90-100 people attended the second No One Is Illegal conference in Manchester on 25/06/05. There were a mixture of people threatened with deportation, anti-racist activists and those people who, having won their own anti-deportation campaigns, had become activists for others.
To begin, the conference agreed to support the 100 Zimbabwean detainees, around the UK, on hunger strike in protest at their possible deportations.
The opening speaker pointed out that immigration controls are a relatively recent phenomenon. The first immigration controls were created exactly 100 years ago in the UK - the Aliens Act of 1905. This was an anti-Semitic law designed to prevent persecuted Jewish workers from Russia entering Britain. Italy introduced its first immigration laws only in 1998. He also made the comparison between the precarious position of migrant workers and the insecurity caused by casualisation in non-migrant labour.
Despite a crashing hangover, the most useful session for me was the afternoon role-play workshops. We split into pairs and played out these scenarios:
1. A has to persuade B why there should be no immigration controls. B is a liberal who believes in fair controls.
2. A has to persuade B that C should not be deported. C is seriously ill, her children are doing excellently at school, her husband is involved in community activities and her elderly mother would be forced to live on her own if C was deported. A has to persuade B that C should stay without mentioning any of these compassionate or exceptional circumstances - but on the grounds of solidarity not pity. C however, insists on knowing all the gory details before coming to a conclusion.
3. A has to persuade B that D should not be deported. D is young, healthy, childless and without dependents in the UK. He has also been convicted of a.serious offence.
These exercises revealed two themes which ran through the conference:
Firstly, to try to link deportation and migration issues to people's general experience. For example, who hasn't been, or known a migrant worker themselves? (Perhaps commuters are migrant workers?) In most people's families in the last 2 or 3 generation there will have been people who migrated to Britain to live, work or escape persecution.
Secondly, the relationship between the specifics of someone's case against deportation and our principle of opposition to all deportations and immigration controls. Making a "special case" in one campaign makes future work more difficult. At the same time we need to take each person's individual circumstance seriously.
I was reminded of the case, in August 2004, of Naseh Ghafor, an Iraqi Kurd living in Burngreave. Naseh had sewn up his lips and gone on indefinite hunger strike in protest at his potential deportation to Iraq where he believed he would face death. Though his protest was dramatic and desperate, he was clear about his situation not being unique. He was interviewed after the end of his protest
"Q. You have gone
through the asylum process and been refused. Why should you be given
Naseh: I shouldn't be given special treatment. Everyone should have the right to work. No Iraqis should go back now.
Q. You have obviously put yourself through a terrible ordeal these last 7 weeks. What did you achieve from your action?
Naseh: For myself nothing. But I did get a lot of news stories. Many people are now aware of the problems asylum seekers are facing. Many people supported me. I hope the campaign will continue."
(quote from www.naseh.burngreave.net )
The final session saw activists from Britain, France, Spain, Pakistan, India, Kurdistan, south east Asia, Nigeria and Congo amongst others to report and plan action.
An activist from France reported on the militant direct action tactics of the sans papiers ("without papers") movement. In passionate speeches, a Kurdish couple recounted their attempts (through collective direct action) to gain asylum in Holland, then Britain. Their experience had made them activists for others and they described the deportation of schoolchildren in London, seized by immigration officials. Their classmates couldn't understand how they could simply disappear overnight. The guy (whose name I can't recall) reported plans for marches of schoolchildren in London from schools (where pupils had been deported) on Saturday 1/10/05. Other speakers stressed the importance of working with young people and trade unions - the National Union of Teachers could clearly play an important role here.
There were also proposals for the unionisation of migrant workers; for a protest at the Glasgow detention centre, Dungavel, in July during the anti-G8 protests and for action against GSL (Group 4's new name) who recruit staff to police detention centres.
Specifically we decided:
1. To support the Sukula Family Must Stay Campaign and its public meeting on 13/06/05 at Bolton Town Hall 7pm. (see www.ncadc.org.uk )
2. To try to organise local marches from schools (where children have disappeared through overnight deportation) to local immigration processing centres/detention centres/Town Halls on 1/10/05, to compliment the action in London.
3. To support and publicise 18/12/05 as International Migrant Workers Day.
There were 4 of us from Sheffield at the conference. We discussed setting up a No One Is Illegal/No Borders group in Sheffield. As someone summed up the conference: "We've taken bricks out of the immigration wall - now it's time to smash the whole thing down". The better organised we are, the bigger hole we can make.