In 2019, our 30th birthday gave us a chance to look over some materials from our early days, from the founding of GMIAU in 1989. As we approach our 31st birthday, the events of 2020 have shed new light on our history and our role, then and now. The Covid-19 pandemic has driven home just how hypocritical an immigration system is that relies on its key workers while describing them as unskilled and denying them public funds. It’s made us wonder how we can use this moment of crisis to call for an end to the hostile environment. And worldwide Black Lives Matter protests have reminded us of the importance of naming racism where we see it. They’ve reiterated the need to fight it, especially in the structures that cause such injustice, including immigration, policing, justice, and education. Today, the message is the same as it was 30 years ago: No one is illegal.
Here’s what we learned from the materials we found in our archives.
Lesson one: the importance of solidarity.
These were the days before social media. We found lots of photos of demonstrations, banners, people standing alongside their neighbours, parents from school, workmates. Then as now, the struggle for justice felt urgent, personal, and important.
Something that’s often been said in recent months is that “we’re all in it together”. But this blog post written by someone we support at GMIAU shows how current laws mean that she – despite being a doctor with fifteen years’ experience – is banned from working in the UK because she is seeking asylum. Life after Covid-19 needs to look after everyone, and let everyone participate.
Lesson two: we tell it like it is.
In the early days of GMIAU, we described our work plainly: resistance to racist and misogynistic immigration laws. There was no hiding behind polite niceties, and there shouldn’t be today. Despite government messaging about lessons learnt from Windrush, the UK’s system of immigration control continues to be based on colonial norms. The Hostile Environment is alive and kicking. A community was – and still is – under attack, and this is part of the fight back.
Lesson three: recent injustices are inseparable from decades of oppression.
Many of our early battles were fought for members of the Windrush generation. It’s crucial to understand the Windrush scandal not as a one-off, but as the tip of the iceberg: only one result of an immigration system that demonises migrants and people of colour.
Lesson four: our key early slogans could have been written today.
Our rallying cry throughout the years has been “No One Is Illegal”. Today, listening to how people who are crossing the Channel are being described by politicians and the media, this message is as relevant as ever. It should be safe to seek asylum in this country. No human being is illegal.
Our fundamental aims haven’t changed. Fight deportations; fight racism; unite families. These are the values that bring us together.