in the UK studying migrant integration and how local-level organisations and the City Council in Bristol resist the draconian policies of the UK government, such as the 2021 Nationality and Borders Bill and 2016 Policing and Crime Act. Despite the government’s policies, the council and local organisations in Bristol are striving to provide a safe and welcoming environment for migrants. The city has a long history of fighting against oppression and racism, including the Bristol Bus Boycotts of 1963, the St Paul’s uprisings of the 1980s, the toppling of the Colston statue in 2020 and the Kill the Bill uprisings of 2021. Additionally, Bristol attracted many migrants from colonised countries during the post-colonial period, meaning there is a history of migrants and ethnic minorities in the city who have been a part of integration services and have successfully built their lives here.

Mural in St Pauls, Bristol (image: Gioconda Beekman on Flickr)

At the beginning of my journey as a PhD student, I thought migrant integration could undercut or potentially combat the use of anti-immigrant sentiment as a vehicle for fascism. Given my lived experience with immigration, nationalism and racism in the United States, I assumed that a lack of exposure led people and the systems they created to be hostile towards outsiders. Through our discussions with Nandita in the postgraduate workshop, my worldview was challenged and complicated in the best possible way.

Historically, integration has been seen as equal access to resources, acquisition of national languages and active participation in society. But this approach rarely asks how migrants experience integration as individuals and fails to question what ‘society’ is and at what spatial or ideological level migrants are integrating. In somewhere like Bristol, where 15% of the population is born outside the UK and 22% self-identify as nonwhite, a wide array of socio-economic realities co-exist. Despite its affluent city centre, Bristol has some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and ranks 341 out of 348 for inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities.

I had always known that integration was a very political issue. Still, through the workshop with Nandita, I began to see how the anti-immigrant rhetoric is now in fact co-opting the integration process in the UK: at a base level, integration plays a crucial role in problematising migrants as others. It situates migrants as apart from the rest of a population, needing to integrate into one unified host society even though, in a country like the UK, there is no single harmonious society to integrate into. The rhetoric that migrants must adapt, integrate and adopt British values places all the blame and burden onto them. And it fails to take into account all of the structural barriers and inequalities they have to navigate daily. Through the increasingly restrictive national immigration policies passed in the UK, integrating becomes more of a pipedream for migrants each year.

The UK government has been described as an ‘iron rod welfare system‘ when it comes to migrants: they either fall foul of it and are deported or receive legal status and comprehensive social rights. However, the ability to gain that legal status and integrate into a new community has become increasingly circumscribed under the Conservative government – now in power since 2010.

Anti-immigrant sentiments have been an integral part of the fabric of the UK since its inception. In recent decades it has become enshrined in laws such as the 1987 Immigration (Carriers’ Liability) Act, which extended document and border checks to airlines and other carriers, making it their responsibility to keep people out who fell on the wrong side of the iron rod. More recently, the UK government has criminalised seeking asylum from within the UK, awarded more funding to Immigrant Detention Centres and extended the length of time migrants can be held in these centres through the Nationality and Borders Bill. The most recent examples are the Manston migrant centre, which has been described as a zoo by inhabitants, and the firebombing of an immigration processing centre in Dover, which was driven by far-right ideologies. Meanwhile, the Conservative government introduced the Rwanda Plan earlier this year, which has had a host of negative externalities for migrants such as restricting their access to claim asylum, taking away their agency to work or where to live once they are in the system, and making the hostile environment worse.

I wholeheartedly agree with Nandita that, at a national level, the UK completely fits her view of anti-immigration as a base for fascism. But given Bristol’s progressive and radical past, I wanted to believe that there was more than just a harmful system at play. Bristol goes beyond other UK cities with its Refugee and Asylum Seeker Inclusion Strategy, run by the City Council. And there is a robust system of migrant and refugee welfare charities that make up the Bristol Refugee and Asylum Seeker Partnership. These organisations offer services that help to fill the gaps left by the iron rod welfare system of the UK government.

The workshop with Nandita raised many questions about the current Conservative government’s everyday functioning. Namely, as the UK moves further and further towards solidifying its borders and making life as a migrant here a traumatising experience, is the vital work of the migrant organisations in Bristol actually enabling the government’s lack of response? Early research has shown that the government’s anti-immigrant policies increase the workload for charities, which prevents them from campaigning. So now my question is, does this integration work by city-wide collaborations in Bristol help the migrant community? Or are the harmful policies of the national government too much for local welfare systems to overcome?

Overall, the workshop with Nandita was extraordinarily thought-provoking and challenged some of the romantic views I held about the function of government. Most importantly, though, it raised questions about the function of my research as a PhD student and the best path forward for an equitable immigration system.

Ryan Lutz is a PhD Student in Social Policy at the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol.

‘African Apocalypse’: the imperial violence behind today’s migration

By Bridget Anderson.

‘What angers me most is he chased away our grandparents… and now we have no food. Every child we bring into the world suffers. They must leave to find work and food for us. Some kids never come home. We just get news of their death. So you can see why we are so angry with this man.’

As she says these words, Batoula Adamou points down to the grave beneath her of French colonial commander Paul Voulet, whose notorious 1899 invasion of what is now Niger was one of imperialism’s most violent episodes. This scene in the town of May Jirgui comes towards the end of ‘African Apocalypse, a BBC documentary on colonial violence, which MMB was thrilled to host at the Arnolfini in July, in association with the University of Bristol’s Department of Film and Television and PARC along with Afrika Eye, and supported by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Judith Squires.

Batoula Adamou, resident of May Jirgui, in ‘African Apocalypse’ (Image: © LemKino Pictures 2020)

From the perspective of western policy makers, migration is almost always seen as a standalone issue, a case of force and freedom, push and pull. But for poor people in the global South migration is very often entangled with colonial histories and ongoing legacies that have bestowed vast inequalities and poverty.

‘African Apocalypse’ presents a journey by British-Nigerian poet-activist Femi Nylander across the Sahel of Niger in the footsteps of Captain Voulet. It soon becomes a People’s History of Colonialism as Nylander and director Rob Lemkin pass through town after town, village after village where residents, young and old, retain vivid collective memories of the day the ‘Whites’ came and the slaughter they brought, even though it was 120 years ago.

Our screening was the UK theatrical premiere of the Hausa language version of the film. As director Rob Lemkin explained in his live introduction to the film, this version was seen by more than eight million people in Niger and Nigeria when Kano-based Arewa 24 TV broadcast it every Sunday evening through February and March of 2022.

A powerful array of panellists, chaired by Peninah Achieng, included one of the film’s participants, Nigérien cineaste Amina Weira (live by Zoom from Niger’s capital Niamey), the noted filmmaker and scholar Imruh Bakari and one of the Colston Topplers and a member of #GladColstonsGone, Luke Wentworth. Luke’s account of Bristol’s history leading to a moment of upsurge found a telling connection with the Nigérien graveside anger that ends the film. The Colston statue stood as an insult to many in the local community for decades. By contrast, the grave of Voulet, which dominates the town square in May Jirgui, has produced bitter resentment among local residents for generations. In a pre-recorded conversation, May Jirgui Deputy Mayor Mahamane Salissou Issa told the Bristol audience how his town has been deprived of infrastructure since the colonial period.

A lively discussion followed the film screening, in which Ade Olaiya, a Member of the International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations and UNESCO Inclusive Policy Lab Expert, spoke of the need for international civil society – including NGOs in the UK and Bristol – to support the people of Niger’s demands for reparations. He cited recent developments in the international reparations movement, including the launch in 2021 of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Afrikan Reparations and HR 40 in the USA. Rob Lemkin updated the audience on initiatives at the UN where the filmmakers have worked with the affected communities and lawyers to bring the matter to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth and Justice.

Abdelkader Mossi, secretary of the Collectif des Nigériens de la Diaspora (around a dozen Nigeriens had come from London for the premiere) spoke of how important it is for Nigeriens to see their history more widely known and recognised. He spoke about his organisation, which connects Nigeriens in Britain, France and across Europe. He emphasized the importance of the fierce resistance of Nigeriens to the 1899 invasion and his hopes that this may be the beginning of a new type of relationship with France and Europe. Mossi also spoke of the vital role the Nigerien diaspora in Britain and Europe has to play in influencing positive developments.

The screening took place shortly after a public protest in Bristol against the British government’s policy of deporting migrants to Rwanda. Several in the Arnolfini audience came on from that event. One was Alimamy Bangura, a Sierra Leonean refugee living in Manchester. Alimamy spoke of the deep impact the film made on him, and the importance of recognising colonial violence and domination as the essential precursor to today’s global problems of inequality. He is now working through his organisation RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) to bring ‘African Apocalypse’ to Manchester later this year.

Bridget Anderson is Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol and Professor of Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

African Apocalypse filmmakers wish to acknowledge the support of BERTHA FOUNDATION.