Why I will not support These Walls Must Fall

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By Oliver Briscoe, BUCA External Relations Officer

A few weeks ago students helped Bristol City Council to pass a motion calling for an end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, as part of These Walls Must Fall. But I cannot support this action.

These Walls Must Fall held a meeting in Bristol earlier this term, to discuss taking action against the Government's immigration policy. The meeting was set up by a friend, David, who is now part of the local Amnesty branch. Also in attendance were people from Bristol Labour Students, Bristol Liberal Democrat Students and a host of charities. Others who were not there but mentioned were external organisations like the People’s Assembly, the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft and the Judean People’s Front.

I was pleased to have been invited to represent the Bristol University Conservatives Association (BUCA) but it was clear that this was not a debate or vote on the matter. From the outset, everyone was already in wholehearted agreement, nodding with the glazed-eyes of cult followers.

The meeting started with David giving a small talk about his personal experience volunteering in Bristol, helping people in detention centres. He talked about morning raids and badly run facilities. He then went on about the movement nationwide. About how it costs the Government £150 million a year to outsource these centres and how 55 per cent of those detained are then released.

The motions, identical to others passed in other cities, were then read out. These were motions worded by the These Walls Must Fall group and are part of a nationwide campaign. The idea being that various student organisations would petition and push the local council to unanimously vote to decry the actions of the Government, bringing an end to the current system and end ‘indefinite’ detention. He also specified that it was to be a non-political movement.

everyone was already in wholehearted agreement, nodding with the glazed-eyes of cult followers

But it was there in that meeting in which I first stopped to take issue with the campaign.

I asked to clarify what exactly the motions would be and how they could be more specific. The way the motions were worded implied that we should not only try and make a more welcoming environment for the innocent and legitimate asylum seekers but throughout the entire immigration system.

Naturally, I asked how they would propose to de-incentivise illegal immigration and people who would come to this country without right to do so. It seemed obvious to me that if we get rid of the current rigour of the whole system, regardless of the status of the migrants concerned, then effectively we are creating a welcoming environment, ripe to be taken advantage of. It is of course right that those with legitimate asylum status should be treated with respect but the motions, through their poor wording, failed to actually specify the difference.

I also wanted to clarify the bold, eye-catching claim of ‘indefinite’ detention. Indefinite detention is of course against the most basic principles of our justice system but as I tried to point out these are not, in effect, cases of indefinite detention but of conditional detention. Detainees are not held indefinitely, but are specifically detained whilst waiting for asylum documents or deportation. In fact, 45 per cent of people detained are indeed deported, when arrested.

A Svengali-type group who want to cause nothing but outrage

Yet, David brushed away these concerns, not by agreeing to change or edit the motions to be more precise but by saying that the UK has one of the most stringent immigration process in Europe - to which I can quickly say that other European countries have migrant crises. You may argue that it is because they are the first countries where migrants arrive, but nevertheless their loose welcoming policies and the lack of coordination are both attractive reasons to go to those countries.

Let me be clear. I am not personally anti-immigration and the action carried out is not about immigration, but the conditions around it.

Having questioned the motions, the students planning their action: of getting councillors on board, of petitioning and using street action. I must congratulate my fellow students on their industry, resourcefulness, connections and eagerness in the whole process. Yet, I could not help feeling slightly alienated, as I watched smart educated people commit themselves to a cause, as pawns of a larger, essentially anti-Government movement.

A self-promotional act of grandstanding

To see all that effort and talent being controlled and actioned by a Svengali-type group who want to cause nothing but outrage, is unfortunate. David explained to us that this was a purely symbolic stance but that in a way it would be good to add our voices to the people’s cries. All I could hear, was another self-promotional act of grandstanding, that provides no real relief for the valid welfare concerns and no answers for what is a very complex area of policy.

The motions are clearly writ to confuse the various facets of policy around the issue and level charges against the Government. This confusion does not bring focus on the issue but detracts from the real problem by providing a platform for anyone at odds with the Government to complain.

The motions are naive, thoughtless and provide no pragmatic or sensible alternatives. There is a specific problem to be dealt with but this is just a general answer. I wished the movement the best in trying to change to obvious injustices presented but I cannot and do not support a hostile, nationwide, ideologically driven campaign that criticises without offering solutions and hides in the shadows of vagueness to launch a thinly veiled and partisan attack against what for the most part is a sensible policy.

Disclaimer: Oliver Briscoe’s article reflects his own views and is in no way representative of BUCA as a whole. Featured image: Unsplash/Alyssa Kibiloski

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