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Photography Moeez Ali

Protests erupt in London ahead of first Rwanda deportation

Following yesterday’s protests outside the Home Office, Dazed speaks to Maymuna Osman of Migrants Organise to find out more about the disturbing new policy, and what you can do to help

TextJames GreigPhotographyMoeez Ali

The government recently announced a new asylum policy that will deport refugees arriving in the UK to Rwanda. While initially announced as a plan to “offshore” people there for “processing”, it quickly became clear that this would be a one-way ticket.

This is a cruel and inhumane plan for a number of reasons. For a start, it’s a way of the UK abdicating its responsibility towards refugees, and will further compound the suffering of people who have already suffered a great deal. The refugees being deported to Rwanda have been chosen randomly, regardless of the strength of their claims or the extent to which they’ve been persecuted, or whether they have any connection to people smuggling whatsoever (the latter point being one of the government’s justifications of the policy). It’s also a way for the Tories to shore up support and embolden the worst elements of its base: as Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted, “deporting refugees to Rwanda has nothing to do with tackling people-trafficking and *everything* to do with whipping-up hate and stoking division.” Already, “we should send you to Rwanda” is emerging as a new racial slur. It’s clear that the plan is a vindication of everything that is cruel and racist about Britain.

Unsurprisingly, the plan has been met with a huge backlash, which has been partially successful in mitigating the effects. An initial 130 people were facing deportation, but this figure has now dropped dramatically to single digits. The fate of the rest is still up in the air, with some observers optimistic that the government might end up sending an empty plane.

Yesterday (June 13), thousands turned up to the Home Office to protest the scheme. The demonstration, which was organised by Migrants Organise in coalition with groups like SOAS Detainee Support and the Solidarity Knows No Borders Network, saw a strong turn-out. There was a range of speakers and a speech read out by a group of dissident Home Office staff who oppose the measure (which wasn’t met with an entirely positive reaction from the crowd).

“I think the protest showed how strongly people from all across the political spectrum feel about stopping these deportation flights,” says Migrants Organise’s Maymuna Osman. While the Rwanda plan is a particularly vicious and extreme example of government cruelty, it’s important to stress that it’s not a one-off, isolated act. “It’s an extension of a hostile environment against migrants which has existed and been embedded in policy for ten years. But it’s also building on the legacy of colonialism. This is something which racialised communities have had to resist for many, many years, and will continue to resist.” The government is also arguing that there’s no alternative to this policy, which is clearly absurd. “Obviously there’s an alternative,” Osman says. “Violent borders don’t exist for everyone.”

One of the most striking aspects of the response to the Rwanda plan is the widespread, non-partisan backlash it has inspired. Along with the human rights groups and left-leaning politicians who you might expect, the entire Church of England leadership has condemned the measures, a small number of Conservative MPs have attacked the plan, and even Prince Charles has allegedly described the measure as “appalling” – albeit in private. While the plan still, unfortunately, has its fair share of supporters, the outrage it has inspired is undeniable. This might be a cause for optimism: “we need as many tactics as possible if we're going to win, so everyone's welcome,” says Osman. But non-partisan support isn’t the most important factor at play. “What’s making us more optimistic is the bursts of resistance by ordinary people we’ve seen in our communities,” she says, citing Sunday’s successful anti-raid protest in Peckham, and other recent incidents like it in Dalston, Kensal Rise Glasgow and elsewhere.

“We’re seeing more and more people knowing their rights and feeling very strongly that actually, this is not okay and that our neighbours cannot just be kidnapped like this,” Osman says. Organisers have been working for a long time to build up these communities of resistance, and now these efforts are beginning to bear fruit. The widely publicised successes we have seen have had a mobilising effect: people are starting to realise that they can make a meaningful difference at a local level. Hopefully, this momentum will continue to grow, and we’ll see a snowball effect where more and more people feel empowered to stand up to immigration raids in their local areas.

“People are realising that we can withdraw our consent from this violent form of border enforcement and policing,” says Osman. Now more than ever, police officers are becoming involved in doing the job of border enforcement. This has always happened, to an extent, but it’s now taking place on a bigger scale. Challenging police power at a local level is extremely important, but there is still a place for the kinds of large protests outside the Home Office that we saw yesterday. “It has to be a combination,” says Osman. “Because for some people those big mobilisations are where they might then join an organisation, and have their moment of realisation that they can do something locally. Community organising always has to be the bread and butter. It takes time and it’s kind of countercultural in the society that we're living in, but it's always, always worth it. I think when we see the ramping up of hostility to our communities, we also see the fight back, with people coming together to protect their communities. That’s going to be crucial going forward, because we've got a fair few years of this government ahead.”

When it comes to these anti-raid protests, it’s clear that they aren’t just the work of a random group of protesters parachuting down into communities. “You can’t argue with the numbers and you can’t argue with the fact that these are local people who feel strongly about this,” says Osman. “There are lawyers who are challenging the deportations on human rights grounds and getting people off the flights. But that wouldn't happen without this swell of public outcry; people not just talking about it, but willing to take action and put bodies on the line. And that's really powerful. In terms of our long-term organising, it’s important to give people that feeling of hope and community and the idea that when we come together collectively, we can do something.”

Whether or not this kind of grassroots mobilisation will be enough to make the Tories shelf their Rwanda asylum plan remains in doubt. “It does seem like the government is really wanting to push ahead with it – and even if there's one person on that flight, for us that’s one person too many. But they seem to be using it as a way to send a message; it's symbolic for them. They weren’t expecting this many people to feel so strongly and to actually speak out about it. And I think that has taken them by surprise,” says Osman.

If you’re feeling angry about the deportations and would like to do something, you should check out ‘Solidarity Knows No Borders’, which is a loose coalition of different grassroots organisations and charities. They have come together to organise Week of Action, taking in over 50 events up and down the country. The hostile environment is a stain on this country and we all have a moral obligation to oppose it.