One stunt too many

July 25, 2013 — Comment

Written by Harmit Athwal

This week the Home Office announced a new pilot scheme, lorries with ads, to encourage people in the UK illegally to ‘go home or face arrest’.

The one-week £10,000 advertising campaign will involve vans driving around six London boroughs (Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow and Redbridge) carrying ads asking ‘In the UK illegally?’, and if you are, you can text a number ‘for free advice and help with travel documents’. The Home Office will also have leaflets, posters and messages in local newspapers to ‘highlight the advantages of returning home voluntarily’.[1]

The campaign has been roundly condemned in all quarters, with even the Daily Mail asking ‘Is this the most ridiculous Home Office stunt yet?’[2] and UKIP’s Nigel Farage claiming: ‘What the billboards should say is please don’t vote UKIP, we’re doing something’.[3] Criticism has also come from Lib-Dem former minister Sarah Teather, who accused her colleagues of ‘cranking up the anti-migrant rhetoric’.[4]

BNP truth truck stuck in Sunderland

The initiative sounds a little like the BNP’s truth truck, which first made an appearance in 2008 and on one occasion ‘ground to a halt in Sunderland, after becoming wedged under a low bridge’.[5] The Home Office PR department might also be interested in the BNPs latest venture, the ‘Nationalist Village Green bank holiday weekend event’ where lucky attendees will be able to handle and shoot air rifles.[6]

Is this initiative an early salvo in the Tory battle to win the next election (outright)?

Another stunt?

Just a few days earlier, the UKBA raided an area around Marble Arch to round up Romanians. Sixty-three people were questioned and at least 20 were returned the same day after accepting voluntary return.[7] (Read an IRR report on attacks against the Roma in Europe.) According to the Evening Standard and Daily Mail, the raids also involved Romanian police officers, but the Home Office press release made no mention of that.[8]

The Home Office press release heralded ‘Illegal Romanian migrants sleeping rough cleared from London’s Marble Arch’- one major inaccuracy – they aren’t illegal! Romanians are allowed to travel to the UK legally but are not allowed to claim benefits unless habitually resident with a right to reside.[9]

This hasn’t stopped the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail jumping on the bandwagon with full colour pictures of the arrests talking place. One of the main concerns was: anti-social behaviour and the effect on those who live in ‘London’s most expensive homes’. And just a few days later the Evening Standard was complaining that the, ‘Park Lane gypsies are already back just three days after they were cleared by police’.[10]

The voyeurism of papers like the Evening Standard and Daily Mail is just adding to the climate of hate and hysteria around refugees and asylum seekers and those ‘foreigners’ entitled to be here.

Related links

Day of protest on Friday 2 August: against racism and fascism against the Roma community and to commemorate the Roma genocide

Read an IRR News story: ‘“It’s like a war”

Read an IRR report: From pillar to post: pan-European racism and the Roma

Read an IRR News story: ‘Clearing Roma off the streets

[1]Six London boroughs targeted in returns pilot’, Home Office press release (22 July 2013). [2] Jack Doyle, ‘Is this the most ridiculous Home Office stunt yet? Vans encourage illegal immigrants to send texts for free advice on getting home’, Daily Mail (23 July 2013). [3] Joe Murphy, ‘Nigel Farage attacks ‘nasty, Big Brother’ billboards on illegal immigration’, Evening Standard (25 July 2013). [4] Alan Travis, ‘Adverts urging illegal immigrants to leave UK attacked by ex-minister’, Guardian (22 July 2013). [5] Jessica Elgot, ‘BNP “Truth Truck” Stuck Under Sunderland Bridge’, Huffington Post (28 August 2013). [6] ‘Nationalist Village Green - A date for your diary’, BNP website (23 July 2013). [7] 'Illegal Romanian migrants sleeping rough cleared from London's Marble Arch', Home Office press release (19 July 2013). [8] John Dunne, 'Police raid Park Lane Romanians' camp and bus 20 off to airport for free flight home', Evening Standard (19 July 2013). [9] An illegal requirement according to the European Commission which is taking the UK to the European Court of Justice. [10] Chris Greenwood, 'Park Lane gypsies are already back just three days after they were cleared by police', Daily Mail (23 July 2013).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

July 26, 2013
Stuart:

All good points Harmit: more racism and xenophobia on the cheap.

I’d add one thing: this is also about the promotion of the Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) programme with the Home Office ‘highlight(ing) the advantages of returning home voluntarily’.

The controversial AVR scheme (dissected by Frances Webber on IRR at http://www.irr.org.uk/news/the-politics-of-voluntary-returns/)could well be up for some pre-privatisation fattening. Capita, G4S and possibly Serco might well be interested in AVR as part of their security, data-mining and enforcement activities in the “asylum market”.

A rigid payment-by-results AVR scheme could well be too much for voluntary sector organisations (like Refugee Action) to stomach but ideally suited to profiteers like Capita, which has entered the “asylum market” (with disastrous results – see http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4644)

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