Fighting migration controls is grinding, a daily and often terrible battle, mostly fought by individuals and small groups of people. Often it is inspiring. But there is a lot going on.
On Thursday 7 May Ayodeji Omotade was acquitted by Brent Magistrates Court of threatening and abusive behaviour. That is of shaming British Airways and exposing the reality. In March 2008, Campaign Against Immigrant Controls activists leafleted a BA flight on which Biafran Independence activist Augustine was being deported. We asked people to speak up, to show solidarity. Ayodeji did, in response to screaming appeals from our friend. The whole economy class section was emptied of passengers as they protested at Ayodeji being arrested. The flight took off later with only Augustine in economy; Ayodeji missed his brothers wedding for which he was carrying the rings.
We give our support to Ayodeji in now pursuing an apology from BA. In his words: “What would you do if someone on your flight was distressed and crying out for help? Would you stay silent or would you speak? I spoke and BA didn’t like it. This type of corporate tyranny must be challenged and stopped.”
But a terrible and significant defeat came on Tuesday 12 May when the ninth monthly mass deportation to Kurdistan in Iraq went ahead. Six activists from the newly formed Stop Deportations network blockaded Colnbrook detention centre for five hours where maybe 45 Iraqis had been herded to in advance of a charted flight.
Using oil cans filled with cement and glass, in which two people could hook their arms to each other, they tried to stop the coaches leaving; a human road block. Two more people blocked the pavement to stop other vehicles mounting it and carrying on work as normal. Others chanted, contacted media, co-ordinated with John McDonnell MP’s exemplary office, and called the coach companies involved — WH Coaches and Woodcocks.
The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees had contact with a number of detainees inside the camp who resisted by removing their clothes, supported by protests from people of other nationalities. Some had been on hunger strike for 10 days, but were deemed fit to fly. One person was set upon by seven guards. All were handcuffed on the coaches. I haven’t heard back, on writing, what happened to our Iraqi brothers. On a previous flight the guard smashed the plane window with an Iraqi’s head. The six activists were released late last night, charged, strangely, with unlawful assembly.
The sight of watching comrades being arrested as three coaches pulled out in convoy is not one that I want to repeat. Some pushed back the curtains in response to our chanting and saw people were there, that they hadn’t been alone, some raised fists — in cuffs. Our comrade, Samira, from IFIR cried, as we all felt to, from defeat, from anger. There had been media, we had either created a window of hope but probably prolonged an agony for those being restrained and waiting: it is necessary to resist even when you lose, in the hope that it is takes you towards a larger victory. We have to be able to stop these mass deportations for a hundred reasons of solidarity, paramount to socialists. And I think we can.
In the lift at Heathrow Terminal Five a young white woman asked us if we were the ones protesting outside Colnbrook. She said she wanted to come out and join us but we’d gone by the time she got out. She’s 23 and had been visiting her boyfriend who she’s been with since she was 14; they’ve got a five year old son who thinks he’s visiting his dad at work. She lives near me, we’re both Brent born and bred, and loyal to it! Her partner is Tamil (I told her I was too), he’s been in there for seven months now, and due to be deported. He fled two years of detention and torture at the hands of the Tamil Tigers in his youth and has scars all over his body.
She didn’t know what to do, solicitors cost and he’s been through several. She knows that this is all weighted against the poor. She can’t afford this. But neither is she the kind of person to give up.
We talked all the way back to Alperton. We talked about the injustice of the system, our own backgrounds, in general and political. She pointed to some cranes where they’d demolished the shelter of a local homeless person. Her and her friend had organised a protest a few years ago. She thinks that even small demonstrations of solidarity are important and he was given sheltered accommodation as a result. We both want a more collective fight. We talked about a local support worker, GMB member, facing eviction that LCAP are trying to build a fight around.
I know of a Tamil solicitor who I heard speak sanely about defending people who were fleeing not just the Sri Lankan government, but the Tamil Tigers. I said I’d get hold of him. In any case, her partner is being done as “foreign criminal” for some petty crime (in the judges own words). She and her partner, as we do in CAIC, have argued that people cannot be punished twice: once for the actual crime; the second time, sometimes with their lives, for being foreign. She comes from a big Irish family, but says she feels for what’s going on in Sri Lanka, after all her son is Tamil. He shares both their features. We agreed to go to the Tamil protests in Parliament Square together.
Back later last night at Parliament Sq, at 9pm, there was a speech updating people on the situation. Five male students are on hunger strike, when they stop they are to be replaced by more, people think three thousand civilians have been killed in the last three or four days. There is utter desperation, and fears that, as in some villages in the East which have been turned into Singhalese colonial settlements, that the population must be being wiped out.
A young Somali comrade and I spoke for an hour to one Tamil man from Birmingham. He’d been deported by the South Africans to Colombo where during interrogations, when he’d tried to intervene in the rape of a young woman, he’d lost his finger. I explained that we are for self determination, we see the deepening hardships of the Sinhala workers to be directly connected to the rise in Sinhala nationalism; we see this as part of the state’s response to the global capitalist crisis. We talked about the massacres of JVP youth in the late 80s, left out of the Tamil nationalist narrative.
I explained why I didn’t support the Tigers, that I wanteda socialist programme for the future, based on reality and the real history and prospects for Sri Lanka, for the Tamils. I explained my concern about a separate state, including the effect on the Tamil population Colombo.
My Singhala friend has just got back from Sri Lanka and insists that things are getting better there for Tamils, on a policy and day-to-day life level, which I find difficult to believe. But can predict a massive backlash against the Colombo Tamil population, apparently now a majority in the capital, through refugees from the north and east.
There’s always more to say, these conversations are important. This morning (Wednesday 13 May) the Eurostar cleaners start an official ongoing action, refusing to clock-in to work with finger measurement recorders. Next Monday, there is a student day of action for Tamils that I just found out about. I am now hatching a plan between writing this for Alperton and Harrow with other local comrades.
The fight goes on, for solidarity, for freedom of movement and equal rights for all.