A guide to Britain’s racist border regime

The UK border regime: a critical guide

The UK Border Regime: a critical guide. 336pp Corporate Watch 2018 £9 paperback or download for free: https://corporatewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/UK_border_regime.pdf

‘…the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimates that there are currently 68.5 million “forcibly displaced people” in the world – the highest number it has ever recorded.’ Britain has 122,000 refugees – a tiny proportion of the world’s total.

This useful book carefully unpicks the harrowing reality of the racist control of people in Britain and on the manufactured borders of Europe on Britain’s orders. A vast physical and social infrastructure has been constructed with yearly budgets and targets so that there is an unending escalation of violence and coercion in immigration enforcement. As the book states, ‘Migration, and its control, is inextricable from the “mass displacement of impoverished and colonised communities” by the wars and economic and ecological devastations of “capitalism and empire”.’

The book describes how homeless Eastern European migrants are ‘grabbed off the streets of London’ in kidnappings carried out with the help of Labour councils and homeless charity St Mungo’s. In London, 47% of rough sleepers are non-British European. In a two-month pilot, 127 people in Westminster were deported. We read about huge continent-wide databases like EURODAC, which requires mass fingerprinting of people who make it to Europe and, under European Union law (the Dublin Regulations), assists in deporting them to the first country they set foot in.

This is all for the benefit of Britain, sitting on the outskirts of the mainland, and calling the shots on immigration enforcement, as well as pumping in the cash to make sure it happens. It is most starkly demonstrated in the important section about the 1991 initiated Anglo-French arrangements at the port of Calais, through which Britain’s borders and jurisdiction are extended to France. ‘[The aim] is to stop refugees reaching the UK shore, where they would have the right to claim asylum. It has killed more than 100 people in the last 10 years.’

The 1991 Iraq war and the Labour government’s wars on Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) forced millions to flee. ‘In 1988, less than 4,000 refugees claimed asylum in the UK; in 1991, 44,000 people did.’ Dover-Calais is the narrowest route from France to Britain, where the Channel Tunnel was opened in 1994. In ‘2017, the Port of Dover handled 2.6 million lorries, over 17% of all UK trade with the world’. All of this has made Calais one of the main entry points for migrants seeking to enter Britain over the last 25-30 years.

Britain’s barbaric borders

The lengths to which Britain has gone to fortify the ports and Tunnel are barbaric and ruthless. A key crossing site is bordered by: ‘Two lines of four-metre high steel grille topped with coiled razor wire, and sandwiched in between these a line of electronic motion sensors.’ There are dogs, heat and CO2 sensors and drones, all used to pinpoint, track and literally hunt people down. Private security guards conduct the ‘Chasse à l’Homme’ (‘hunt for humans’): arresting, beating, gassing and murdering refugees, not to mention destroying make-shift camps.

Britain’s official borders don’t end in Calais. Since 2004 they have also stretched north to Belgium. Britain conducts immigration checks at the Midi train station, which gets over 60,000 passengers a day. Just one example of the result of this (which is not in the book) is when on 17 May 2018 Belgian police were frantically hunting down a van which was attempting to transport refugees, including a Kurdish-Iraqi family, to Britain. To stop them making the journey, the Belgian cops opened fire, killing a two-year-old girl. Initially they lied about the cause of death and then said the family had until the next day to decide which country to travel to; otherwise they would be deported back to Germany under the Dublin Regulations. The family had already been deported from Britain to Germany the previous year. It is clear that, whether in or out of the EU, Britain is a vehemently racist state.

Migration minefield

If migrants do make it to Britain, this book details the minefield awaiting them. We learn about how people are classified and grouped and then controlled with legislation; restrictions on access to work, housing, benefits and services; ID checks; immigration raids; prisons and deportations.

Refreshingly, on the whole there is little argument put forward by the writers that the ‘hostile environment’ began under Theresa May or that the Labour Party, even under Corbyn, is more progressive. The research shows that in fact Labour has been in many cases more reactionary.

The Labour governments of 1997-2010 brought in an unprecedented five new immigration acts in less than 10 years. They introduced the points-based work visa system and deportation targets, rapidly expanding the detention system and building more immigration prisons than any administration before or since. Private Finance Initiative was used to build them, and private security firms hired to run them.

The immigration department of the Home Office employs 19,000 people, including 8,000 Border Force Officers. However, the book argues that because of austerity, the Home Office will not get the funding it wants to ‘tackle immigration’ as other government departments are a bigger priority, unless rescued by Labour’s promise of ‘500 – or possibly 1,000 – extra border guards’.

Private companies carrying out deportations

More hired racist thugs are not what the working class needs. The contract for ‘escorting’ detainees to and from immigration prisons and airports was previously held by G4S. In 2010 three G4S goons killed Jimmy Mubenga while they restrained him on a deportation flight; they were subsequently acquitted of manslaughter.

Tascor took over from G4S from 2011-2018. On 14 February 2018, a bus which was not roadworthy was used to transport migrants. It caught fire and guards spent minutes handcuffing everyone before taking them off ‘just minutes before the vehicle exploded and as fumes filled the cabin’.

In May 2018 Mitie took over the £525m ten-year deportation ‘escorting’ contract. By November its staff had already broken a man’s hand. This is not in the publication, but is clearly connected. Rahel, a Kurdish-Iraqi asylum seeker living in Newcastle, came to the campaign group Migration and Asylum Justice Forum for help after the assault. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters work as part of the Forum. He had first set foot on European soil in Romania and so was due to be deported back there (Dublin Regulations again). On the flight he complained to the ‘escorts’ that he would be killed if he went back to Romania because he had exposed people smugglers there. They told him: ‘If you don’t go back to Romania we will kill you here’. He was taken back to Colnbrook immigration prison where medical quacks refused to believe his hand was broken until he was finally taken to a hospital for an X-ray. The Migration Forum has started a campaign and the story was covered in The Independent.

The book carries some research on Mitie, a British company that is taking the lead in running sections of the immigration system, winning itself the title of Britain’s biggest migrant detention profiteer. On top of the escort contract, it runs the two Heathrow detention centres and Campsfield in Oxfordshire.

Immigration contracts pass back and forth between a small handful of businesses, who kill and torture people with impunity, and continue to be awarded hundreds of millions of pounds by the government. But they want more, and in relation to asylum housing contracts, ‘the signs are that the Home Office is willing to pump more money into the system so that its contractors can turn a profit.’

For all of the research, technology, finance and propaganda, the racist superstructure that is immigration control has its problems and contradictions. There are competing interests amongst the ruling class, with capitalists who make their money in the security sector lobbying for increasing controls on movement, while businesses that need to use the Channel Tunnel and ports at Calais and Dover push for fewer controls, as checking for migrants underneath lorries slows down cargo. The French government has complained that it can no longer act as Britain’s ‘coastguard’. After all, it would be far easier for France to let refugees travel to Britain; what does France have to gain from doing Britain’s dirty work? Dirty money. It was announced in January 2018 that Britain will invest a further £44.5m for extra security measures, bringing the total since the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp was bulldozed in 2016 to £150m. How long can Britain provide these sweeteners?


The biggest threat to the infrastructure is resistance: sometimes parts of it are literally burned to the ground. Former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw pushed to increase immigration prison places to 4,000 in order to facilitate deporting 30,000 people a year. Labour opened Yarl’s Wood immigration prison in 2001; it was designed to hold 900 people, the biggest ever detention centre in Britain. People who were locked up in this prison, indefinitely, without charge or trial, were treated with brutality, medical problems were ignored, ‘complainers’ locked in their rooms and ‘troublemakers’ held in segregation units. After the mistreatment of a 52-year-old woman who was restrained by four immigration guards, people fought back. Fires broke out, half of Yarl’s Wood and 400 immigration places were destroyed (never to be rebuilt), causing £40m worth of damage, just three months after it was built; ‘23 people are believed to have escaped’ and reforms were won as a result.  The book also details the massive Campsfield uprisings of the 1990s.

Confused analysis

Corporate Watch provides this useful exposé of the system of immigration controls and how they work. The writers don’t, however, make clear why British imperialism needs immigration controls, admitting that they ‘barely scratch the surface of the connections between the border regime and the global economy’ as they ‘don’t have space in this book to go deep into these issues.’

Because of this lack of any groundwork on the context of imperialism and racism, the analysis that is then offered is more psychoanalysis than political analysis, so inevitably comes across as confused and contradictory guesswork. The writers argue that the racism of the ‘public’ encourages the press to write racist articles which in turn pushes politicians to make speeches and policies to show they are tough on immigration, so the conclusion to be drawn is that immigration controls exist because the British public is racist.

While it is true politicians do look to gain electoral advantage from popular responses to anti-immigrant politics, and editors run with stories to sell newspapers and gain political leverage, migrants are not under attack simply to win votes and increase readership. This misses the point that racist ideas are cultivated by the government and press to divide and rule the working class.

There is also an element of confusion in relation to the current Labour Party under Corbyn. This is not entirely surprising, given the Labour Party itself is giving mixed messages. On the one hand, the writers assert that the border regime will be even harsher if Labour is elected because it wants to employ more border guards; on the other it says: ‘Things might change if Labour get elected. In May 2018, shadow home secretary Diane Abbot not only agreed with a 28 day limit, but talked of shutting Brook House and Yarl’s Wood (though not the others), and added that “private firms have no business in detention”.’

This book is definitely worth reading and provides a lot of useful information that can be used in anti-racist campaigning, from the history of immigration controls in Britain, to the victories won against the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, to the scale of immigration and potential-voter data collection in this country. And, if you read FRFI alongside it, you will be able to accompany these facts with a thorough political analysis. For example: Windrush: the roots of state racism http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/fight-racism/5242-windrush-the-roots-of-state-racism

Justice and freedom for all working class migrants!

Fight racism and imperialism!

Mark Moncada


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