Migrant women & detention centres

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Hansika Jethnani

shut yarls woodThe UK has one of the largest detention and prison systems in the world; coupled with their inhumane and racist border policies. Many detention centers, like Yarls’ Wood are predominantly occupied by women; women who have done nothing wrong, they have simply just claimed asylum and are waiting to hear back. Many have also lived here for years and have family here. Its existence shows that many migrants who arrive in the UK are locked away like criminals. The rhetoric in the media that sees innocent people labelled ‘swarms’, ‘illegal’ and ‘cockroaches’ is what makes it permissible for society to imprison them and it should come as no surprise that women and children are at particular risk from harsh immigration laws, and the ones that face the most brutality. It’s been known that the women detained in the centre have repeatedly reported allegations of sexual assault against the staff.

The existence of detention centers however, also equates to the government’s’ inability and refusal to address the reasons many migrants leave their lives behind to come to the UK in the first place. While some flee unjust laws against LGBTQ people, many flee due to economic and political situations in their countries that have everything to do with colonisation and the rise of global inequality as a consequence.

In the same way, prison serves as an institution that consolidates the failure and refusal of governments across the world to address the socio-economic inequalities within our societies; leaving those most marginalised like women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women trapped by the violence of poverty.

Over the years, from the dismantling of social services, the rise of global capitalism and global inequality, prison and detention emerged as a institutions to address problems that were produced by deindustrialization, lack of jobs, less funding into education, lack of education, colonisation and the closedown of systems that were designed to assist people who have mental health difficulties.

G4S, a private security corporation is the third-largest private corporation in the world. It engages in the ownership and operation of private prisons, private policing and many other activities related to policing and surveillance and imprisonment. The existence of corporations like G4S who are endorsed and hired by governments’ show that states believe security can only be achieved by violence, whether structural or actual; and stops them from dealing with the actual problems.

Prison abolition is only achievable by states shifting resources to healthcare and education systems and removing the violence of poverty; essentially by smashing capitalism. Detention abolition is only conceivable by admitting and addressing the link between colonisation and global inequality, and propositioning freedom of movement as a right for all. As Angela Davis so rightfully said, ‘we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully, eventually, in the future, the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm, where social problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison’. An anti capitalist feminism means abolitionist feminism – means the end to detention and prison. It is so imperative that we get involved with Movement For Justice, go to protests at Yarls’ Wood, stand in solidarity with migrant women and continue talking about abolitionist feminism. The need to end detention and prison goes hand in hand with smashing capitalism, and we must continue the fight for both.

Read the rest of the zine here

NUS LGBT+ Conference Bulletin

Today our LGBTQ caucus is at NUS LGBT+ conference! Check out their bulletin below (in both PDF and text format), with articles about living grants, freedom of movement, and the no platform debate.

Download the bulletin here (PDF)


Grants not debt!

LGBT+ students need universal living grants

grantsnotdebtTHE last government abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (which provided a small amount of financial assistance to poorer young students in further education), and now the Conservatives have cut the maintenance grants of the poorest undergrads. We don’t just want to stop and reverse these cuts, because those schemes were never enough. NCAFC demands a grant – non-repayable and offered to all – that is enough for every student from further education to postgrad to live on. This is the only way to ensure that finances are not a barrier to anyone accessing and staying in education, and to make sure that every student has a decent standard of living.

How would we fund this? There’s a huge amount of money available for this and other public services – the only problem is that it is currently kept in the hands of a few. We say, tax the rich and take the banks under democratic control. The wealthy shouldn’t just pay for their own education, but everyone’s.

There are lots of arguments in favour of this, but one is particular to LGBT+ rights.

We’re often told that means-tested financial support is good enough. That’s where the government decides how much support you need according to your parents’ incomes.

First of all, the support provided now doesn’t cover full living expenses even for the neediest students, so even if we accepted that argument, much improvement would still be needed. But means-testing assumes that parents will always financially support students if they can. If a bigoted family won’t support their LGBT+ offspring, that student can face a choice of living in poverty – because the government says they don’t need full support even though they aren’t getting family help – or being stuck in the closet, hiding so that their families won’t cut them off.

Supposedly, such students can gain “estrangement” status from their parents and be funded as independent from their families. But the estrangement system isn’t just broken, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that can never work. To get it, we have to provide proof that we have completely cut ties with our parents for some time. Evidence can be hard to find and the process is difficult and often deeply distressing. And even unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation have been held against estrangement applicants.

But it also assumes everyone’s whole family is either entirely supportive or completely estranged. How could we fix such a system? Will we means-test intolerance, with a sliding scale measuring how bigoted or supportive a student’s parents are?! This system requires young LGBT+ people struggling with their families, or even just individual family members, to completely give up on their entire families and cut them out. A bitter irony, given how those same authorities constantly moralise conservatively about the importance of the family unit.

And this isn’t just an issue for LGBTQ students. What about students whose families don’t disown them for their sexualities or gender identities, but just refuse to support their ambitions for education, for any number of reasons – from disagreeing with their offspring’s choices in life and career, to conservative sexist parents who don’t believe their daughters should be educated? Everyone deserves the ability to be financially independent.

We support universal living grants, as well as living wages and so on, because we aren’t just fighting to hold off the particular attacks being made on education right now. We are fighting for a radically liberated, socially just society, in which everyone has the freedom to fulfil their hopes and potential, be who they want and live as they wish.


Freedom of movement is an LGBT+ issue

EVERY now and then a story makes the headlines, high-lighting the mistreatment of LGBT+ migrants by the Home Office. We hear of deported individuals being told to “act straight” in a country that bans homosexual relationships, or of asylum seekers forced to show their private photos to prove their sexuality. Shocking cases like these usually cause short-lived outrage, sometimes inspire a petition in defence of a specific person. Calls for a radical change in migration policy which could really prevent such appalling abuses are still nowhere to be seen in the political mainstream.

But these, however far from isolated cases, are just the most extreme examples of the inherent oppressive-ness of border controls. Then there are countless stories that never make the news, of both EU and non-EU citizens crossing borders to live the life they want. LGBT+ migrants moving countries to be able to marry their partner, or to be recognised as their real gender without undergoing sterilisation. People who travel abroad to escape abusive families or to be out in the workplace without fear of discrimination. Although no country is free from structural oppression, for many migration is the only way of accessing the rights and freedoms that others enjoy.

Borders are not only racist – they are also sexist, ableist and LGBT-phobic. That’s why the LGBT+ movement needs to be unapologetic in our demand for free movement of people – not depending on how much one contributes to the economy, on whether or not they’re a model citizen, or on their victimhood and how much their story can move hearts. True liberation means the freedom of everyone to be true to themselves and in control of their lives, regardless of what their passport says.

Grassroots groups like Movement for Justice, or Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants, have been highlighting the links between border controls and the oppression of LGBT+ people. Let’s join them in resisting detention and deportations, and fight for a world where one’s nationality does not determine their fate.


The debate about no platform

At this conference, we’re supporting the motion “Defend and Extend Freedom of Expression and Organisation”, to tackle a range of threats to our political and union freedoms on campuses. Most of these are from the government and college/university managers – like Prevent – but the motion also discusses our own movement’s use of no-platform tactics, arguing that these are only appropriate as a self-defence tactic against groups – mainly fascist groups – that organise to use physical violence against progressive movements and against marginalised groups.

WE believe that open discussion and free expression are the lifeblood of left-wing and liberation struggles. We want to change the world for the better, and that means confronting, tackling and defeating a host of bigoted, right-wing and regressive ideas. Parts of the student movement think that one way to do this is through the use of “no platform” policies on our campuses and in our unions, to shut out the people who believe those ideas. We think that instead, we need to beat those ideas through argument and protest, and change hearts and minds to change the world.

What is no-platform?

No-platforming is a tactic adopted originally by activists against fascist organisations. It means refusing, as a general blanket rule, to permit a specified group any platform to organise, promote their ideas, or act on them. This could mean everything from turning over a street stall, to disrupting a meeting, to denying them an invitation to speak in a student society event. It also includes refusing, again as a blanket rule, to ever have representatives of your organisation or movement share a platform with that group.

The left and liberation struggles need to fight a battle of ideas

Our movements exist precisely because reactionary ideas and bigotry are not marginal but dominant and widespread across our society. So changing minds – billions of minds! – is therefore completely vital to what we want to achieve. There is no shortcut and we can’t proceed by hoping to gain control of various little pockets of society (like student unions) and make them ideologically pure through imposing regulations from the top down. No regulation or speaker policy can change hearts and minds. The left has to confront the world as it is, and debate and discuss with people to win them over.

At worst, attempting to apply no-platform policies to widely-held ideas means denying ourselves a platform. When we refuse to share a platform with people who hold bigoted or right-wing views, very often our opponents get a free ride. It is our job as a movement to go out and compete against them to spread our ideas.

It can be exhausting and distressing to go out into a hostile world and confront dominant ideas that attack our freedom and our very right to exist. But that’s why we build a collective movement. No individual can or should be expected to fight every battle, but organised together with everyone contributing as much as they are able, as a collective we can meet those challenges.

Open discussion within the left and liberation movements is also vital – it’s the only way to ensure that our movements are democratic, and that we constantly challenge ourselves to re-examine, refine and improve the ideas that drive them.

Attacks from the authorities

More broadly, progressives and the left always face attempts to silence us. Political freedoms on our campuses are already under attack from the government, from education bosses, and from the marketisation of education.

We need to stop these attacks, and an argument about defending free enquiry, free debate and free speech is essential to winning that fight. There are differences between restrictions imposed by the state and those by student unions, but we can’t win the argument for the value of open discussion if we are inconsistent, if we are simultaneously imposing our own regulations of which ideas can and cannot be expressed. Our best defence depends on building, and embedded as widely and firmly as possible, a consensus in favour of defending open discussion and free speech.

What’s different about fascists?

We don’t think that fascist ideas cross some arbitrary line of being too distressing or offensive to be heard: we don’t want to ban fascist texts from libraries. Nor do we think that policies attempting to silence fascists would be sufficient to beat fascist ideas anyway – we will never beat ideas with anything other than different, better ideas.

Instead, we are committed to no platform as a physical self-defence tactic – part of a militant anti-fascist strategy. Fascist groups are an organised movement of physical violence in the streets, fighting to terrorise, crush, and ultimately murder oppressed groups, the workers’ movement and the left. Antifascists are forced to respond by doing whatever we can to disrupt fascists and their efforts.

Importantly, this is a tactic that the left and student and workers’ movements can use to fight fascists from the grassroots up. We don’t, for instance, call for the state to step in and ban fascist organisations and demonstrations for us. We know we can’t trust the state in the fight against fascism, and experience also shows that state-imposed restrictions on the far-right are easily turned against the left too.

In certain circumstances, we may apply similar tactics to other physically threatening and violent groups and individuals which confront us. Again, this is about physical self-defence.

Reclaiming the issue from right-wing hypocrites

Recently, right-wingers and bigots – from Tory student campaigns to press outlets like Spiked! – have draped themselves with the banner of free speech against the left of the student movement. This has been possible, in part, because of the abandonment of that banner by parts of the left. But the right’s defence of political freedom has, in most cases, been deeply hypocritical and inconsistent. These commentators rail at student union no platform policies – too often because they actually support the bigoted and reactionary ideas that are usually the targets of these policies – but have little or nothing to say about Prevent, university and college managers cleansing campus spaces of visible politics, or the victimisation of student protesters and trade union organisers.

We want to show up these hypocrites, and build a consistent, left-wing campaign to defend and extend freedom of speech, debate, organisation and action on campuses. One that will facilitate a flowering of student and workers’ organisation and struggle. Join us!

Read more about the campaign for freedom to organise and freedom of expression on campuses: anticuts.com/righttoorganise 


What is the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts?

THE NCAFC is a democratic network of student activists on college and university campuses across the country, fighting for free, democratic and liberated education that is funded by taxing the rich and business.

We’ve played a pivotal role in mobilising the student movement and supporting activism since the 2010 wave of occupations and street protests. We’ve been heavily involved in building everything from the ongoing NSS boycott against the higher education reforms to 2014’s #CopsOffCampus movement.

We help activists build for action on campuses, we join together to argue for our causes, and we organise action, such as major national demonstrations and 2015’s anti-austerity bloc on Pride with Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners.

Talk to us or find us online for more info!

anticuts.com

[email protected]

@NCAFC_UK

facebook.com/NCAFC

Why Celebrating Migrants Is Not Enough

March for Migrant Rights, London Oct 7, 2006Hansika Jethnani, NCAFC International Students’ Rep & NUS International Students’ Committee

Tomorrow, a national day of action has been called, One Day Without Us to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK, and to reject the politics of division and hatred. While it is important to recognize the fact that migrants do contribute to society, it is far more vital that we stand up for their rights in our campuses and beyond; and debunk the racist policies of the Home Office.

Celebrations are all well and good but are not enough. The benefits of globalisation and multiculturalism cannot be seen by many. To someone who works over 50 hours a week on two minimum wage jobs to support their family, the ‘wonderful contributions of migrants’ to the economy cannot be felt. The economic discontent faced by many, which so often translates into anti-migrant sentiments, is a result of the failures of liberalism to address wealth inequality, a scenario which is replicated across the world; one which has everything to do with capitalism and colonialism.

Wealth inequalities have never been tackled by ‘liberal’ governments in power.  From Obama’s administration to Blair’s Labour party, these people spent more time cozying up with multinational corporations, putting their business interests at the expense of the socially ostracized. And it is this very liberal mindset, combined with pandering to nationalism and fear mongering that has resulted in the current political climate – a fascist elected as a president of the United States and Brexit whose slogan was ‘Take Back Control’ winning an election.

Moreover, migrants dropping everything to risk their lives in search of better opportunities, is a result of the global crisis of neoliberalism and the remnants of colonisation. The understanding of this is always left out when speaking about migrants. The conversation around immigration needs to move from celebratory to truly highlighting the austerity policies of governments that have left so many people feeling disenfranchised. There is also a need to unite in our struggles: the exploitation of labour faced by a migrant worker is the same exploitation faced by a white British worker, cuts to public services affect migrants and UK citizens alike.

We need a movement that stands up for all migrants and fights against the global crisis of neoliberalism; not one that allies with our Vice Chancellors and big corporations who value immigrants for the wrong reasons. What we need is not nice words from bosses but radical self-organisation, migrants standing up for their own rights and against the rise of racism and fascism.

Because valuing Internationalism is so much more than celebrating the contributions that immigrants bring to society, and this is what we need to be speaking about, in our campuses and on the streets. Join the walk-outs tomorrow!

We must reject the “good vs. bad migrant” rhetoric

good vs bad migrantsAna Oppenheim, Arts SU Campaigns Officer & NUS National Exec

International students are not real migrants, are they? They only come here for a few years and leave. They pay lots of money and fund our universities. They don’t steal anyone’s jobs, are usually middle-class, well-behaved and widely accepted by society. This is why we should defend them.

These sorts of arguments will sound all too familiar to many of us. It comes as no surprise when they are used by MPs and Vice-Chancellors. Sadly, in one form or another, they are often also put forward by representatives of the UCU and sections of the student movement, usually when arguing that international students should be removed from migration statistics.

“Students coming into our country are not migrants, but here to study,” we hear, as if attacks on international students were happening in isolation from the government’s anti-migrant agenda. Yet visa restrictions, NHS charges, landlord checks, and the threat of linking international recruitment to TEF are policies motivated by racism – the same racism that’s behind laws targeting other immigrants in the UK.

A lot of the arguments used to defend international students fit into the wider narrative into migration, where our worth depends on how much we “contribute,” usually followed by “to the economy.” Migrants are good, we hear, because they are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or at least clean our streets – not because they are people who deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Similarly, a common case for supporting international students is that they “fund our universities” – instead of questioning the sky-high fees that students are charged in the first place.

Another common trope is basing a defence of migrants on how much their stories can move hearts, or how well they fit into society’s idea of a perfect citizen. Child refugees are welcome as long as they’re small and cute, not when they look like young men. Anti-deportation campaigns often emphasise that the person at risk is a “good student” and “popular in their community” as if whether or not one deserves basic rights depended on how well they do on their course or how many friends they have. Speaking of international students, many bring up reports about the British public’s positive attitudes towards them, when making a case for less restrictive policies. These arguments pander to existing prejudices and do nothing to challenge hate against the majority of migrants.

We will not effectively fight back by dividing migrants into good and bad, worthy or unworthy, students and workers. Our humanity does not depend on respectability or on how effectively we can be exploited. We can only effectively defend international students by combating racism and xenophobia in all their forms. We need to unite our forces with those facing the same struggles and strive for a world without discrimination based on nationality. There are no good or bad migrants but there are good and bad arguments.