“The entire immigration system is racist, homophobic, sexist and rotten to the core”

Britain’s immigration enforcement system continues to inflict horrors and tragedies – and few of the British people are paying any attention. The media continues to ignore the death of Jackie Nanyonjo, whose story makes for horrifying reading.

Jackie was a fighter for herself and for others: a lesbian who escaped from anti-gay persecution and a brutal forced marriage, and a member of the Movement for Justice. In Britain she had been able for the first time to live and love openly as a lesbian; she was much-loved by a wide circle of friends who kept in touch with her after she was deported and who miss her deeply. All of us who knew her, or who didn’t know her personally but are determined to end the regime of racism and anti-immigrant bigotry that is responsible for her death, will fight to win justice for Jackie.

Jackie had been through the mental torture of the immigration and asylum system, with its arbitrary, subjective decisions and impossible demands to ‘prove that you are a lesbian’. UK Border Agency and an Asylum Tribunal had dismissed out-of-hand the ample evidence of friends and her partner that Jackie was a lesbian and rejected her claim for asylum. She was sent to the further mental torture of Yarl’s Wood women’s detention centre in November 2012 – a few weeks after detainees had shaken the power of the UKBA in an uprising of mass protest against brutality and injustice led by the Yarl’s Wood Movement for Justice group and Jackie had been part of a solidarity demonstration at the UKBA headquarters in Croydon. Jackie continued her fight in Yarl’s Wood. When the UKBA tried to deport her in December Jackie resisted bravely despite the brutality she suffered at the hands of the ‘escorts’ provided by the contractor, Reliance. She forced them to abandon the attempt and when she got back to Yarl’s Wood she lodged a complaint to the UKBA – a complaint the UKBA rejected.

With all the limited avenues of Britain’s racist immigration laws closed to her and facing deportation to a country where it is a crime to be gay and where the political and religious leaders have whipped up a murderous anti-gay witch-hunt, Jackie’s only option was physical resistance. On 10th January, on Qatar Airways Flight QR76, Jackie fought bravely for her freedom with all the strength she could gather against four Reliance guards. She continued fighting when the guards drew curtains round their end of the plane to hide their crimes. She struggled for as long as she could until, beaten up, half strangled and bent double, she was overcome by the pain in her chest and neck and was unable to breathe.

When Jackie arrived at Entebbe Airport the ‘escort’ party handed her over to the Ugandan authorities, who held her for many more hours without any medical attention. When family members finally met her, long after the flight had landed, Jackie was in terrible pain and vomiting blood; they rushed her to a clinic, but in a country with widespread poverty and limited medical facilities they were unable to get the medical attention Jackie needed. Since Jackie was in hiding as a known lesbian, protected by relatives, every trip to a doctor or hospital involved a risk to her life and to the safety of her family. They were condemned to watch the agonising decline of Jackie’s health and strength over the next two months.

And Jackie Nanyonjo is not the only asylum-seeker to have been treated in this way. People who have faced unimaginable horrors, such as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking and domestic abuse, are regularly held in immigration detention on the Detained Fast Track, and are given little time and few resources to prepare their asylum claims. One experienced immigration lawyer, S Chelvan, says that gay and bisexual asylum-seekers who are fleeing violent homophobic persecution are often put under pressure by Home Office officials to “prove” that they are telling the truth about their sexuality. Many are disbelieved. Many spend months held against their will in immigration detention facilities, punished for seeking refuge in this country. Many face removal to dangerous parts of the world.

The Yarl’s Wood Movement for Justice was founded by a group of lesbian women held in inhuman conditions at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. Their manifesto puts it in stark terms: “the entire immigration system is racist, homophobic, sexist and rotten to the core”. It’s time we remembered that the dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians like Theresa May, and of journalists like Paul Dacre and Richard Littlejohn, has horrifying and tragic consequences for some of the most marginalized people in our society. And it’s time we listened to the voices of the people who suffer as a result of Britain’s immigration laws.

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4 Responses to “The entire immigration system is racist, homophobic, sexist and rotten to the core”

  1. johnvmarsch says:

    People who have faced unimaginable horrors, such as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking and domestic abuse … gay and bisexual asylum-seekers who are fleeing violent homophobic persecution …

    I find it curious that you draw attention to the plight of these asylum-seekers, yet simultaneously call for the complete abolition of border controls, a move which would allow those who wholeheartedly approve of FGM, persecution of homosexuals etc to enter the country. Out of the frying pan into the fire?

    (A progressive blogger who recently caused a stir by passing the ideological Turing test writes:

    Let’s imagine an idyllic socialist utopia with a population of 100,000. In Utopia, everyone eats healthy organic food, respects the environment and one another, lives in harmony with people of other races, and is completely non-violent. One day, the Prime Minister decides to open up immigration to Americans and discourage them from assimilating.

    50,000 Americans come in and move into a part of Utopia that quickly becomes known as Americatown. They bring their guns, their McDonalds, their megachurches, and their racism.

    Soon, some Utopians find their family members dying in the crossfire between American street gangs. The megachurches convert a large portion of the Utopians to evangelical Christianity, and it becomes very difficult to get abortions without being harassed and belittled. Black and homosexual Utopians find themselves the target of American hatred, and worse, some young Utopians begin to get affected by American ideas and treat them the same way. American litter fills the previously pristine streets, and Americans find some loopholes in the water quality laws and start dumping industrial waste into the rivers. [etc])

    • David says:

      I find it curious that you draw attention to the plight of these asylum-seekers, yet simultaneously call for the complete abolition of border controls, a move which would allow those who wholeheartedly approve of FGM, persecution of homosexuals etc to enter the country.

      What good does it do to keep them out of the country, and to return them to places where they are more likely to be able to continue these abuses unchecked?

      I’m not interested in creating a utopia in some little corner of the world, while keeping the rest of the world out by force. I’m interested in the wellbeing of the whole world and all its people, not just my little part of it.

  2. johnvmarsch says:

    What good does it do to keep them out of the country, and to return them to places where they are more likely to be able to continue these abuses unchecked?

    The good is that it stops the abuses spreading to a place where they previously didn’t exist. If you have a country whose culture condones FGM etc and people who accept those cultural norms emigrate, the quantity of abuse & suffering in that country isn’t significantly lessened by the fact of their leaving for somewhere else — the dominant culture will continue to propagate abuse & suffering when they’ve gone. But the quantity of abuse & suffering may be significantly increased in the “somewhere else” where they settle (particularly if the authorities there are squeamish about making moral value judgements on other cultures). The process is not like moving a counter in a board game, where occupying a new space on the board means the previously occupied space is now counter-free; the process is a proliferation, like cancer metastasising.

    It’s a purely quantitive, utilitarian consideration; it has nothing to do with your own (lack of) emotional identification with this country.

    I’m not interested in creating a utopia in some little corner of the world, while keeping the rest of the world out by force. I’m interested in the wellbeing of the whole world and all its people, not just my little part of it.

    Of course, but realistically you have to start from where you are. There is currently no universally recognised global authority with the power to eliminate these abusive practices worldwide by fiat. So what do you do? You focus on a particular country or regime; campaign to raise public awareness of its abuses; lobby the authorities to grant asylum to refugees from that country; lobby this or that national or supra-national authority to bring pressure to bear on it, eg by imposing economic sanctions; maybe even call for intervention by a military coalition to remove the offending regime by force and rebuild the liberated nation in our own image, complete with education for girls and no FGM or honour killings. All of this is considerably easier if you’re based in a strong country where education for girls is a recognised right and FGM, honour killings etc are illegal and — more importantly — instinctively rejected by the population as culturally alien and undesirable.

    Imagine how Jackie Nanyonjo would have felt if she had been granted asylum in the UK, settled in London … and encountered her friendly neighbourhood sharia patrol.

    • David says:

      The good is that it stops the abuses spreading to a place where they previously didn’t exist. If you have a country whose culture condones FGM etc and people who accept those cultural norms emigrate, the quantity of abuse & suffering in that country isn’t significantly lessened by the fact of their leaving for somewhere else — the dominant culture will continue to propagate abuse & suffering when they’ve gone. But the quantity of abuse & suffering may be significantly increased in the “somewhere else” where they settle (particularly if the authorities there are squeamish about making moral value judgements on other cultures). The process is not like moving a counter in a board game, where occupying a new space on the board means the previously occupied space is now counter-free; the process is a proliferation, like cancer metastasising.

      Cancer metaphors are a rather dehumanizing way to talk about the movement of human beings. And I disagree. On balance, it would be better to have a system in which those fleeing horrors are welcomed freely into this country, rather than being detained and forced to make their case against deportation. No one should have to endure what Jackie Nanyonjo and the women of Yarl’s Wood endured. Or Tarik Adam Rhama. Or Jimmy Mubenga. Or any of the other victims of the immigration enforcement system whose stories I have attempted to draw attention to. Imposing barriers to migration makes it more difficult for the victims of oppression to flee that oppression. This is not a complicated observation.

      As for the perpetrators of criminal activity like FGM or honour killing: sending those people back to their home countries will often mean sending them back to a place where they are more likely to be able to continue those abuses unchecked, not less. Yes, open borders will mean that we have to allow some criminals to stay here. But as long as such people exist, I would rather they were in Britain, where we have courts and law enforcement and where such practices are at least in theory prohibited, than let loose in a place like Somalia which barely has a functioning state at all.

      You focus on a particular country or regime; campaign to raise public awareness of its abuses; lobby the authorities to grant asylum to refugees from that country; lobby this or that national or supra-national authority to bring pressure to bear on it, eg by imposing economic sanctions; maybe even call for intervention by a military coalition to remove the offending regime by force and rebuild the liberated nation in our own image, complete with education for girls and no FGM or honour killings.

      Much of this is in the realms of neocon fantasy (and I also know that you are far from being a neocon – I take it that you’re adopting such a position for the sake of argument only?). Economic sanctions rarely change things for the better, and often produce short-term suffering among the poorest and most vulnerable in the population of the targeted country: they amount to a form of collective punishment, and it is the oppressed who typically suffer most, not their oppressors. And removing regimes by military force and attempting to install a puppet regime in their place rarely ends well: look at the continuing carnage in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can’t fix the world by violence. It only begets more violence.

      I do not believe that we have some magical power to rid the world of oppressive regimes. But what we can do, the least we can do, is provide a safe harbour for the people fleeing oppressive regimes. And welcome them with open arms, instead of putting them in detention and treating them as criminals.

      Imagine how Jackie Nanyonjo would have felt if she had been granted asylum in the UK, settled in London … and encountered her friendly neighbourhood sharia patrol.

      Although it’s tangential to the point you’re making, I do have to point out that Uganda is predominantly a Christian country (albeit one with a Muslim minority), and that the recent wave of homophobic hatred in Uganda has been in large part perpetrated by Christians, stirred up by Christian leaders like Martin Ssempa, with support from certain elements of the American religious right. Not all state-sanctioned homophobia is the work of Muslim regimes. (Although some of it certainly is.)

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