Friday, August 02, 2013

Immigrant checkpoints are naked state racism

Today is Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, marking the start of the liquidation by the Nazis of the “Gipsy” camp at Auschwitz on August 2 1944. Today is also being marked by racist, illegal state targeting of immigrants on the streets of Britain.  The parallels are clearly not exact, but the sentiments are.

At a time when most people are struggling to pay their bills, when wages have been driven down by zero hours and other slave-like “contracts”, when the ConDems are fighting for votes against the nationalist Ukip, it comes as little surprise that the Home Office has unleashed its dogs.

They may not be wearing brown shirts, but the UK Border Agency officials might as well be. Setting up checkpoints at key locations around London, Durham, Manchester, Wales and Somerset, they have patently targeted non-white citizens for identity checks.

This is racial profiling with a vengeance.  Stopping people on this basis  to ask them for their identity is patently unlawful, as is the Home Office boasting that they have caught “offenders” before people detained have even been charged.

Rule of law? Forget it! We’re the state and, hey, who cares.

This is how it begins. Find scapegoats and make them the target for society’s problems. The fact that the state long ago failed to process properly immigration and asylum claims, leading to a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, is ignored.

Wind it up, Lynton Crosby, the notorious adviser to the prime minister would have said, bringing all his wretched experience of running similar campaigns in Australia. Wind it up, says home secretary Theresa May, who is shutting down the incompetent UK Border Agency to take it in-house.

So send out vans around London with billboards on top declaring, “Go home or face arrest”. In the days when sponsorship is everything, I am surprised that the Home Office has not asked the British National Party or English Defence League  to pay for the campaign. They would be only too delighted.

While comedians have led the protests, mockery won’t be enough. The silence of Labour and the trade unions is shameful. Chris Bryant, Labour’s immigration spokesman, has only queried whether May’s tactics are legal – but not the whole campaign itself.

Labour figures like David Goodhart, Demos director and former editor of the Blairite Prospect magazine, actually lend their explicit support. Goodhart wrote this week that  the billboards “are necessary precisely because so few do face arrest thanks to today’s legal obstacles. But there is nothing inhuman or racist about encouraging them to come out with their hands up.”

People were clearly angered by the UKBA checkpoints. Onlookers described their shock at the operations, with one member of the public saying it was akin to “Nazi Germany”.  Phil O’Shea told the Kilburn Times: “They appeared to be stopping and questioning every non-white person, many of whom were clearly ordinary Kensal Green residents going to work. When I queried what was going on, I was threatened with arrest for obstruction and was told to ‘crack on’.”

On the eve of last year’s Roma Holocaust Memorial day, United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák who is herself of Hungarian Roma origin, said not enough was being done to challenge “a rising tide of hostility and discrimination against Roma in Europe that shames societies.” She added:
“Genocide in Europe began by dehumanizing the other, blaming them for the problems of society, ridiculing their differences, excluding them and surrounding them within the walls of a ghetto, labelling them as evil, filthy and unworthy of the rights and opportunities afforded to others. Today in much of Europe, nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, many Roma experience all of the above on a daily basis.”  
We can add that many minorities in Britain justifiably feel the same way as the Roma, facing a hostile state and becoming a target for the mainstream parties who play on anti-immigration in search of a few grubby votes. We should totally reject this ugly state racism and, if you’re in London this evening, go along to Hyde Park to show your solidarity with the Roma.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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