Greetings to you from the mountains of Asturias. I was feeling quite burnt out by constant firefighting that all of us at T4K have to do. The hostile environment exerts unending pressure on people on the wrong side of the border, breaking up families and destroying lives. Like all good wrecking machines, it also bears down on anyone, however marginal, who happens to be in its way. Fortunately, I (still) have the right colour passport and friends in a collective in the mountains of northern Spain. I have taken a belated summer holiday. This is not a possibility for the people you are supporting to the tune of £1400 or so per month.
We are nearly there. If you can, please help expand the project by spreading the word and signing up your friends. Personally, however down I get, the thought that so many people have come together in the face of a hostile and racist political environment to welcome strangers into our town always renews my faith in the possibility of making over our communities into ones of kindness and compassion, rather than ones based on mistrust and selfishness.
Before I get onto the good news that I promised you last month, I want to let you know about a fantastic project that will give you an excuse to sign up more of your friends and family. If you have ever driven down the A23 into Brighton, you will probably have noticed two stone pillars flanking the carriageway. These are the Patcham Pylons and, what you might not know, is that they were erected to welcome people to Brighton. Inscribed on the pylons is the following poem:
Hale guest, we ask not what thou art.
If friend, we greet thee, hand & heart.
If stranger, such no longer be.
If foe, our love shall conquer thee.
(It is cheesy, but it always brings a lump to my throat).
Local artist, Rebel Yarns, has crocheted the poem into a blanket which she will give to one of the families you are supporting. Before the grand handover on November 14 at the Friends Meeting House, Rebel Yarns is inviting people to sponsor a square in a beautiful echo of the original subscription to put up the pylons. Anyone who sets up a subscription or donates more than £10 can have their name crocheted onto the blanket. You could have viewed the blanket at the World Transformed Conference this weekend. You can also join a public sewing of the names onto the blanket at the Cowley Club on October 24. There are also cards and prints available with the proceeds going to us.
The good news: the count of people who have received papers as a result of your support is now 2. Abdul, not his real name, had his appeal allowed by the First Tier Tribunal at the end of August and the Home Office decided not to appeal. This was a good move by Amber Rudd as she did not have a leg to stand on. It is an extraordinary relief and, as I will explain next month, there is no way that Abdul could have made it without you. Thank you so much. Abdul doesn’t want me to share details until he has his card in his hands. He’s terrified that it could still go wrong, though if it does Rudd will find herself facing another contempt of court charge.
Because I cannot yet tell you the story, I will leave you with a little reflection on the legal system. It seems to me that the way that you win your immigration case is to prove that you are the exception. You can be granted a right to remain here because you have a family life here or because you are in need of humanitarian protection. The actual process requires you to make an application to the Home Office, have that rejected, and then argue your case before a judge. Such a system has to be underpinned by the presumption that the vast majority of applicants do not need to be in the UK and can live equally well elsewhere. A successful appeal in the immigration tribunals generally seems to require showing that you (sotto voce, unlike other applicants) have a pressing and unusual need to live here.
Now, as Michael Dummett pointed out in his book on immigration and refugees, “On Immigration and Refugees” (that is honestly a hilarious philosophy of language joke), everybody has a right to live somewhere, but it does not automatically follow that everyone has somewhere to live. If we want it to follow, then we have to build an international legal framework that allows for international migration. The system here, with its presumption that only the exception requires protection, must assume that for the vast majority of people there is somewhere (else) that they can live. However, the idea that everyone has a place where they belong is simply false. This is why we see the horror of semi-permanent refugee camps all round the world.
Our current legal system presumes that people belong where they were born, but there are all sorts of reasons why you might need to build a life for yourself elsewhere. You might face massive persecution because of your ethnicity, sexuality, your gender or your political beliefs. You might find yourself in the midst of a civil war or an economic crisis. You might, indeed, feel the urge to recreate yourself in a new country. Here in Asturias, for example, the abundance of cheap, fertile land has attracted plenty of disgruntled neo-rural anti-capitalists from across the Spanish state, the European Union and even further afield. But because the law assumes that you have no need to be here, it grants you no right to be here, and, because that assumption is false, there are probably over half a million people living here under the radar (618,000 people was the median figure given by the LSE in 2009). Being under the radar leaves you very vulnerable. It is therefore no surprise that over 250,000 immigrants are destitute. Thousand 4 1000 will not be able to solve the whole problem. It will, however, if we can expand a little bit, ensure that nobody is homeless in Brighton because of their immigration status. It also gives the people you support a chance to prove that they are the exception. So for that, a thousand thanks.