One Day Without Migrants The fight for foreigners in the united kingdom

I had gone to pick up Gazz, a photographer friend of mine, for a pro-migrant and refugee event being held in Birmingham.

Gazz had just come out of a shop on our estate in Nuneaton to buy a drink when I arrived.

"You won't believe what I just heard in there," he said, stepping into the car.

"What?" I asked.

“Some guy in there just said to the shopkeeper, ‘You’re the blackest Paki I have ever seen’- they weren’t even arguing, he just came out and said it!”

We were heading to an event at the Ort Art & Community Café to try and find out about the treatment of migrants in Birmingham, and what support was available to them. It was part of One Day Without Us, a nationwide campaign day that took place on Monday 20 February, spearheaded by anti-Fascist organisation Hope not Hate.

The exterior of the Ort Art & Community café

The venue was small, and located at the head of a council estate in Balsall Heath, south-central Birmingham. Gentrification’s climbing tendrils were digging deep, with an antique bar serving upmarket elderflower and ginger drinks; a rustic aesthetic barely concealing this ‘hip’ establishment in the middle of a traditionally working-class area.

One Day Without Us was inspired by a rise in anti-migration and anti-refugee rhetoric and actions that has been building as a result of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Over the past year, the national mood towards migrants has taken a sour turn.

Following vigorous national debate about the role of migrants in the UK after Brexit, there has been an upsurge in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes across the country. Racially motivated crimes have increased by 15 per cent since 2014/15, and religiously motivated crimes have increased by 34 per cent over the same period.

Home Office data shows a grim upwards trend in racially and religiously motivated attacks in the UK

Migrants from Islamic countries also find their loyalty in question. Evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the government's counter-terrorism strategy in January 2016 has also said the Prevent program is "clearly suffering from a widespread problem of perception" and that "the lack of transparency in the operation of Prevent encourages rumour and mistrust to spread and fester."

Upstairs, three organisations had set out their leaflets, trinkets and freebies across the tables. I took the opportunity to talk with the representatives, to ask what the day was about, and why they had turned out that day:

Tom and Arun from Hope not Hate

L-R: Myself, Arun, and Tom. Source: Red State Connection

Website - http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/

Gosha from the Polish Expats' Association

Source: Red State Connection

Website - http://polishexpats.org.uk

Sian from TimeBank

Source: Red State Connection

Website - http://timebank.org.uk/

Shahin from the 'Talking Together' project (TimeBank)

Source: Red State Connection

Website - http://timebank.org.uk/talking-together

Was this the Big Society that an idealistic David Cameron had waxed lyrical about back in 2010? Members of the communities rising to plug the gaps that the public sector once filled?

Sian highlighted the plight of carers in particular- government cuts have resulted in a £4.6bn reduction in social care budgets in England since 2011. Time Bank’s ‘Hidden Carers’ project is now helping to take the strain, and letting carers know there are places to help them cope with the changes and shortfalls that have followed the budget cuts.

There was a striking display of flags across the opposite wall. The flags were a progressive deconstruction of the familiar Union flag, taking the original colours and making them darker, black-and-red.

Source: Red State Connection

The patterning had been altered. Some had confederate-style stars across them, others looked very reminiscent of old Fascist symbolism from Nazi Germany. Below them, a fake newspaper sat open, filled with stories from an alternative Britain where a right-wing government had succeeded in relocating all migrants back to their “own countries”.

The articles were tabloid prolefeed for a world that still might be. Tongues were lodged in cheeks as the fictional articles still grasped for ways to blame a collapse in productivity on foreigners, even when there were none to be found.

Migrant labour is invaluable to many industries in the UK. Data released in September 2015 shows that in the NHS alone, close to one in five workers are listed as non-British.

Another art piece at the Ort Café. Source: Red State Connection

Yet, a reduction in migrant labour seems to be precisely what the government is aiming towards. Recent Home Office figures show that in 2016, the number of non-EEA migrants granted permission to live permanently in the UK dropped by 35 per cent to 59,009 grants. This figure has been dropping steadily for some time, from 124,854 grants in 2007.

After the Conservative party rose to power in the 2010 election, the number of non-EEA migrants given permission for permanent settlement in the UK has dropped dramatically.

As for migrants who are already in the country, the prognosis isn’t much better. Migrants from the EU in particular don’t know if they’ll have a home come the end of the year. Theresa May has recently tried to guarantee their right to stay - but only if UK emigrants in the rest of the EU are also allowed to remain in their new home countries.

What does a day without migrants look like? If nothing is done to speak out for them now, it seems we may yet live to see it.

#1DayWithoutUs

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Sam Ingrams
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Image credits: Red State Connection (https://www.facebook.com/RedStateConnection/)

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