Deportation is Freedom!

John Nicholson

Deportation is Freedom!, By Steve Cohen, Published Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 116 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JB


Steve Cohen, immigration barrister and campaigner for 30 years, has produced here a compelling comparison between the Newspeak of one Blair (aka George Orwell) and the Newlabour of another, in making the case for scrapping immigration controls.

With remarkable lack of stridency, Steve notes the defensiveness of the political left, who fear that “ordinary” people are not ready for “premature” abolition of such controls, and he instances the large numbers of “ordinary” people who have been – and still are – campaigning against them. Meanwhile, he seeks to resolve the dilemmas of three groups of “resisters”. The first feel success only comes through prayer or divine intervention – but we never saw God on the demonstrations. The second want “fair” or “benign” controls – but their very nature is unjust, inequitable and racist. The third just know the controls are insane – but any Marxist can show they are the product of imperialism, through which newly industrialised countries control the global movement of labour.

However, over the years, Steve has come to admit that the third group are not wrong. And certainly not mad. The controls are indeed insane. In newlabournewspeak, people seeking asylum have the “freedom” to go home and get killed. If you want to avoid detention under the Terrorism laws, you are “free” to agree to be deported. If you don’t want to be made destitute, be put out on the street and have your children taken away from you, you are “free” to agree to “voluntary” deportation. If you are worried about Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, you are “free” to “choose” to keep your family together, provided you all leave, together. Its all about “choice”.

In fact, many people would like to be free to return to their countries of origin, they love their countries, but they want to be free of persecution when they get there.

And, in a world where wealth – and health – are increasingly divided (something even Newlabour’s spin doctors have had difficulty disguising with their soundbites) the truth is that what remains of “our” welfare state is increasingly reserved for “us”, and middle class racism is reported to have worsened precisely because of the fear that having a refugee family for a neighbour will bring down house prices.

“1984”, while prophetic, did not get close to the language of “bogus”, “illegal”, and even “clandestines” (the noun), never mind “benefit shoppers” and “health tourists”. “Removal” is no longer something to do with furniture. New divisions have relegated those seeking family reunion (more evident in the 1970s) and truly it’s a case of “genuine asylum seekers good, illegal immigrants bad”.  Winston Smith himself would have been hard pressed to come out with the Zimbabwean refugee’s line “You cannot answer questions they do not put”. Or the Turkish Cypriot gay man who was told he could avoid the risk of prosecution by self-restraint. Or the HIV positive central African whose appeal for continuing NASS benefits was dismissed, as his condition did not make him “unfit for travel” – “you got here (Croydon) alright, so you could get to the airport”, said the judge. 

The banality of evil is well described – not only by comparison with the Wannsee conspiracy (where a select group of Nazis planned the extermination of the Jews over a refined dinner table at a secluded country mansion) but in its own right. There are the crocodile tears of Ministers who effectively felt it would hurt them more than it would hurt the recipients of their inhumane policies – including through the definitively titled “Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004”. Mis-treatment, surely. And what is the “etc”? Well, it’s the need to get the Home Secretary’s permission to get married. And the enforced slave labour before you can get benefits. And the “voluntary” deportation if you don’t want your children taken into local council care……

The themes here are far from narrow. From the Government that gave us “WMD in 45 minutes” comes the assertion that there is so much “peace” in Iraq now that people can be deported back there without fear. Indeed, the Iraqis who are fighting the US troops are doing so because they hate freedom (there’s that word again). Labour’s appeasement of the BNP, through laws and media coverage that the BNP’s own website admires (virtually, “look, they’re playing our tune”) is echoed by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate’s more obviously Orwellian letter-heading “Building a Safe, Just and Tolerant Society”. And Big Brother is now everywhere – a mass TV audience has transformed surveillance into home entertainment, turning contestants into pariahs whose removals are screamed out for.

The collusion in this system by local authorities and the voluntary sector is an important, though again not overstated, moral of this book.  In uncanny Blair-Bush echoes, voluntary agencies involve themselves as “stake-holders” in order to “exert influence”. “If we didn’t do it, someone else would”, Steve doesn’t quite report them saying. Claiming that such a role will obtain information hardly outweighs the damaging legitimisation of the whole process. (Mind you, the “freedom” of information legislation has also proved Orwellian.) Only briefly does Steve raise the prospect of immigration lawyers deserting the courts, as Ian Macdonald and Rick Scannell have done, in terms of the SIAC; though arguably our very presence gives the system a veneer of respectability – which then helps the Adjudicators in giving their smiley-faced negative judgments.

But the point of this book is in the history of struggle. From 1895 to the more recent “No One Is Illegal” (manifestos reprinted as appendices) there have been ordinary people in heroic campaigns. From Nasira Begum, Anwar Ditta, and Viraj Mendis to the Sukula and Samina Altaf family campaigns today, it is still the case, as (the other) Blair said, in “1984”, the hope lies with the proles.