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Yeah Braverman, stop the boats!

Caitlin Hoyland

Remained committed to their rampant propagation of xenophobia, the Tories are turbo-charging their hostile environment policies - because imprisoning people seeking asylum in detention centres or isolating them in abysmal accommodation situated in white-dominated locations with a mere £35 a week to live on whilst also being threatened with deportation to Rwanda hasn’t quite hit the mark.

Currently, £6 million a day of taxpayers’ money is spent providing living support for people seeking asylum, and the UK government think this is £6 million too much.

That is why this government wants to stop the boats.

So, to commence its mission to stop the boats, the government has just bought a boat. A big boat – 94 metres long and 25 metres wide to be precise – called “Bibby Stockholm” which is intended to be used as accommodation for 500 people seeking asylum whilst their asylum claims are being processed (and most likely rejected). On Wednesday 11th August, a total of 15 people seeking asylum moved into Bibby Stockholm with 20 people having refused to board the boat. Charity Care4Calais has noted that amongst these 20 people are people with disabilities; people who are victims of torture; and people who have experienced trauma at sea.

Two days later, most people on board the barge were swiftly removed following the detection of a Legionella outbreak caused by a contaminated water supply on the barge. However, not all people on board have been alerted to the outbreak.

Advertised as a luxury vessel with 222 spacious cabins each complete with a single bed, en suite, shower, TV, and wi-fi, with on-board communal areas including a gym and bars, Bibby Stockholm is undergoing a transformation into an inhospitable and austere floating prison. The single beds have been replaced with bunk beds and the frivolous communal rooms are instead used as dormitories for six people to squash up together and sleep in. The vision behind the vessel’s restoration is to create the perfect living accommodation to ensure all residents feel claustrophobic, imprisoned and, most importantly, unwelcome on the UK shore.

There is a minor possibility that the plan to imprison 500 people on an overcrowded boat breaches international human rights law. This would not be the first time for Home Office policies to be found to breach international law. Previously, the London high courts have ruled Home Office’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda as unlawful. Also, the recent Illegal Migration Bill has also been condemned for breaching section 3 of the Human Rights Act.

But, let’s not forget, Bibby Stockholm is going to save taxpayers money. And just think of all the things this money could be spent on instead. Perhaps we will see subsidised travel, a reduction in energy bills, a pay rise for NHS workers, or perhaps a cabinet minister will get their garden done out in AstroTurf whilst another minister takes a well-earned, luxury retreat to Bali, all on government expenses.

However, when people with, or waiting for, refugee status are blamed for wasting government money, what is left unsaid is the £54 million a day lost due to tax avoidance by oppressive, exploitative multi-national corporations. Or the £88 million a day spent on the military. Or the fact that the unfathomably reckless war in Afghanistan, which has displaced over 5 million people, cost the UK £3 million a day. That is, the government pays far more money contributing to the unliveable conditions from which people flee than it does in providing these same people with sanctuary.

In terms of GDP, the UK is the fifth richest country in the world. What is more, the UK is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, pledging to provide sanctuary to displaced peoples fleeing persecution. The UK likes to champion itself as a beacon of freedom and democracy. Yet, the UK government shows no remorse in disregarding all these values. This government would rather watch people drown in the sea than use some of its wealth to provide temporary shelter and safety for people.

It is a well-used phrase but holds true: nobody puts their child on a boat if the land is safer. Nobody takes a perilous journey thousands of miles from their family and home unless their condition was completely unlivable and there was no other resort.

People seeking asylum and people with refugee status are doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, athletes, writers, chefs, parents, siblings, and children. They have knowledge, skills, and contributions to make to society. Yet here in the UK, people seeking asylum are denied the right to make contributions. In fact, under hostile environment policies, they are even stripped of their human rights; their dignity; and their humanity. Absolutely everyone should be ashamed that anyone is treated this way.

The fact is that this £6 million a day is not spent ensuring that people seeking asylum have enough food to eat and live in safe accommodation. Instead, taxpayers’ money is spent lining the pockets of multilateral housing and security companies like Serco, Mears Group, and Clearsprings Ready Homes, which are subcontracted by the government to provide temporary accommodation for people seeking asylum. These corporations, like all corporations, are motivated by profits, not compassion. As a result, people seeking asylum find themselves isolated in damp-ridden, rat-infested, unsanitary accommodations, fed mouldy, low-quality, and/or culturally inappropriate foods, with little to no guidance on their rights as people seeking asylum.

Moreover, I fail to see how detaining 500 people – equating to 1% of people who are currently seeking asylum in the UK - on a boat docked at Portland Port can be framed by the Tory Party as a demonstration of economic acumen. What it does is do is disseminate false interpretations of international law as an attempt to justify what is a morally indefensible attack on human rights. The Tory government wants us to forget that by claiming asylum in the UK, refugees are legally and legitimately exercising their right to asylum.

It’s not refugees who are taking jobs; it’s the rapacious employers finding cheaper labour overseas. It’s not refugees who are wasting taxpayers’ money; it’s multi-millionaires, media moguls, and Prime Ministers’ wives abusing non-dom status to avoid paying millions of pounds worth of tax. It’s not that refugees want to exploit the NHS and welfare system; it’s that Britain played a lead role in creating today’s neocolonial world order where Western countries syphon wealth, resources, and power from non-Western countries and allows people to live in conflict zones, in abject poverty, and in fear of death.

The hostile environment policies are another manifestation of divide-and-conquer tactics designed to splinter solidarity amongst oppressed peoples. Refugees have proven to be a convenient “get-out-of-jail-free card” for the government to evade accountability for their own belligerent economic and political failings.

Believe it or not, I agree with Suella Braverman. We should stop the boats.

We should stop the boats by confronting the conditions that drive people to leave their homes and their families to seek safety in another country. We should not stop the boats by being accountable to the fact that the UK’s wealth (albeit unequally distributed) was violently extracted from the people and the countries colonised by Britain. We should stop the boats by rediscovering our common humanity and revive the empathy and compassion that is true to human nature that has been suppressed by the inherent selfishness of neoliberal, racial capitalism.

Image: Getty Images

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