Diane Abbott at the Medical Justice agm: a missed opportunity

Yesterday, Diane Abbott addressed the Medical Justice Annual General Meeting. Introducing a discussion on ‘How to end immigration detention?’, the Shadow Home Secretary outlined Labour’s commitment to close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House, to conduct a review of Immigration Detention estate and to push for an end to the involvement of private contractors in the deprivation of liberty. It was a speech intended to manage our expectations: Abbott committed to ‘end detention, as we know it’ and pointed towards electronic tagging as a possible alternative form of control. Cornered by a member of Women for Refugee Women, as Diane tried to leave, she refused to confirm that her commitment to close Yarl’s Wood extended to a commitment to end the detention of women entirely.

It was disappointing that Abbott left immediately after her speech. First and foremost, many in that anti-detention movement wanted to recognise how important Diane Abbott has been in drawing attention to Immigration Detention and the harmful impact of immigration controls more generally. It does not go unnoticed that, particularly when she speaks on these issues, she is subject to awful racist and misogynistic threats and abuse.

But it also missed an opportunity for her to learn from and be held to account by an audience of lawyers, doctors, caseworkers and activists with a vast and varied set of concerns about detention.

Abbott advised the movement to use human stories in detention and emphasise the difference between immigration detention and criminal imprisonment. Immigration detainees are not criminals, they are vulnerable and desperate is the message. This, of course, fails to acknowledge the way migration has been criminalised and that many people in detention have indeed committed crimes that are unrelated to their migration. While she said that politicians needed to show more leadership in the political discourse they use to address migration, she did not acknowledge the term ‘illegal migrant’ – one that she herself has used –immediately locates immigration wrongs on the level of criminality. In short, the human stories she wants to hear enter a public sphere in which they are already delegitimised by language that Labour including the current leadership have been participants in promulgating.

There is also a great irony for someone who is against the involvement of private companies in deprivations of liberty to also be considering electronic tagging as a potential alternative.  Electronic tagging is synonymous with the increased involvement by private contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita (sound familiar?!) in the criminal justice system. Not only this, our experience of Electronic Tagging in the criminal justice system has shown that they are tools that expand the state’s ability to control and maintain surveillance without necessarily resulting in reductions in imprisonment. I hope anti-detention activists are preemptively setting themselves up to oppose these movements.

Finally, there was a missed opportunity for her to hear from the perspective of someone who had been in detention and was critical in giving Diane the experiences she drew on to support her speech. Diane made a point of crediting activist-detainees that blocked a corridor to ensure that her visit to Yarl’s Wood did not pass without her meeting women in detention. But she did not realise that one of those women was sitting next to her on the stage ready to speak after her.

Labour are perhaps making steps towards a policy platform that can carry the weighty and unlikely description ‘progressive immigration policy’ and no one is expecting her to use meetings like this to announce new policy. But without meaningful engagement with the movements that specialise in anti-racist, anti-detention activism there is a risk that they will replicate the mistakes of New Labour and build the systems of violence that future movements will have to work so hard to dismantle.


How ‘critical’ reports can legitimize increases in police power

Here are some observations about a Press Association article published in the Guardian newspaper about the police trials of facial recognition technology.  It highlights some of the ways expansions of police power are rendered necessary and common-sense, even in articles that are posed as criticisms of them. This is very much a snap response of a non-expert in this field. More can be found about facial recognition technology on Liberty’s website.

A police force has defended its use of facial recognition technology after it was revealed that more than 2,000 people in Cardiff during the 2017 Champions League final were wrongly identified as potential criminals.

The frame is primarily about false-positives and developing an ‘it could be you’ affect. The audience therefore identifies with innocence and being on the right side of the law obscuring the ways everyone is in breach of the law in some way but only some are held accountable to it.

South Wales police began trialling the technology in June last year in an attempt to catch more criminals. The cameras scan faces in a crowd and compare them against a database of custody images.

Trialling a technology without saying whether such trials have a legal basis. It normalizes an increase in the police power without public consultation and accountability. The database is one of ‘custody images’ – presumably this includes people who are arrested but not charged but even if not, the technology seems targeted at recriminalizing an already criminalised population.

As 170,000 people arrived in the Welsh capital for the football match between Real Madrid and Juventus, 2,470 potential matches were identified.

It’s relevant that it was used in the context of an influx of Italian and Spanish people.

However, according to data on the force’s website, 92% (2,297) of those were found to be “false positives”.

92% figure seems shocking sets up an acquiescence if new deployments of the technology have less shocking figures.

South Wales police admitted that “no facial recognition system is 100% accurate”, but said the technology had led to more than 450 arrests since its introduction. It also said no one had been arrested after an incorrect match.

Compares the failure of this technology to other facial recognition systems rather than other methods of policing. It does not point to the scale of non-arrest interaction with the police such as stop and searches that incorrect matches have led to.

A spokesman for the force said: “Over 2,000 positive matches have been made using our ‘identify’ facial recognition technology, with over 450 arrests.

“Successful convictions so far include six years in prison for robbery and four-and-a-half years imprisonment for burglary. The technology has also helped identify vulnerable people in times of crisis.

Identifies serious sounding offences based on the length of jail time to give the impression the technology leads to justice being done. No explanation given of what the second sentence means, neither who the vulnerable people were not why the police’s interaction with vulnerable people was a positive thing. Justifies policing on the basis of humanitarian control.

“Technical issues are common to all face recognition systems, which means false positives will be an issue as the technology develops. Since initial deployments during the European Champions League final in June 2017, the accuracy of the system used by South Wales police has continued to improve.”

Framing ‘issues’ as technical removes debate about the use, effect and function of the technology to a depoliticised and technocratic sphere.

The force blamed the high number of false positives at the football final on “poor quality images” supplied by agencies, including Uefa and Interpol, as well as the fact it was its first major deployment of the technology.

The problem is blamed not on the technology itself but on the practices of other agencies.

Figures also revealed that 46 people were wrongly identified at an Anthony Joshua fight, while there were 42 false positives from a rugby match between Wales and Australia in November.

All six matches at a Liam Gallagher concert in Cardiff in December were valid.

Much lower numbers false-positives at later events (without telling us of the rate of false-positives) create impression that the trial is working. The result is that while the article’s set up of a shocking statistic that seems to be critical of the technology, ends up alleviating concerns about it. The examples are all sporting events – it doesn’t mention the use of the technology at Notting Hill Carnival, for example.

The chief constable, Matt Jukes, said the technology was used where there were likely to be large gatherings, because they were “potential terrorist targets”.

Mention of terrorist targets – just in case you hadn’t already linked the increased police power with dangerous, racialised threats.

“We need to use technology when we’ve got tens of thousands of people in those crowds to protect everybody, and we are getting some great results from that,” he told the BBC. “But we don’t take the use of it lightly and we are being really serious about making sure it is accurate.”

Drawing on a fear of crowds and masses to justify technology – a vague means of protest, parties, highstreets. Also underscores the common-sense connection between safety and increased police power. Provides assurances that they are taking it ‘seriously’ without any content given about what accountability measures direct the use of this technology.

The force said it had considered privacy issues “from the outset”, and had built in checks to ensure its approach was justified and proportionate.

Does not unpack and make concrete what ‘privacy’ issues these were nor what ‘checks’ are put in place.

However, the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch criticised the technology.

In a post on Twitter, the group said: “Not only is real-time facial recognition a threat to civil liberties, it is a dangerously inaccurate policing tool.”

Only group to respond is Big Brother Watch on Twitter. Giving abstract ‘civil liberties’ and also repeating the line that the main objection is inaccuracy.

The Solidarity Party: Policy announcement in response to Yarl’s Wood.

The Solidarity Party*: Policy announcement in response to the #HungerForFreedom protests in Yarl’s Wood.

The Solidarity Party’s only stated policy so far has been to advocate for time-limit on detention. In response to the demonstrator’s demands, the Solidarity Party would like to make the following policy announcements to show practical ways governments and opposition parties could immediately act to grant their reasonable proposals

  • We want an end to indefinite detention and a return to the original plan of the 28-day limit.

The Solidarity party would impose an immediate time limit of, at most, 28 days. Any time limit would only be meaningful if it applies to all people in immigration detention and there were substantial protections against re-detention – living in the community with the fear of imminent detention is not humane.

  • We want the Home Office to respect Article 8.

The Solidarity party would repeal the UK Borders Act 2007 which introduced automatic deportation orders and the sections of the Immigration Act 2014 and parts of the Immigration Rules that narrowed the interpretation of Article 8 in settlement and deportation cases, particularly for people with immigration or criminal offences.

  • We want the Home office to respect the European Convention of Human Rights regarding refugees and asylum seekers.

The Solidarity Party notes that there were 6 deaths in Immigration detention in 2017 alone and that the conditions in detention have been found to be in breach of Article 3 on a further 6 occasions. For this reason, among others, a time limit is insufficient, and the Solidarity Party will be looking to take measures to end all immigration detention. It would also enable people in detention to have access to camera phones, and the internet and so they were equipped to document abuses against them.

  • We want the Home Office to respect due process and stop deporting people before their cases are decided or appeals are heard.

The Solidarity party would immediately repeal legislation enabling people to be deported before the final outcome of all possible cases. It would substantially change the institutional culture at the Home Office from one in which caseworkers were incentivised to remove people to one in which they were required to ensure that people have access to the residence rights they deserve.

  • We want due processes before we are imprisoned on immigration matters.

The conditions are akin to imprisonment, yet there are none of the safe guards. The Solidarity Party would ensure any detention of migrants has to be before a judge and that the strong presumption against detention, that already exists on paper, exists in reality.

  • We want a fair bail process and the Home Office to end the process of selective evidence disclosure to the immigration tribunal courts and instead disclosure of all evidence to ensure a fair judgement is reached.

In judicial proceedings regarding detention prior to and after detention, judges should have access to all information that the Home Office has.

  • We want adequate healthcare and especially the mental health nurse to stop operating as an extension of the Home Office asking people such questions as, “did you know you were going to stay in the UK when you entered?”

 Healthcare in detention is of substandard quality and adequate protection of health cannot be managed in detention which is in itself damaging to detainee’s mental and physical health. The Solidarity Party would respond by developing a system in which drastically fewer people were detained. It would also repeal any legislation connected to the Hostile Environment programme that prevents access to vital services to people who live in fear of border enforcement.

  • We want the Home Office to stop detaining the vulnerable people, that is victims of rape, that is torture, all forms of torture, trafficking, forced labour, the disabled, the mentally ill and so on.

The Solidarity party will ensure that no one with vulnerabilities are in immigration detention and that the state cannot justify the detention of such people based on ‘immigration factors’ as stated in the current Adults at Risk policy. It also recognises that detention renders people vulnerable and that the only way to stop the detention of the vulnerable is the end detention itself.

  • We want amnesty for all people who have lived in the UK for more than 10 years and an end to the exiling of those who came as children and are culturally British.

 The Solidarity Party would grant an immediate amnesty for people living in the UK for more than 10 years. We would seriously challenge the notion that it is in the national interest for the state to be actively interested in detaining, deporting and pressuring people into ‘voluntary returns’.

  • We want an end to the Home Office’s of employing detainees to do menial work for £1 per hour, it prays on the vulnerable and forces them to participate in their own detention.

The Solidarity Party recognises the absurdity of a system which prevents people from working in the community but exploits their labour for £1 per hour when they have been detained. Any work undertaken in the managing and dismantling of the detention estate will receive a living wage.

  • We want an end to charter flights and the snatching of people from their beds in the night and herding them like animals.

Charter Flights are the result of concerted efforts to deport people of specific nationalities; they are a legacy of colonial relations with states such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Jamaica. They prevent people accessing their rights because of the lack of legal and casework resources. The Solidarity Party would end charter flights immediately and ensure that everyone was able to access legal resources and legal aid to effectively obtain their rights.


The Solidarity Party demands that other parties accept similar extensive and reasonable proposals and join us in re-imagining the state against racism and against the violent and continuing legacies of colonialism.

These policies proposals have been formulated by a well-meaning policy officer but it would need to undergo significant and meaningful consultation with those who made the demands and those most affected by immigration policies to see whether the measures go far enough.




*The Solidarity Party are a fictional party fabricated to think about out how a progressive state might respond to the injustices of detention and deportation. It is more of an experiment in thinking about what the state’s policies might be and how parties might respond to the protest and demands of those socially excluded.

8 Reasons to hate the new Bail procedures

Most of Schedule 10 of the Immigration Act 2016 were brought into force this week. Here’s 8 reason to hate them.*

1)   The word Bail has lost its meaning

Bail used to be the process people can apply to get out of prison or detention. No longer. Anybody ‘liable to be detained’ can now be subjected to immigration bail and the punitive conditions bail enables residence requirements, reporting requirements, electronic tagging. Bail is now the word for the raft of community-based control measures now going to be imposed on all people without status. It is an expansion of state power to control their lives and further signals the government’s intent to treat people without documents as criminals.

2)   People who can’t be detained can now be subject to bail conditions

In addition, people who previously could not be detained, can now also be put on immigration bail – including if ‘the Secretary of State is considering whether to make a deportation order against the person’.

3)   There is a wide power of arrest for arrest for people on bail

If an immigration officer has reasonable grounds for ‘believing that the person is likely to fail to comply with a bail condition’, that person can be arrested. The procedures explicitly say that being on bail is no protection from being detained.

4) There are more limitations on when a judge can grant bail from detention

The tribunal is no longer permitted to grant bail for eight days after arrival in the UK or if removal is (supposed to be) within 14 days.

5)   The Home Office can ignore the Immigration Tribunal on bail

As well as being able to ignore some tribunal decisions to grant bail to someone detained, the Home Office can, in some instances, modify the conditions granted by the Tribunal without judicial oversight. This is a bizarre constitutional trickery allows the executive basically to ignore the will of the judiciary.

6)   Section 4 accommodation is no longer exists

Unless one is an refused asylum seeker and can receive s95a accommodation, the Home Office will only provide an address, ‘in exceptional circumstances’ – for example, where there are Human Rights concerns.  This means there will be people in detention who are eligible for bail who have to remain in detention because they cannot get housing. There have been increasing instances of people in detention being released without an address – it is unclear whether this will increase in the absence of s4.

7)   Automatic bail hearings was meant to be a positive reform

The lack of judicial oversight of decisions to detain is a major criticism of the current detention process. Automatic bail hearings after 4 months were won after significant campaigning by reformers. This is another example of the government subversively responding to calls for reform by expanding its own power.

8)   We are likely to see compulsory electronic tagging for people leaving detention in the future

The one positive element of the recent announcement is that they haven’t yet implemented powers to impose electronic monitoring on everyone applying for bail from within detention.


*This is a blunt account of some of the problems with the procedures and obviously lacks detail and exceptions – please look to expert accounts on freemovement.org.uk and other places for better information and look-up BID if you need help with obtaining bail yourself. If any of this information is wrong or misleading please get in touch @tomgk90

Voluntary Removal and Granville Town 1772

Forced expulsion or deportation from the UK works hand in hand with voluntary removal. Whereas 12,542 people were forcibly returned in the year to June 2017, there were 22,822 so-called voluntary returns in the same period.[1]

That voluntary returns are preferable to forced returns is an assumption that is embedded in official documents and discourse. This assumption is accepted, presumably, by the charities that take up contracts in supporting voluntary returns who, I would venture to guess, would not apply for an escorting contract for enforced removals.

However, this begs the question of whether the conditions are in place to allow a ‘voluntary’ choice of departure.[2] A significant number of those ‘choose’ to be a part of the programs from within detention or on the receiving of letters from the Home Office threatening to imprison or deport them. The web of policies known collectively as the ‘hostile environment’ has grown to threaten the survival of people living without secure immigration status in this country. And this is to say nothing of a more pervasive cultural xenophobic and racist pressure, politically legitimised by ‘go home’ vans and Brexit, exerted through everyday racisms against people of colour.

The existence of voluntary returns, to say the least, should make us question whether this is another administrative fiction that conveniently allows for the removal thousands of people of colour who have chosen to reside in Britain.

The book Black and British by David Olusoga describes what we might call an early variant of the voluntary returns to a scheme we see today. In the later 18th century, while Britain’s participation in the Atlantic slave trade was burgeoning at this time, the legal position of slaves within the UK was ambiguous and many believed that the landmark judgment of Somerset v Stewart in 1772 had outlawed slavery.[3] This, coupled with an influx of a small number of former slaves who had fought for the British against the American rebels in the war independence, led to a visible number of poor black people on the streets of London. The new racism that had grown along with Britain’s involvement in slavery meant the life of free black people was very difficult, unable to find work, they grew reliant on the aid of ‘The Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor’, a group of wealthy philanthropists.[4]

A scheme was proposed and put into operation in 1787, to fund the transportation and settlement of black people in England in Sierra Leone. The state-funded the scheme, giving participants £14 each for provisions and promised land and, based upon the lies of a man called Henry Smeathman, promised fertile and idyllic land for participants to settle on. In reality, the new settlement – only a short distance from Bunce Island, a key port used by the British to transport slaves to the Americas – was a disaster, the climate unsuitable for habitation.

The existence of this bizarre scheme was only possible because of a coalition of pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists that shaped, advertised and led it. Of course, it was pushed by British racists and a pragmatic state that wanted to remove the inconvenience of poverty on the streets of Georgian London. Yet Granville Sharp – a dedicated abolitionist whose persistent research and campaigning had successfully led to shaping the common law against slavery – was heavily invested in the scheme. He believed in the scheme to such an extent that, not only did he encourage friends to join it, he wrote a book that, he imagined, would become the founding set of constitutional laws that governed this new, utopian community.

In reality, the participants were ill-prepared to live in an unforgiving climate, some became involved in the slave economy of Bunce Island, many died and the town was eventually burnt to the ground in 1789.

What, if anything, can be learned from such an esoteric, historical example of voluntary expulsion that may influence our understanding of today’s world? The effects of today’s voluntary removal schemes are hidden in the individual lives of those dispersed across the world and as such little is known about their life trajectories nor about the conditions in which they make the decision to sign on to the schemes. Yet, the parallels with this ill-fated utopian plan provide good reason to be wary of the ‘benevolent’ cousin of deportation.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-april-to-june-2017/how-many-people-are-detained-or-returned

[2] http://journals.sagepub.com.chain.kent.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1177/0306396810396606

[3] http://www.commonlii.org/int/cases/EngR/1772/57.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/aug/31/race.bookextracts

Refugee status must mean permanent residence.

The Home Office has recently introduced a Safe Returns Review that allows them to refuse refugee applications for indefinite leave to remain if it is judged that it is now safe for them to return. This post argues that the policy needs to be challenged. If you agree please sign this petition.

My step-mum, Anna, is a Chilean refugee who lives in South London. She was under threat of persecution from the Pinochet dictatorship installed by the US-orchestrated coup in 1971. Being recognised as a refugee in 1973 meant she could settle in the UK permanently and could plan her life for the long term. She trained to be a psychotherapist and worked in the NHS, she played active roles in the political communities in the Latin American diaspora and later in the struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and she played a huge role in my upbringing.

For a long time now, the link between refugee status and permanent residence has been under threat. In 2005, the New Labour government, having previously lauded settlement as vital to refugee integration made the first crack in the connection. They made a formal change that meant that procedurally speaking refugee status was granted for 5 years, after which one would have to apply for indefinite leave to remain. This would routinely be granted automatically unless the applicant had a criminal record.

The Tory government have rhetorically tried to prise open the crack further. In 2015 Theresa May stated:

“We’ll introduce strengthened ‘safe return reviews’ so when a refugee’s temporary stay of protection in the UK comes to an end, or if there is a clear improvement in the conditions of their own country, we will review their need for protection. If their reason for asylum no longer stands and it is now safe for them to return, we will seek to return them to their home country rather than offer settlement here in Britain.”

This safe return review was quietly published in a new Home Office policy that states:

“All those who apply for settlement protection after completing the appropriate probationary period of limited leave will be subject to a safe return review with reference to the country situation at the date the application is considered. Those who still need protection at that point will normally qualify for settlement. Caseworkers must refer to the Settlement Protection instruction for more detailed guidance on considering such applications.”

This change applies immediately and means that the 59,000 people who have received status in the last 5 years now will undergo a full safe returns review. If the circumstances either personal or political that led one to receive refugee status have in the Home Office’s eyes ‘ceased to exist’ they are now able to block refugees from accessing leave to remain.

We don’t know the precise effects of the policy change. The Home Office may continue, for the time being, to routinely grant indefinite leave to remain to refugees. But whether it is immediately noticeable or occurs at an imperceptible speed, this move severs the connection between refugee status and permanent residence.

The increased uncertainty will have significant effects on the lives of those have already succeeded against the odds at persuading the Home Office or an asylum judge that they have a right to refugee status. Being a refugee no longer means one is in control of one’s own future: deciding what educational, professional choices to take, how one is to build relationships and participate in communities have to be taken in the knowledge that one’s right to remain is not secure. It means refuge is increasingly being re-characterised as a precarious, liminal status where residence is always dependent on the continued threat to one’s life. If biological life ceases to be threatened by persecution, one’s social and political life in the UK is immediately placed under threat.

Given the experience of poor Home Office decision making and the likelihood they may need to be overturned on appeal, refugees may now need to seek legal advice again when applying for leave to remain. This is likely to affect people who gained refugee status on the basis of gender based persecution because the personal circumstances involved are likely to be more subject to change.

There will be those who tell us the refugee status is only about protection and that’s all it is meant to do. They are wrong. Refugee status is about granting the security and control that enables people fleeing persecution to build a full human life that includes full participation, in whatever ways they so wish, in the life of communities in the UK. Long term residence is essential to this security and control and this is why it is so important that we need to repair, secure and celebrate the connection between refugee status and permanent residence in the UK.