UK: Manston and beyond – violence by design

Thursday, 10 November 2022 — Institute of Race Relations

The ‘hostile environment in asylum and immigration policy is an environment that fosters racism, everyday cruelty and violence by design’. So concluded the jury at the London Session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Violations of the Rights of Migrants and Refugees in June 2019. Fast-forward to 2022, and the ‘crisis’ at the Manston asylum holding centre in Kent surely underlines the accuracy of a verdict of ‘violence by design’. For this is not a crisis born of neglect, or a failure to prepare; this is not a crisis due to underfunding, insufficient staffing, or lack of suitable accommodation. It is a politically manufactured crisis, designed by politicians – some determined to rip up international conventions and to break taboos on responsible speech by demonising vulnerable people, even after the far-right terrorist attack on a Border Force centre in Dover.

The deputy prime minister has promised to revive the British Bill of Rights in a matter of weeks, in an attempt to legalise the exclusion of asylum seekers and end their right to seek asylum on this already inhospitable island. But, as migrant rights activists from all over Kent and SOAS Detainee Support, who held two demonstrations outside Manston, know only too well, the treatment of asylum seekers is a forewarning of a ‘further lurch back for British justice‘. A uniquely British approach to human rights: one that ignores European conventions, sees nothing wrong in interning hundreds of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Albania, Iran and Iraq in overcrowded and degraded accommodation breeding nineteenth-century diseases. But where will the rolling back of twenty-first century ‘rights’ end? Conditions at Manston have been described as in many respects worse than the workhouse. Unison believes that if the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is passed, workers’ rights will be as they were in ‘Dickensian times’.

The details of events at Manston, as well as in Harmondsworth and across Kent, are all covered in our regular Calendar of Racism and Resistance. Regrettably, ‘violence by design’ is not confined to Brexit Britain. Variations of state cruelty exist across the Continent – from far-right Italy’s new doctrine of ‘selective disembarkation’, to authoritarian nationalist Poland’s use of ‘hybrid threat’ to justify inhumanity at its eastern borders, to socialist Spain’s complicity in the deaths of at least 23 people at its Melilla enclave within Morocco, called out in a recent BBC documentary.

Further instances of Europe’s ‘violence by design’ can be found in the October-December edition of Race & Class, available for pre-order this week. It explores transnational connections: from attempts to create a quarantined deportation archipelago on Denmark’s islands, to the British state’s involvement in the repression of Black Power in the Caribbean and UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Finally, the culture wars, travelling from the US to the UK, are taken up by Liz Fekete, who interviewed US researchers Ralph Wilson and Isaac Kamola. It is a timely intervention given this week’s saga at the National Trust, where all the ‘anti-woke’ Restore Trust’s seven candidates for its Council were defeated, at an AGM which boasted the NT’s largest ever turnout.

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A fortnightly resource for anti-racist and social justice campaigns, highlighting key events in the UK and Europe.

Calendar of Racism & Resistance

Our latest Calendar of Racism and Resistance covers the events at migrant detention facilities, with evidence of overcrowding and unsafe conditions in Manston as the military are deployed

‘Violence by design’ is not confined to the UK. Variations of state cruelty exist across Europe – from Italy’s new doctrine of ‘selective disembarkation’, to Poland’s use of ‘hybrid threat’ to justify inhumanity at its eastern borders & more.

Find these stories and thousands more on our Register of Racism and Resistance database.

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