Why you should support These Walls Must Fall

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By Bristol's These Walls Must Fall team

A couple of days ago, Epigram published an article attacking the These Walls Must Fall campaign. Here is the group's response.

The article was based purely on the author's experience at our first meeting, and the problems he had with our campaign can be easily answered by some basic information around its development after that meeting.

From reading the article it is clear that the author has not read the Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees & on Migration which was the basis for the reforms called for in the motion. He was not present at the debate which was held by the Council when the motion passed and, going by the article, it appears as if he has not read the motion in its final form.

His criticisms are reliant on assumptions about the campaign's 'self-promotional' agenda, coupled with his own political views. However, seeing as the article was published without this vital research being conducted, we have felt a need to lay out the facts and give our campaign a fair representation.

The whole premise of the These Walls Must Fall campaign is that nobody should be subject to the UK's current Immigration Detention system.

For fear of getting involved in a tit-for-tat argument that demeans the seriousness of the campaign's subject, this article will not respond to the author's Machiavellian portrayal of our motives, nor his description of some of the campaign's key leaders as 'cult followers' and 'pawns'.

What we will respond to, however, are the author's three main critiques of the campaign's aims.

Firstly, he perceives the campaign to be an attempt to open the flood gates for 'illegal' immigrants who are looking to exploit the UK's resources. He also sees the campaign as a facade for voicing anti-Conservative and anti-government views. Finally, he attempts to argue that the campaign is ineffectual, only existing to 'confuse' the situation and stir up dissent among the public. Heaven forbid!

From the very start this campaign has not been about opening borders, but about the treatment of all members of our society with dignity and regard to international law. The fact that this country is still detaining people without a time limit is an assault to its humanitarian and legal integrity. This is not a controversial statement, and has been echoed time and time again by the UN in 2012, the non-partisan All Party Parliamentary Report in 2015, the Shaw Report in 2016, the BMA in 2018, and countless NGOs and charities.

We cannot allow this conversation to be commandeered by the all too familiar anti-immigration rhetoric which seems to be a default of current right-wing politics.

The article's tendency to fall into the age-old simplification of the 'good immigrant, bad immigrant' dichotomy further demonstrates its lack of understanding of our campaign and the issue it deals with. 'Poor wording' was not the reason why we did not differentiate between 'legitimate' asylum seekers and those supposedly seeking to 'take advantage' of the UK's generosity. Conversations we have had with some of those who are at risk of detention have proven them to be industrious individuals who most often risked everything to come here, dispelling the myth of hoards of 'fake' asylum seekers or criminal immigrants seeking to exploit the UK.

The whole premise of the These Walls Must Fall campaign is that nobody should be subject to the UK's current Immigration Detention system. People generally agree that suspected criminals and terrorists should be detained within a time limit — why should this right not be extended to asylum seekers and immigrants? We cannot allow this conversation to be commandeered by the all too familiar anti-immigration rhetoric which seems to be a default of current right-wing politics.

We aim to have the Council hold any government of any party accountable for their treatment of asylum seekers and immigrants.

On the matter of the supposed anti-Tory agenda, the campaign has always been explicitly non-partisan. We invite the author to listen to the speech given by Councillor Fi Hance when proposing the motion to the council, in which she clarifies that the current Immigration Detention system is the result of policies from multiple governments of all parties. Immigration Detention was an issue well before 2010, with around the same number detained in 2017 as under New Labour in 2009 .

We aim to have the Council hold any government of any party accountable for their treatment of asylum seekers and immigrants. Theresa May's 'Hostile Environment' has made this government's record on asylum seekers and immigrants particularly chequered and so open to greater criticism, but to say that the campaign is merely a platform for anti-Tory rhetoric is reductive and untrue. It could be argued that the campaign is anti-government in as far as any criticism of government policy is, but it would be highly surprising, and somewhat worrying, if the author of the aforementioned article is suggesting that criticising government policy should be discouraged.

The author also writes that our campaign lacks concrete demands, and offers no solutions to the problems within the current Immigration Detention system. It is here that his lack of research is most obvious. A simple reading of the final motion, which commits the Council to pressuring the government to enact the reforms outlined in the 2015 Parliamentary report, would have made it clear that this assertion is false and unjust. Yes, this motion has not ended the problems with the Immigration Detention System. What it has succeeded in, however, is bringing the issue to the fore of political discussion in Bristol, and making it known to Westminster that Bristol does not want a continuation of the current Immigration Detention system.

it would be highly surprising, and somewhat worrying, if the author of the aforementioned article is suggesting that criticising government policy should be discouraged.

We will be continuing our campaign next term, using support gained from the Council to mount pressure on Westminster to reform the system. Anybody who is interested in getting involved can Join our Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/246977882659692/.

We feel that the article rebuking the These Walls Must Fall campaign should not have been necessary. Properly conducted research of our campaign and the issues surrounding Immigration Detention would have answered many of the author's questions. We once again extend an invitation to BUCA and all others who are interested to join the campaign next term.

Featured image: Unsplash/Chris Slupski

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