By Riley Maxwell
A recent Home Office campaign to combat illegal immigration has sparked a wave of controversy and uproar. Immigration Minister Mark Harper launched a fleet of vans onto the street displaying the slogan “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.” According to a Home Office spokesman the impact of the vans which finished their advertising patrols on Sunday, was yet to be fully evaluated as a poster and leaflet campaign was set to continue for another three weeks.
The Home Office has only spent £10,000 on the pilot scheme and officials said that, provided at least one illegal immigrant who might otherwise have been forcefully removed has decided to leave voluntarily as a result, it could be considered successful. If this is the general consensus, the scheme may be applied throughout the UK. The Guardian has reported that ‘over the last decade the number of so-called voluntary departures has increased considerably. There were 28,309 in the year ending in March 2013, of which 3,744 were “assisted voluntary returns” where financial assistance was provided.’
The backlash from this campaign has been noteworthy among politicians and citizens alike. On Sunday, Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable described the van-based campaign as “stupid and offensive’ and Nigel Farage concurred it was ‘nasty.’ Coalition partner Nick Clegg is also apparently angry over this new campaign and has said, ‘I’m going to need a lot of persuasion,’ but as the ruling party has deemed the campaign is ‘working,’ he may already be swayed.
The response on social media has been somewhat more heated. The main concerns centre on the rationale that these posters are menacing and incite hatred and racial division within society. The more vociferous critics have warned it is impossible to determine from appearance the immigration status of a person, but by promoting the aspect that citizens should ‘police’ society, the tory government is drawing parallel to strategies adopted by fascist police states and promoting the isolation of all immigrants, whether legal or not. The initiative has been slammed as a tory attempt to appear tough on immigration laws in the face of the rising wave of popularity for UKip.
The most important question about the appearance of these vans in the six London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, and Redbridge is what is the point? Does the government genuinely believe that the way to combat illegal immigration is to provide a telephone number on the side of a van? A Downing Street spokesman said. ‘If you talk to the Home Office they can tell you that they’ve had a great deal of interest and they are looking at seeing which inquiries they can take forward,” he said. If this is correct, perhaps this idea must be expanded, and vans with Have you committed a robbery? Put it back or face arrest…should be our next port of call. However, the criticism that we are becoming a more racist nation cannot be predicated on this new imitative alone, because in reality, it is not racist to ask people who are in Britain illegally to comply with the law. Furthermore, this argument is inconclusive, because it is impossible to quantify racism accurately in a multicultural country like Britain.
What must be scrutinised from this ludicrous initiative is the chosen method in which the British government has chosen to address the immigration policy concerns. It is difficult to envisage the logic behind the 10,000 pound-worth despatch of vans with the message ‘Go home.’ While the short term economic cost of finding and deporting a small number of illegal immigrants may be reduced if they voluntarily hand themselves over to the authorities, the long-term repercussions of intensifying inter-racial tensions and increasing fear within British society will certainly be more costly in the long-run. This effort to tackle illegal immigration seems to be somewhat superficial, and lacklustre.
In Australia, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s decision for a recent overhaul to immigration policy sends a clear message to the Australian populace; the government is adopting a hawkish approach to immigration clampdown. Activists and NGO’s must formulate a clear agenda to stop these reforms. Yet in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to send out vans displaying ‘Go Home’ slogans to racially diverse boroughs’ is nothing more than confusing. These vans give no further insight into what the future holds for immigration policy in the UK, but only serve to compound fear, suspicion and unease.