You can stop the Rwanda raids. Here’s how

As people face raids and deportation to Rwanda this week – we must be there for them, like the UK was there for me, I was able to work and study, and I had a right to appeal my refusal and access to good, free legal advice. I could see a doctor when I needed one. When I first arrived in London from Sarajevo in 1993, it was hard to be a refugee. I was refused full protection in the UK despite the genocide happening in my count I was able to build community and to some extent retain my dignity. 

For people in a similar position today as I was 30 years ago, life has been made unbearable. From Labour's Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to this government's raft of inhumane laws for asylum seekers – culminating in the Safety of Rwanda Act – destitution, isolation and deportation have been normalised.

It’s almost 12 years since then-home secretary Theresa May declared that her government intended to “create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”. The policy’s impact has been well documented; a web of immigration controls prevent people from accessing housing, healthcare, education, work, banks, benefits and drivers’ licences. 

The inhumane Rwanda deportation scandal is just the latest nightmare chapter in this racist-by-design system. This week, many people await raids that will snatch them from their beds and put them on a plane to an unfamiliar country, or fear they may never return from a regular check-in at an immigration reporting centre.

None of this is legal – the Supreme Court said so in December last year. The government responded by making a new law to overrule its ruling. Vulnerable people, human rights, the law, the lawyers and judges are all just collateral damage in its desperation to stay in power. 

With a general election looming, the government has spent £5.4bn – £15m a day – over the past financial year to give the impression it is ‘in control of our borders’. This money has been used to uphold oppressive and hostile measures for asylum seekers, forcing them to live in inadequate accommodation that affects their physical and mental health, such as temporary hotels, the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge and “prison-like” military bases.

For-profit companies are paid to run these facilities, providing a service that exploits and humiliates vulnerable people. Staff at government-contracted hotels, for example, have been accused of treating a migrant person in their care “like a slave” and hitting a child. 

But while ministers splash out on cruel measures intended to deter desperate people from seeking refuge in the UK, they tell the public there is no money for the NHS, for school meals, for people in cold homes, for people using food banks. All these injustices have been normalised and are the consequence of the same structure – extractive disaster capitalism.

These are people coming to our shores, not boats. People with a legitimate right to seek protection, regardless of how they travelled here – the UK has signed up to this through multiple international conventions. 

We must remember that, and make sure others do too. We, the organisers, campaigners, caseworkers, advocates, citizens and communities, have the power to speak out where many more vulnerable people are invisible or silenced. 

“Be realistic, demand impossible,” was the motto of French students during their 1968 uprising. Today, it sums up the call for migrant justice. Our job, as a society, is to be realistic and demand the breakdown of oppressive systems and cultures. 

We must not tinker around the edges of hostility, but exercise the power of imagination in the face of the disillusionment resulting from the relentless assault on our dignity,  freedom and wellbeing. If the government doesn’t provide protection, we have a duty and, more importantly, a right to do so.

As many people across the UK await the Rwanda raids, we must rally around them as a community, ensuring they have good legal representation and standing with them against the Home Office.

We have done it before. Remember the May 2021 victory in Pollokshields, Glasgow, which made headlines around the world after locals blocked the passage of a UK Border Agency van sent to detain and deport two young men. Or the hundreds of people who successfully engaged in a five-hour stand-off with an immigration van in Peckham in June 2022 to secure the release of their neighbour. Or the more than a hundred people who last month stopped 22 people from being moved from a hotel in Margate to the Bibby Stockholm barge. 

Just this week, Scottish National Party MP Anne McLaughlin, joined her constituents to prevent deportation raids to Rwanda and send the Home Office a message of defiance: “Wherever you go in Glasgow, we are going to be there.” There will be many more similar examples in the coming months, as communities and the Anti-Raids Network organise and resist nationwide. 

But there are other ways we can help too. Volunteers can sign up to the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees – particularly crucial as detainees are often stripped of their phones, and thus their contact with the outside world – or the Abolish Reporting Campaign, which supports terrified people in attending their regular immigration appointments.

Faith organisations also provide sanctuary. The story of the Ogunwobi family of five who lived in a Downs Baptist Church in Hackney, supported by the community for three years before being granted indefinite leave to remain, is inspiring. It reminds us that the hostile environment has deep roots, but also that we can all make a difference.

There are so many actions that are happening everyday to defend basic human rights across the country, that still despite it all, I’m not despairing. Today, and every day, in our workplaces, schools, communities, places of worship, we must organise. Be realistic, demand the impossible – an end to the hostile environment for all. It is the only way forward.

*This article was first published on the Open Democracy website