University lecturers must remain educators, not border guards

uk_borderBy Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London

[This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article]

The increasingly stringent control of student migration by the Home Office is damaging both the integrity of our relationships as teachers with students and the future of our universities. It was for this reason that 160 academics signed a letter published in The Guardian against the ways in which this crackdown corrodes relationships of trust that are essential to learning.

After the publication of the letter, Dr Vassiliki Kolocotroni – one of the signatories – received this email from a Glasgow University student:

Dear Dr Kolocotroni,

I don’t take your course, so I’ve never had the pleasure of being in your lectures. However, I saw your name undersigned on a letter that appeared in the Guardian yesterday regarding immigration checks on non-EU students.

My girlfriend is an undergraduate student from the United States studying here at Glasgow, the constant checks of her immigration status along with the souring of opinion on immigrants displayed in the national media have often made her feel like a criminal before she has done anything wrong.

The knowledge that some of the academics here have felt strongly enough to protest this to a national newspaper is sure to make her feel a little less persecuted and for that I would like to thank you personally.

As British universities become increasingly globalised and seek new international markets for undergraduate and postgraduate students, those same students are subject to stricter forms of surveillance and control. Speaking in September 2010, Damian Green, then immigration minister in the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition government, justified immigration controls by saying that student visas had risen from 186,000 in 2004 to 307,000 in 2009. He claimed that one in five students remain after their viva and that only half of the students study degree courses.

Students have become the latest object of fear and immigration panic. New phrases have emerged within anti-immigrant discourse like “bogus students” who are accused of using higher learning illegitimately to gain visas and “backstreet colleges” who it is claimed are selling immigration and not education. This has ignored the large sum of money international students contribute to the education sector.

In 2009, Universities UK found that gross earning from the higher education sector was some £53 billion. The personal contribution overseas students make through their off campus spending was estimated at £2.3 billion.

In addition, overseas non-university students who have legally extended their visas are working in the health and social care industry where there are labour shortages.

Classrooms not checkpoints

There is a paradox at the heart of this debate. In a globalised world, universities become what Bill Readings calls “post-historical”. They are not any longer the custodians of the national past or domestic culture, but rather focused on how they measure up against global rivals in the pursuit of “excellence” and “world-class status”.

Additionally, UK universities are increasingly seeking new international markets for the recruitment of undergraduate and postgraduate students. At the same time that universities are widening their horizons, the mobility of academics and students is subjected to stricter surveillance and limitation.

As the new Immigration Bill moves through the House of Lords, there is also something else going on here that is important to speak out against.

It is not simply that young people are more mobile than at any point human history. Border control is moving into the heart of our social and professional life. Healthcare officials are required to check the immigration status of their potential patients. Lecturers and universities are also being asked to share attendance information of international students with the Home Office.

The central principle at the heart of Home Office policy and what is referred to as the Points Based System is that in the words of the UK Border Agency, “those who benefit from immigration must play their part in controlling it”. This implicates a much wider range of people into the techniques of surveillance and regulation. As a result, a lecturer’s class register becomes a checkpoint.

What universities rightly fear is losing their “trusted status” with regard to applying for student and staff visas. This is a very serious matter that impacts not just on a university’s ability to recruit international students, but ultimately its financial solvency. But what will the long-term price be? International students paying large amounts of money to study in Britain are being treated like criminals.

Time to speak out

Anti-immigrant rhetoric and practices make international students into suspects spreading fear, mistrust and anxiety within our classrooms and lecture halls.

Going to university is often a defining time of any student’s life. During those years they learn more than academic knowledge, they also learn a sense of place in the world and where they stand within it. How will this generation of young, talented people studying in Britain from all over the world look back in 20 or 30 years on the suspicious way they have been treated? What long term effects will current policy have on their sense of the value of British higher education?

What is at stake is much more than the self-interested way politicians use anti-immigrant rhetorical for electoral gain. Rather, what is being damaged is the movement of imagination, the value of the classroom as a space for cosmopolitan dialogue and the ethos of university education itself. That is why, along with individual academics, Universities UK – “the definitive voice” of an “autonomous university sector” – as their mission statement puts it, must speak out now against the folly of government policy.

Les Back receives funding from the European Union

The Conversation

Our job is to be educators, not border guards

[Published in The Independent on 24 October]

UKBAWe write as academics concerned with the way in which the rhetoric over security is undermining the university as a place of learning and open discussion (“Is this really necessary? Universities introduce fingerprinting for international students”, 21 October).

The latest move by the universities of Sunderland and Ulster, singling out international students to give fingerprints to prove their attendance at lectures, is reprehensible and to be condemned in the strongest terms.

As academics, we have a duty of care towards all our students, and such policies undermine that relationship. We call on the universities of Sunderland and Ulster to withdraw the use of this system, and for all other universities to take seriously their commitment to equitable treatment of all their students.

We also call on the Government to stop putting pressure on universities to enact such immigration policies. This damages the international reputation of UK higher education at all institutions. We are educators, not border guards.

Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Warwick

John Holmwood, University of Nottingham

Chris Rossdale,  City University, London

Anupama Ranawana, University of Aberdeen

Robbie Shilliam, Queen Mary,  University of London

Hannah Jones, University of Warwick

Cecily Jones,  University of Warwick/Independent researcher

Adam Barker,  Independent academic

Kirsten Forkert, Birmingham City University

10.           Sonia McKay, London Metropolitan University

11.            Mark Cresswell, Durham University

12.            Steve French, Keele University

13.            Malcolm J. W. Povey, University of Leeds

14.           Alan Warde, University of Manchester

15.            Aaron Winter, University of Abertay

16.            Alexandra Kokoli, Middlesex University

17.            Andrew Sayer, Lancaster University

18.            Bev Skeggs, Goldsmiths, University of London

19.            Dennis Leech, University of Warwick

20.           Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow

21.            Myriam Salama-Carr, University of Salford

22.           Cath Lambert, University of Warwick

23.           Steve Jefferys, London Metropolitan University

24.           Gavin Brown, University of Leicester

25.           Cristian Serdean, De Montfort University

26.           David McCallam, University of Sheffield

27.            Claudia Marquesmartin, University of Aberdeen

28.           Sarah Annes Brown, Anglia Ruskin University

29.           James Elliott, University of Oxford

30.           Mark Toogood, University of Central Lancashire

31.            Marci Green, University of Wolverhampton

32.           Christian Fuchs, University of Westminster

33.           Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University

34.           Catherine Baker, University of Hull

35.           Michael Lewis, University of the West of England

36.           Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan University

37.            Jacob Copeman, University of Edinburgh

38.           Luke Martell, University of Sussex

39.           Rosa Vasilaki, University of Bristol

40.          Daniel Chernilo, Loughborough University

41.           Jo Grady, university of Leicester

42.           Kate Tunstall, University of Oxford

43.           Kathleen O’Donnell, Oxford Brookes University

44.          William McEvoy, University of Sussex

45.           Emma Mason, University of Warwick

46.           Michael Bailey, University of Essex

47.           Anne Barron, London School of Economics and Political Science

48.           Colin Wright, University of Nottingham

49.           Meera Sabaratnam, SOAS, University of London

50.           Kevin Sanders, University of Huddersfield

51.            Deana Rankin, Royal Holloway, University of London.

52.           Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Nottingham

53.           Christine Achinger, University of Warwick

54.           Catriona Kelly, University of Oxford

55.           Adam Kaasa, London School of Economics and Political Science

56.           Katherine Ibbett, UCL

57.            John  Parkinson, University of Warwick

58.           Charlie Louth, University of Oxford

59.           Alexander Smith, University of Warwick

60.           Clive Gabay, Queen Mary,  University of London

61.            Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, University of Bath

62.           Naomi Eilan, University of Warwick

63.           Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London

64.           Malcolm MacLean, University of Gloucestershire

65.           Anna Strhan, University of Kent at Canterbury

66.           Angela Last, University of Glasgow

67.            Jonathan S. Davies, De Montfort University

68.           Hazel Conley, Queen Mary College, University of London

69.           Des Freedman, Goldsmiths College, University of London

70.           Jeffery R. Webber, Queen Mary  College, University of London

71.            Jan Culik, University of Glasgow

72.            Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester

73.            Daniel Orrells, University of Warwick

74.           Ayça Çubukçu, London School of Economics and Political Science

75.            Matthew Donoghue, Oxford Brookes University

76.            Patrick Ainley, University of Greenwich

77.            Suzanne Hall, London School of Economics and Political Science

78.            Lee Jones, Queen Mary College, University of London

79.            Michael Loughlin, Manchester Metropolitan University

80.           Barry Smart, University of Portsmouth

81.            Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London

82.           Alain Viala, University of Oxford

83.           Rick Jones, University of Leeds

84.           Hilde C. Stephansen, The Open University

85.           Helen Swift, University of Oxford

86.           Hugo Gorringe, University of Edinburgh

87.            Marika Sherwood, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

88.           Geoff Williams, UCL

89.           John MacInnes, University of Edinburgh

90.           Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick

91.            Paul Bagguley, University of Leeds

92.           Victoria Blake, University of Leeds

93.           Uri Gordon, Loughborough University

94.           Brenda Johnston, University of Southampton

95.           Srila Roy, University of Nottingham

96.           Lynne Pettinger, University of Essex

97.            Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University

98.           Rachael Dobson, Kingston University

99.           David Owen, University of Southampton

100.        Bahar Baser, University of Warwick

101.         Bob Brecher, University of Brighton

102.        Jo Littler, City University, London

103.        Andreas Bieler, University of Nottingham

104.        Nick Clark, London Metropolitan University

105.        Anna Kemp, Queen Mary, London University

106.        Michael S. Northcott, University of Edinburgh

107.         William Outhwaite, Newcastle University

108.        Deborah Lynn Steinberg, University of Warwick

109.        Alpesh Maisuria, University of East London

110.         Philip Moriarty, University of Nottingham

111.          Derek Sayer, Lancaster University

112.         Raphael Salkie, University of Brighton

113.         Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow

114.         Mick Carpenter, University of Warwick

115.         Katherine Angel, Queen Mary, University of London

116.         Philip Grant, University of Edinburgh

117.          Ronald Mendel,  University of Northampton

118.         Bronislaw Szerszynski, Lancaster University

119.         Karma Nabulsi, Oxford University

120.        Pablo Schyfter, The University of Edinburgh

121.         Cassie Earl, Manchester Metropolitan University

122.         Emma Carmel, University of Bath

123.         Roger Jeffery, University of Edinburgh

124.        Patricia Jeffery, University of Edinburgh

125.         Michael Rosie, Sociology, university of Edinburgh

126.         Jeff Hearn, University of Huddersfield

127.         Anamik Saha, University of Leeds

128.         Karim MurjI, The Open University

129.         Doreen Crawford De Montfort University

130.        Joe Deville, Goldsmiths, University of London

131.         Sara Ahmed, Goldsmiths, University of London

132.         Kay Peggs, University of Portsmouth

133.         Caroline Warman, Jesus College, Oxford

134.        Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds

135.         Mikko Kuisma, Oxford Brookes University

136.         Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London

137.         John Baker, University of Westminster

138.         Marian Mayer, Bournemouth University

139.         Steve Garner, Open University

140.        Chris Jones, Liverpool John Moores University

141.         Max Farrar, Leeds Met University

142.        Khursheed Wadia, University of Warwick

143.        Bahadur Najak, Durham University

144.        Richard Hall, De Montfort University

145.        Isobel Urquhart, University of Cambridge

146.        Susan A J Stuart, University of Glasgow

147.         Gavin Williams, St Peter’s College, Oxford University

148.        Kate Hardy, University of Leeds

149.        Will Davies, University of Warwick

150.        Colette Fagan, University of Manchester

151.         Hannah Lewis, University of Leeds

152.         Saer Maty Ba, Independent Academic

153.         Bernard Sufrin, Oxford University

154.        Aylwyn Walsh: University of Lincoln

155.         Lauren Tooker, University of Warwick

156.         Andy Danford, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

157.         Jason Hart, University of Bath

158.         Siobhan McGrath, Lancaster University

159.         Charles Brown, University of Westminster

160.        Madeleine Davis, Queen Mary, University of London

161.         Tony Side, Middlesex University

162.         David Evans, St Mary’s University College

163.         Jason Tucker, University of Bath

164.        Anne-Marie Kramer, University of Nottingham

165.         Nickie Charles, University of Warwick‏

166.         John T. Gilmore, University of Warwick

167.         Stephen Williams, Worcester College, University of Oxford

168.         Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

169.         Viviana Ramirez, University of Bath

170.         Peter Cressey, University of Bath

171.          Emma Jackson, University of Glasgow

172.         Dženeta Karabegović, University of Warwick

173.         Mette Louise Berg, University of Oxford

174.         Shahnaz Akhter, University of Warwick

175.         Diana Paton, Newcastle University

176.         Maja Savevska, University of Warwick

177.          Dibyesh Anand, University of Westminster

178.         Gary Hazeldine, Birmingham City University

179.         Judith Bara, Queen Mary University of London

180.        Roberta Mulas, University of Warwick

181.         Ima Jackson, Glasgow Caledonian University

182.         Graham Smith, University of Northampton

183.         Christine Gledhill, University of Sunderland

184.        Joyce Canaan, Birmingham City University

185.         Mark Addis, Birmingham City University

186.         Claudia Baldoli, Newcastle University

187.         Xavier Guégan, Newcastle University.

188.         Naaz Rashid, University of Manchester

189.         Carlos Frade, University of Salford

190.        Jill Steans, University of Birmingham

191.         Ross Abbinnett, University of Birmingham

192.         Simona Pino, University of Warwick

193.         Lisa Tilley, University of Warwick

194.        Neelam Srivastava, Newcastle University

195.         Christalla Yakinthou, University of Birmingham

196.         Franck Düvell, University of Oxford

197.         Laura Jenkins, University of Birmingham

198.         Felix Robin Schulz, Newcastle University

199.         Tessa Wright, Queen Mary, University of London

200.       Oscar Garza, University of Bath

201.        Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

202.        Beatrice Godwin, University of Bath

203.        Laura Povoledo, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

204.       Christian Karner, University of Nottingham

205.        Nick Mai, London Metropolitan University

206.        John Clarke, Open University

207.        Sarah Campbell, Newcastle University

208.        Rachel Lara Cohen, City University London

209.        Andrew Wells, Independent Academic

210.        Deema Kaneff, University of Birmingham

211.         Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

212.         Kevin McSorley, University of Portsmouth

213.         Julie Ryan, Manchester Metropolitan University

214.        Maddie Breeze, University of Edinburgh

215.         Nicola Clarke, Newcastle University

216.         Luke Yates, University of Manchester

217.         Georgie Wemyss, University of East London

218.         Anneliese Dodds, Aston University

219.         Tom Vickers, Northumbria University

220.        Bryce Evans, Liverpool Hope University

221.         Ben Jackson, Oxford University

222.        Ipek Demir, University of Leicester

223.        Clare Madge, University of Leicester

224.        Parvati Raghuram, Open University

225.        Veit Schwab, University of Warwick

226.        Stephen Jones, University of Bristol

227.         Duncan Harcus, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University

228.        Elizabeth B Silva, Open University

229.        Robert Fine, University of Warwick

230.        Peter Fletcher, Keele University

231.         Lena Karamanidou, City University London

232.        Vicky Margree, University of Brighton

233.        Martin Farr, Newcastle University

234.        Alice Mah, University of Warwick

235.        Bahadir Çeliktemur, University of Warwick

236.        Esther Bott, University of Nottingham

237.         Stephen Kemp, University of Edinburgh

238.        Marijn Nieuwenhuis, University of Warwick

239.        Marisol Sandoval, City University London

240.       Laura Harvey, Brunel University

241.        Matt Kranke, University of Warwick

242.        Seref Kavak,  Keele University

243.        Sarah Burton, Goldsmiths College, University of London

244.       Darya Malyutina, UCL

245.        Dave Featherstone, University of Glasgow

246.        Benjamin Houston, Newcastle University

247.        Elisa Lopez Lucia, University of Warwick

248.        Maja Cederberg, Oxford Brookes University

249.        Laura Prazeres, Royal Holloway, University of London

250.        Daniel Fitzpatrick, UCL

251.         Tracey Warren, University of Nottingham

252.        Melissa Fernandez Arrigoitia, LSE

253.        Robert Cowley, University of Westminster

254.        Ibrahim Sirkeci, Regent’s University London

255.        Guillermo M., Goldsmiths College

256.        Simon Bradford, Brunel University

257.         Rowland Atkinson, University of York

258.        Jennifer Fraser, Birkbeck College

259.        Elizabeth Dowler, University of Warwick

260.        Stephen Ashe, University of Stirling

261.         Jo Halliday, Goldsmiths College London

262.        Marika Mura, University of Warwick

263.        Liz Bondi, University of Edinburgh

264.        Simon Cross, Nottingham Trent University

265.        Tim Lang, City University London

266.        Sian Lucas, University of Salford

267.         Kim Allen, Manchester Metropolitan University

268.        Gail Davidge, Manchester Metropolitan University

269.        Sarah Goler, University of Warwick

270.        Sanoj Tulachan, University of Warwick

271.         Aggie Hirst, City University London

272.         Rachna Leveque, University College London

273.         Jim Lusted, University of Northampton

274.        Samiksha Sehrawat, Newcastle University

275.         Leah Bassel, University of Leicester

276.         Derek Averre, University of Birmingham

277.         Sarah Lamble, Birkbeck College, University of London

278.         Liza Schuster, City University London

279.         Misato Matsuoka, University of Warwick

280.        Benoit Dutilleul, University of the West of England

Borderline Justice – book review

[This review was published in the Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law, 27 (2): 188-189]

Borderline justice: The fight for refugee and migrant rights by Frances Webber, Pluto Press, 2012

Cover, Borderline Justice by Frances Webber, Pluto Press 2012

Cover, Borderline Justice by Frances Webber, Pluto Press 2012

 Webber’s book offers a captivating and insightful reading. It can be read as a history of how the governance of immigration and asylum developed over the last thirty years from the perspective of someone who has followed its twists and turns very closely as a legal practitioner, as a micro history of how a handful of committed radical lawyers succeeded in creating a network of legal advice centres that over the years became ‘an infrastructure of legal expertise for grassroots organisations fighting for civil rights, justice and equality’ (7), and as a memoir of the daily struggle of a social justice campaigner and lawyer that has seen the legal terrain on which her work is grounded shaking and drifting away due to pressure by anti-immigration media, populist support-seeking politicians and largely hostile public opinion, and a diary of her frustration for a rooted, overpowering and widespread culture of disbelief that shapes the everyday lives as much as the ‘spaces of hope’ (Harvey 2000) of migrants and refugees who are left with little to attach their hopes to.

The chapters of this book offer an insight into the workings of the immigration and refugee regimes in the UK as well as a genealogy of the current political crusade against human rights, the extent of which has been made apparent recently by the leaked emails in which senior civil servants explain to the members of the inter-ministerial group (IMG) on migrants’ access to benefits and public services the potential consequences on the UK’s international standing of the proposal of carrying out checks on applicant’s immigration status as part of school admissions which would de facto limit access to education for undocumented migrant children (Malik and Walker 2013; Sigona and Hughes 2012).

Divided in three parts, the book takes a staged approach to explore respectively issues around arrival, stay, and departure from the UK.

Part 1 examines the criminalisation of refugees and production of ‘illegality’ through rules, regulations and technologies of control that have made access to asylum increasingly difficult to people escaping persecution, substantially transforming in the process the nature of borders and practice of border control. In Part 2, after a brief exploration of the dispersal system and a critique of the use of destitution as a weapon for immigration control, Webber moves her attention to the spread of a ‘managerial’ attitude to migration during the Labour government and the emergence of a nativist bias at time of austerity and economic crisis. This section also looks into current approached to family and student migrations. Finally, Part 3 looks at the securitasation of immigration management marked by the birth of the UK Border Agency (recently dismissed by the Home Secretary Theresa May) and the increase use of forced and assisted removals as well as immigrant detention as tools of ‘ordinary’ immigration governance.

In conclusion, in recommending this fascinating book to everyone interested in understanding the direction of current immigration policy and practice in the UK and the role that legal courts, judges and lawyers have played over the years, I want to point briefly to what I see as three potential risks associated to a court-centred activism for migrants’ rights. Firstly, migrants and refugees sometimes disappear and what one hears of their voices and experiences is only what is relevant and intelligible in the law courts. Notwithstanding the good intentions of many of those involved, these voices end up filtered, if not sanitised, to conform to narratives put together by others. In the US, legal anthropologist Susan B. Coutin (2003) has shown through an analysis of suspension of deportation hearings how in court narratives of deservingness and undeservingness of migrants are constructed to comply with dominant notions of ‘Americanness’, which are gendered, racialised, class-based and heteronormative.

Secondly, it is somehow in the nature of legal activism to convey an atomised portrait of society, made of test cases and individual stories.  As Webber shows in her book, to bridge the individual case to the collective dimension is a difficult task. Translating and feeding in what happens in the courtroom to migrants’ rights campaigners and community organisations and ensuring that the battle in court is informed by political instances and what happens outside the court require a daily engagement with several social actors and the creation of communication infrastructure that go both ways. For Webber to turn (legal) cases into (political) issues is challenging but necessary as legal action alone is unable to produce wider political and social changes needed to transform what over the last thirty years has become an increasingly hostile environment for asylum seekers and refugees and, more recently, also for migrant families, children, low paid workers and students.

Thirdly, in the contest of the ongoing political and media campaign that portraits human rights and the human rights regime as an instrument of foreign interference and the ultimate obstacle for the UK government to succeed in its immigration policy to reduce net-migration to the tens of thousands, a court-centred activism for migrants rights and social justice may risk of further expanding the rift between the ‘deserving’ citizens and the ‘scrounger’ immigrants that seems to dominate current responses to immigration. To avoid this pitfall, legal activists should not only build bridges with the converted (i.e. migrants’ rights campaigners, etc.) but also find ways to reach new audiences and build new alliances. The grassroots campaign against the immigration family rules introduced in July 2012 led by British citizens in mixed status families affected by the new  rules shows the potential for creating a wider alliance across the citizens/immigrants divide that the politicians instead have interest to preserve and reinforce.



Cohen, N. (2013) ‘Beware the lure of Mark Zuckerberg’s cool capitalism’, The Guardian, 31 March 2013:

Coutin, S.B. (2003) ‘Suspension of deportation hearings and measures of “Americanness”’, Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 8 (2): 58-95

Harvey, D. (2000), Spaces of hope, Berkley: University of California Press.

Malik, S. and Walker, P. (2013) ‘Ministers planning immigration crackdown on ‘education tourists’’, The Guardian, 27 March 2013:

Sigona, N. And Hughes, V. (2013) No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK, Oxford: COMPAS

King Nigel’s Speech: recasting ‘us’ and ‘them’

[Article published in OpenDemocracy, 13 May 2013)

In the UK political debate, boundaries are being blurred between the two hot topics on the political agenda: migration and the EU. This should be a wake-up call for the 2.7 million European immigrants living and working in the UK, says Nando Sigona.

Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

Written by the government and delivered by the reigning monarch, the Queen’s speech sets out the legislative agenda for the year aheadAs expected, David Cameron, the UK Conservative Prime Minister and his coalition government have used this year’s Queen’s speech to offer a quick if rather panicked response to the recent electoral success of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which gained 139 council seats in the 2013 local elections.

The speech places immigration firmly at the centre of the political agenda, as if the crisis of the banking system and a poorly performing economy didn’t exist or could be attributed through some rather obscure association to the presence of non-British residents. As Alex Andreou has explained in a comment in the New Statesman, Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, ‘has merely acted as the catalyst, by stepping into an emotional vacuum left by mainstream parties’, providing a comforting but ultimately useless solution to the current crisis at a time when mainstream parties are all perceived as distant, elitist and impermeable to what is happening outside Westminster. What the Queen’s speech did is to legitimate the anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric of UKIP as a solution to the crisis, something that the Conservative Party right-wing had failed to achieve until now.

Besides the headline-grabbing statements against illegal migrants, speeding deportation for foreign-born criminals and fighting alleged abuses of the welfare system, the Queen’s speech is underpinned by a wider vision which at the core criminalises migrants and migration to an extent we hadn’t previously observed in recent mainstream British politics. This criminalisation also extends to EU citizens, until recently kept relatively protected from anti-immigration campaigners and politicians. This is with the noticeable exception of Romanians and Bulgarians, whose possible arrival following the lifting of the existing restrictions on access to the job market and welfare system in early 2014 is generating waves of moral panic.

By associating intra-EU mobility more closely to immigration, the Queen’s speech blurs the boundaries between the two hot topics on the political agenda: migration and the EU, and turns the moral panic generated by the arrival and settlement of Romanians and Bulgarians, the ‘new’ Europeans to paraphraseformer US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, into yet another argument in support of Eurosceptic politics.

As a researcher working on migration, asylum and minority rights for over a decade, I am familiar with the rising criminalisation of asylum seekers in the UK: the use of enforced destitution, dispersal and detention to deter new arrivals and force those no longer entitled to stay to leave the country. Furthermore, I have documented the plight of undocumented children and young people kept in legal limbo, non-deportable and yet excluded from formal citizenship.

As a foreigner myself, an EU citizen who has lived in the UK for the last 12 years, I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the tone and contents of the debate on immigration. I feel more and more part of the population I study, experiencing personally some of the feelings and anxieties that I am used to hearing from the individuals I interview.

Of course, this is not to say that as an Italian I go through the same ordeal as, for example, that of someone seeking asylum in the UK. But I can certainly say that over the last year or so I have felt increasingly more like an immigrant to whom the right to reside in the UK is granted from above (and can be withdrawn if needs be for electoral considerations) than an EU citizen, that is, part of a pan-European political community founded on the principles of freedom of movement and equality among its citizens.

With this realisation came a renewed sense of empathy for those non-EU migrants who on a daily basis have to negotiate or subject key decisions in their personal life to a faceless bureaucrat somewhere in Croydon (i.e. the UK Border Agency’s HQ) who can decide if a marriage is legitimate, if one can go to a funeral back home, or if a non-British father can be with his British partner at the birth of their child in London. For Romanian and Bulgarian migrants the boundary between being an immigrant and an EU citizen has already been blurred for a while, long before the so-called ‘old’ Europeans.

According to the Oxford-based Migration Observatory, data from the 2011 Census suggest that 2.7 million residents of England and Wales were born in other EU countries. About 1.1 million of those (41%) were born in countries which joined the EU in 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) or afterwards (Bulgaria and Romania). The majority of the EU citizens are therefore people like me (and it feels awkward to talk of myself in terms of my nationality): Italians, Germans, Spaniards, French, Greeks etc.

Until recently, one wouldn’t have heard politicians talk about ‘us’ in the same breath with the ‘other’ foreigners, but the economic crisis and a government in search of scapegoats are changing the terms of the debate. This is a wake-up call for many who felt that the tough talk on immigration was never about them, that somehow they were bullet-proofed from attacks by right-wingers and alike. In other words this is a wake-up call for a largely politically invisible population, with no right to vote at general elections, no spokespersons or campaign organisations, but also with rather powerful states behind them and relatively good social positions in British society.

We may realise soon that all mainstream political parties, faced with the challenge of UKIP, may be prepared to sacrifice us for the sake of electoral victory. For if the Queen’s speech marks a further shift towards the right of the political spectrum of the political debate on immigration, the Labour opposition demonstrates once again little will to fight the battle for immigrants and immigrants’ rights, as well as for the EU and EU citizens. The shadow minister Yvette Cooper more often than not attacks the government for not being able to control immigration and borders, as confirmed recently in a major speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). It’s hard to see how these tactical responses may lead to a different strategy and new ways of thinking on migration.

The Queen’s speech has thus contributed to redrawing the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and for some of us this came as a realisation that the position we thought to occupy in British society as fellow EU citizens is gradually being eroded by a dangerous combination of anti-foreigner and anti-EU sentiments. This is happening without much opposition. Times of crisis also bring new opportunities. New spaces for political mobilisation may yet open up and lead to the emergence of new political subjects in British politics: ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europeans fighting back.


Nowhere Home in Oxford

Nowhere Home by Margreth Olin

Nowhere Home by Margreth Olin

Special screening of Margreth Olin’s award-winning documentary: Nowhere Home

When: Tuesday 30th April 2013: 6.15pm introductory talk, 6.30pm screening

Where: The Ultimate Picture Palace, Cowley Road, Oxford

Organised by: Oxford Institute of Social Policy (OISP) in collaboration with the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford and the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham

Synopsis: Nowhere Home follows the fortunes of a number of young people from Salhus, a Norwegian centre offering temporary residence to unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people as they approach adulthood. While they all hope to remain in Norway, the threat of deportation when they turn 18—and uncertain futures in countries like Afghanistan or Iraq—hangs over them. A visceral and provocative film, Nowhere Home scrutinises what Human Rights Watch has called one of  the ‘major moral dilemmas’ facing Europe today.

Year: 2012 / 90m.

Distributor: Norwegian Film Institute

Watch the trailer online.

Tickets: £8 (£6 concessions). Online booking now open.

Proceeds go to Asylum Welcome (Charity no. 1092265)