We’re roughly a year on from the government’s ill-advised and offensive Operation Vaken campaign. Refugee Action has a great podcast on the campaign and their advice on how to help people who may want to go back to their home countries – basically, a humane and principled approach. It reminds me of how Operation Vaken was never really about helping people, (in my opinion) it was about advertising to the public about the government’s hardline approach. They also raise questions about the claims of the evaluation report, which appears to show the scheme was a success (!), concluding instead that close examination of its claims show that the scheme was, (as well all know) a resounding failure.
“The government currently have an approach to immigration that is actively hostile…we’re really worried about the impact that has on communities up and down the nation”
A Tale of Two Lives
I wrote about former immigration minister Mark Harper’s cleaner, Isabella Acevedo last year, at a time when their fortunes were starkly contrasted in the media. There was broad sympathy for Harper’s “principled stand” in resigning over Ms Acevedo’s irregularities in her paperwork but little to no appreciation for her situation or uncertain future. This week he was promoted back into the Cabinet, while Ms Acevedo is in Yarl’s Wood, after being detained at her daughter’s wedding. The excellent Ian Dunt reported in detail on what happened:
“They really grabbed her. She’s got marks on her arms. They handcuffed her. She said that in the van one of them leaned over and said: ‘We told you we would get you. I was there the last time. I raided your house. We’ve got you now. You’ve nowhere to run’.”
The officers didn’t appear to know any of the laws they were operating under. Some did not wear badge numbers. They did not explain where they were taking her – or her brother, who had also been detained. They tried to stop the wedding, telling her daughter that she didn’t have the proper paperwork to go ahead. The registrar checked and found everything was in order. The wedding went ahead, but only after the mother of the bride had been taken away.
The Guardian carried an in-depth interview with Ms Acevedo. I’m happy to see that her story is finally being told, but as the article points out, there is an “ugly symmetry” in events. Harper is riding high, while Ms Acevedo’s life and dreams, like so many undocumented migrants, lie in tatters:
Acevedo sobs angrily. “They destroyed a family in one day. They destroyed a dream, they destroyed a home.”
Speaking of Yarl’s Wood, there are a lot of refugee women locked up in there, many indefinitely. Women for Refugee Women has an excellent campaign on this issue and a report that makes for sobering reading.
Looking forward from Operation Vaken, RAMFEL has written an insightful blog on the Home Office’s upcoming initiative, Operation Skybreaker:
Looking back Operation Valken also marked a new era in Immigration Enforcement, an era of ‘high visibility immigration enforcement’, of which the arrest of Isabella Acevedo Mark Harper’s cleaner is just one example. Since Operation Valken we have seen an intensification of immigration operations, such as Operation Centurion, Operation Chelsea, Operation Skyscraper, and a few weeks ago we were ‘consulted’ about the Home Office’s latest brainwave Operation Skybreaker.
They go on to detail the new plan and highlight some worrying plans, including the co-opting of faith communities (nowhere to hide!) and point out, quite rightly, that:
“voluntary departures under duress are hardly voluntary, and creating and egging on a local hostile environment where your neighbours hate you because you either are, or are suspected of being a migrant is hardly tantamount to safe secure neighbourhoods.”
The toll on community relations is a real worry that the Home Office seems determined to ride roughshod over. Beyond this, though, is the glaring fact that what we need, among so many other things, is a better debate.
In the meantime, so many amazing groups like RAMFEL remain vigilant. And those of us of like mind should, too.