Its that time of year when people up sticks and head off for a couple of weeks of sea, sand and souvlaki. Only everyone’s skint this year, thanks to the Bedroom tax, the fuckups over benefits that have left people penniless for weeks on end, the ongoing ATOS nightmares that disabled people face and the rising cost of living. But your kindly Tory government seems to want to bring the Greece experience right back home to your doorstep.
It started with this tweet from the official account of the UK Home Office. A rather chilling announcement that “There will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new immigration bill“, accompanied by a picture showing people being loaded into a police van. Its the kind of phrase “no hiding place”, that you might associate with the far right.
The reaction from twitter was swift and horrified, with some suggesting that perhaps the account had been hacked – or at least the Home Office would claim so. But it would seem not, the UK Home Office neither deleted the tweet or made any suggestion that it had fucked up by promoting racist ideology, a portend of worse to come.
That photo is chillingly reminiscent of what is happening in Greece at the moment, only the vans are blue and much, much bigger. Watching people getting loaded into vans is an everyday occurence here, although photographs are very hard to comeby. If the police see you attempt to take pictures, they tend not to be very happy and you too will join the unfortunates inside for “processing” as happened to a friend right at the start of the roundups. She spent several hours in detention for her troubles, while her camera will be confiscated, and when returned the photographs and shakey mobile phone videos had been deleted
Next up was the targeting of Romanians. with “Illegal Romanian migrants sleeping rough cleared from London’s Marble Arch“. Only there isn’t such a thing as an “illegal Romanian migrant” – as Romania is part of the European Economic Area and has been since 2007, and all nationals of the EEA have the right to enter and live in the UK. So if they are Romanian, they are by definition not an illegal migrant, but that is but a small detail in this escalating tale. The real point is that homeless people (of which there are likely to be many more as the changes to the housing benefits system and the bedroom tax work their way through the system) are being targeted.
Again in Greece, it is not only migrants who are targeted by the police, but also homeless people, of which there are many. They too like the migrants get caught up in the sweeps and taken to police stations for processing, detained for several hours and then released. Frequently they are taken to police stations on the outskirts of Athens, in the hope that they will not make it back to the city centre where the main tourist hotspots are located.
Then there was the racist van, telling migrants to “go home”. Its the kind of slogan that you usually see scrawled on walls accompanied by an far right logo, but no this was an official home office stunt. The purpose is clear – not only to intimidate people but also to pander to the kind of right wing sentiments that have seen an ongoing terrorist campaign against mosques in the past few months. Unsurprisingly people were horrified. At the moment, it is only in operation in London, although the government have claimed that as it has sparked “a great deal of interest”, it may be extended nationwide.
Now, we dont have any racist vans in Greece, unless you count the large police blue police wagons, (people understand their purpose without the need for any written information on the side) – so that is indeed an innovative bit of racism from the UK government. What we do have is the racist and fascist graffiti popping up all over streets and communal areas, and the signs and stickers saying “Greeks only” on public squares. The purpose is the same, to intimidate migrants and to whip up racism against them.
Then came the paper checks. UKBA officers have been stopping people outside public transport stations and demanding their papers. It is clear that they have been specifically targeting non-white people, with white skinned people being told to mosey on along, under threat of arrest. Just in case anyone is unclear, UKBA have no right to stop anyone and demand papers, far less to stop people on the basis of racial profiling. Its completely outrageous. In fact, it’s so blatantly racist that even Nigel Farange, a man not known for his adherence to political correctness, has condemned it.
Living in Greece, I’m pretty familiar with paper checks, every day you see the police stop people in the street, line them up chaingang style and take them to the police station for “processing”. If there is a difficulty with their papers, they are liable to be shoved into an internment camp in theory for a maximum of 18 months. A few anecdotes might give you some insight into what it is like living under this system. Teaching a English class one day, mainly made up of migrants, I explained that I couldn’t start the lesson because I was waiting on photocopies.Seeing a sea of blank faces, I thought I’d simplify saying that I was “waiting on papers”. All hell broke loose, people rifled through their bags, everyone started talking at once, several got up to leave. I realised immediately what I construed – that as a teacher, an authority figure, wanted to see their immigration papers. It took me a good five minutes to quell the panic and clarify what I meant. On another occasion, I had to go to the local money transfer service, ten minutes walk away, to collect someone’s passport that they had accidentally left there. They had realised their mistake about three-quarters of the way home, but were too afraid of being stopped by the police to turn back and collect it.
And now the Home Office has been conducting raids on homes and business and boasting about it on their twitter feed. Giving multiple updates through the day accompanied by people being loaded into vans. It should be noted that its not actually clear whether all or indeed any of the people that they have arrested do not have a formal legal right to stay in the country.
Given that they have been targeting busy transport stations in the capital of the UK in the middle of summer, its perfectly possible that unsuspecting tourists might well have found themselves under suspicion and targeted.
The Hellenic Police take a similar tack – posting up on their website the number of people that they have rounded up under “Operation Zeus” (the Greeks at least have a catchy name for their institutionalised racism, rather than the uninspiring #immigrationoffenders that the Home Office managed to concoct. And indeed unsurprisingly tourists have indeed been caught up in the sweeps in Athens.
This has been a remarkable month for the UK Home Office. Others have described it as the UK “sleepwalking into fascism“, only this isn’t a leisurely stroll, its a sprint worthy of a Olympic champion. It leads to bad places and in a country which has recently seen massive outbreak of racist violence, its a green light for it to continue with official backing. In Greece there is a level of collusion between the police and the fascists, with fascists infiltrating the core of civil society and when you have racist policies and these are promoted, it is inevitable that the ones who gain most power in those situations are those who are ideologically drawn to it. The EDL might be a bunch of prats who can be mocked, but far more dangerous are the respectable gentlemen who sit in country clubs and boardrooms pontificating about how to make the trains run on time.