Solidarity in the Hostile Environment: what can we do?

Updated 19 October 2021: Help stop the opening of a new immigration detention centre for women by a local resident in support of the rights of women and the rule of law

5 June 2021: Following our course on Understanding the Roots of the Immigration System, Woodbrooke and Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network hosted a day on 5th June: ‘Solidarity in the hostile environment: what can we do?’   

We were joined by people with lived experience of the asylum system.

Erfan Alaei was commissioned by QARN to create a painting linked to their June 2021 event ‘Solidarity in the hostile environment: what can we do’

Credit: Erfan Alaei – the painting illustrates his fears, hopes and concerns. He has experience of the UK asylum system
Fears, Hopes, Concerns Artist: Erfan Alaei 2022 

This is a summing up of the day. A report/ artwork representing the day will be available later:

This morning we listened to people who have direct experience of the hostile system:

Erfan spoke about the desperation felt by people living in Napier camp, being blamed by the Government for the Coronavirus outbreak. He reminded us that many people and organisations worked together to bring about the Judge’s determination this week that criticised the Government’s use of Napier barracks. We are not alone in wanting change.

The interim report about Napier and Penally camps from David Bolt, former and now retired Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration – ICIBI is here:

Arrey reminded us that this hostile environment is not accidental or unfortunate, it is a deliberately constructed, cruel and pointless plan to dehumanise people who could otherwise be enabled to contribute in so many ways. Arrey challenged us all to speak to someone in the next week, who was not with us at the meeting today, about what we have heard.

Agnes talked about the suicidal despair felt by women in detention centres, and the hopelessness that springs from that system.  Please sign her petition to stop the Home Office creating a new detention centre where women will be detained, in Hassockfield, Durham  She reminds Quakers that we have the power to push for change,  and compassion and love.

Kenan and Ahmad shared two videos to enable people to see the degrading circumstances that the Home Office has allowed to exist even when this is challenged by the Courts. The second video is a display of artwork by people ‘accommodated’ at Penally camp:  They remind us that people benefit from support and a helping hand even after they have left these awful places.  The Camp Residents of Penally – CRoP team came into being with local support, including Quakers, and with the energy of the men themselves to help others. Their new organisation is Life Seekers Aid, a name that stresses the urge people have to seek a life. We wish them well with their aims to support those who need it, and would be interested to keep in touch with its development.

Loraine Masiya Mponela is taking part today in the Coventry City of Culture event having been chosen as one of the 14 women chosen to represent Lady Godiva because of their inspirational contribution. She rode in to read her poem ‘We Will Not Be Silenced’  which can be found on her Youtube channel here  along with her other recordings. She spoke about the need for people with lived experience to be protected from repeatedly being asked to retell their story because it can be retraumatising,  but people can use poetry and other art forms to express themselves, and get their message across.

 Faith spoke as a mother and grandmother about how difficult it is to have hope when you are constantly knocked back. She finds strength in her faith, and this empowers her when the future for her and her future generations looks so bleak in a country where they feel unwanted. Having contact with people who care, and who are also working for change brings some comfort.

People who are living this experience have other demands on their time and energy as we can note from the short while that one person was able to be with us as he travelled from the south coast to London; and yet another person was not able to be with us because he is experiencing family loss back home, and cannot be with his relatives in person.

So what can we do when sometimes it seems hopeless – this afternoon we thought about this:

  • Use our power to get things changed
  • Use the QARN website for ideas about what you can do – see the link on the side menu
  • Keep talking to people about these concerns, to friends and family, groups and organisations, schools etc.etc.
  • Stand alongside people whose everyday reality is this hostile environment
  • Listen to what they say, and amplify their voices
  • Invite QARN to speak with your Local or Area Meeting, and if you have a particular focus we can ask if one of our speakers today would be able to accompany us
  • We need to keep our links with people living the hostile environment – it affects us all.  So much of what was spoken about today centred on people being visible,  not stuck away on detention centres,  faraway army barracks,  Ascension Island or some other country,  ferries floating off-shore.  The Government seems keen to keep these people out of sight and out of mind and we must not let that happen.

Practical things:

The QARN AGM is on 24 July 2021 at 11am,  followed at 12.30pm by the QARN Special Interest meeting at BYM’s Yearly Gathering – please do join us:

Title: Quakers and the UK immigration system

Description: Members of QARN will talk about the work and priorities of QARN in relation to Quaker testimonies and the planned work of Britain Yearly Meeting

We have benefitted enormously from the company of people with experience of the hostile environment who joined us, and thank them so much for sharing their time and energy, patience and expertise.