“Racist” immigration van – has it gone for good?

Home Office's immigration van

The British government has ended its week-long pilot immigrant van scheme, which as been dubbed as the “Racist van” and “hound and pound van” writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.

The vans were operating in the London boroughs of Hounslow, Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge. The scheme was a government initiative to look and act tough on illegal immigration. The government has not released information on the success or failure of the scheme. The scheme has come into place since immigration is becoming a bigger issue everyday.

The scheme received a lot of criticism from politicians and human rights activists. The Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that – he had not been told about the van plan in advance. Business Secretary Vince Cable has described the scheme as “stupid and offensive”. Lib Dem party president, Tim Farron, said that the scheme fostered a “the politics of division”. Sarah Teather, the former Lib Dem minister and MP for Brent Central, said constituents told her that the scheme reminds them of the things they used to see on walls in the 70s such as “Paki go home”.

The tone of the words on this van is similar to those signs in guesthouses that once told potential tenants: “no Irish, no blacks, no dogs”.Conservative MP Douglas Carswell said that “the breathtaking stupidity of the people in charge of our immigration system knows no bounds”. Even the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage who is well known for his anti-immigration views joined in the criticism. He said the real aim behind the scheme was “to shore up the Conservative vote after defections to UKIP and called the signs nasty”.

Racial profiling of immigrants

However, a Home Office spokesperson said that “this pilot scheme is about targeting illegal immigrants and giving them the opportunity to leave the country voluntarily and with dignity”. But targeting areas that are densely populated by people of colour suggests that “illegal immigrants” only come from non-white countries.

One would think that the government would have reconsidered its anti-immigration initiatives after the criticisms but sadly this has not been the case.  On 2 August the governed was forced to go on the defensive because it was accused of using racial profiling to conduct random checks near tube stations in London suburbs of Walthamstow, Kensal Green, Stratford and Cricklewood. Mark Harper, Immigration Minister insisted that the spot checks are based on intelligence, and that individuals were picked out for questioning on the basis of their behaviour, not their skin colour.

Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, said that she had “been told that Home office officials were only stopping people who looked Asian or African and not anyone who was white”. The Labour immigration spokesman Chris Bryant demanded to know the number and ethnic background of people stopped. He accused the government of whipping up a “moral panic” over immigration for electoral purposes. 

The stop checks led to a spokesman from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to say that, “the Commission is writing today to the Home Office about these reported operations, and it will be examine the powers used and the justification for them, in order to assess whether unlawful discrimination took place”.

It is clear that the policy advisers for the government are hard at work hitching up policies designed to appear and act tough on immigration, in order to reverse the trend of Conservative voters turning to Nigel Farage’s UKIP.

There is a consensus among the Conservative, Lib Dems and Labour that something has to be done about immigration. This concern is shared by many British citizens, including members of minority groups. So, this begs the questions of what should be done about EU and non-EU immigration?

Add your comments below