Immigrants of colour have been “problem communities” in the UK ever since they stepped off the planes and ships during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.
From the outset these immigrants suffered discrimination of all kinds- in employment, in housing, from the police, in the media and enduring physical attacks. During this period it was not uncommon to see landlords stating on their adverts –“No Irish, No Black, No Dogs”. It was equally common to see racist programs on British television, such as sitcoms like “Ain’t Half hot Mum”, “Love thy Neighbour”, “Till Death us Do Part” and “Mind Your Language”. Until very recently it was open season for comedians, the likes of Bernard Manning to entertain audiences up and down the UK with his racist jokes.
In recent years with heightened security concerns over criminality, terrorism and racial profiled “stop and searches” have increased. The victims of these stops have often been young black and Muslim men. This has made the black and the Muslim communities “suspect communities” – in other words, they are viewed as criminals and terrorists.
Both communities are now joined with the “Roma Gypsies” – the new “other” and the “unwanted of Europe”. One only needs to do a simple Google search to realise two things – one, the Roma people are viewed as “vermin” in European countries where they live, and two, the Roma people were also victims of the holocaust.
Having said this, it is no surprise that over the past few years the Roma people have been the target of hate from the British tabloids. Articles about them in tabloid newspapers are often found next to stories about criminals or Asian sex gangs. It is clear from how editors structure their front pages to realise what they are thinking and what type of politics they want to cultivate among their readership -black, Muslim, Roma, and all undesirables.
Rolling forward to 2013, one would assume that Britain would have left its dark days of overt racism behind. But it seems that this is not the case, the bad old days of racist policies are back with the British government’s new initiative to target illegal immigrants by using vans bearing the message: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention”.
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The target areas where these vans will patrol are where people of colour are most densely populated. Aside from the vans resembling “dog pound vans”, the message being displayed on them is a bit stupid. As it is unlikely that any illegal immigrants would be willing blow their cover.
The policy and the vans reminds one of how the Nazis rounded up people they considered as ‘undesirables’ –Roma, Jews, disabled people and people of colour, as well as the infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West in 1968. In the speech he stated that ‘We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population’. As a solution, Powell advocated ‘voluntary re-emigration by generous grants and assistance’, which also is what the British government wants to do.
This “hound and pound” tactic by the British government has enraged people that want see community cohesion rather than division. Don Flynn, from Migrants’ Rights Network, said it was a “shocking” scheme. The tactic is likely to end up with people that look like “illegal immigrants” being victimised and attacked. This policy will only lead to the fostering of intolerance and cultivate hatred, as well as the creation of another “suspect community”, one which has no indicator to determine whether one is legal or illegal, unless everyone is forced to carry ID cards embedded with a chip.
In a response to the policy human rights activists have launched a Twitter campaign Twitter “#Racistvan”. They ask anyone who see the “hound and pound” to tweet using the hashtag.