Draft Letter to Jacqui Smith

December 10, 2008

For those of you who are busy, please find below a draft letter to Jacqui Smith regarding deportations to the DRC.  Please feel free to cut & paste & modify it however you like.

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Dear Jacqui Smith

I am writing to you to express my concern at the plight of Congolese asylum-seekers in the UK.

The High Court has recently ruled that “failed” Congolese asylum-seekers can now be deported at any time, a ruling which is likely to impact over 5 000 people.

As you are certainly aware, the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently in a state of civil war.  Violence is endemic, and women are at particular danger as the use of rape as a weapon of war is very widespread.   The Amnesty International 2008 Report states:

 “Political and military tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) resulted in major outbreaks of violence in the capital, Kinshasa, and Bas-Congo province.  Unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the security forces and by armed groups were common across the country, in many cases directed at perceived political opponents.  Rape by security force members and armed group fighters continued at high levels.”

At this very moment, the Amnesty International website states “The situation in the DRC remains on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.” 

Under the circumstances, deporting anyone to the DRC is akin to sentencing them to death.   Furthermore, as a feminist, you cannot possibly be sanguine about the appalling sexual violence awaiting any women that are sent to the DRC – in fact, it is almost certain that all of the women who are facing deportation have already suffered rape and other sexual violence.

Consequently, as a feminist myself,  I urge you to immediately declare a moratorium on all deportations to the DRC. 

I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply, as I am very interested in your thoughts on this issue.

Yours sincerely

I Want My £1500 Back!!!

December 9, 2008

The Queen’s Speech last week contained the government’s proposals regarding yet another new immigration bill.  Apparently, immigrants must now “earn” citizenship, and if we volunteer and don’t have a criminal record, we can get citizenship in as little as 6 years.  If you don’t volunteer, it may take as long as 10 years.  At the moment, people on work permits have to be here for 5 years to qualify for citizenship.  People on spousal visas have to be here for two years to qualify for unlimited leave to remain and after an additional three years can apply for citizenship.
And after you are a citizen, you STILL can’t access benefits for another 1 – 5 years.

Also, there was a suggestion that people who are here on family visas, whose relationships have broken down will be asked to leave.  Right now, if your marriage breaks up during the two-year limited leave period, you have to leave, but not if it breaks up after you have unlimited leave (hence the use of the term “unlimited”).  I wonder if this means that you  now will be deported if you divorce during this period.  This would mean that you would have to be married for up to 10 years before you’re “safe”.  Now, I intend to be married forever (touch wood) but a lot of marriages break up within 10 years, and often these marriages have produced children.   How is that custody arrangement going to work, if Mom lives in the UK and Dad lives in Australia?   What happened to the “family-friendly” Labour government? 

Plus, how is this going to impact the No Recourse campaign – it sounds like there might now be No Recourse for up to a decade!! (But Jacqui Smith is a feminist!!  Really she is!)

Interestingly, this is NOT what last year’s green paper said.  The idea of “earning” citizenship was in there, but the government was actually going to force people to apply for citizenship after three years.  Obviously there were serious issues with this plan as well – what would people from countries that forbid dual nationality do?  Plus, it was pretty obvious from the paper that the government was hoping that holding citizenship would make people feel “British” (whatever that means) rather than having to make an actual effort to improve social cohesion, say by not appointing an immigration minister who manages to say something racist every time he opens his mouth.  I can only imagine the recession meant that scapegoats were needed, fast, and the spectre of immigrants stealing “our benefits” was impossible to resist.

Finally, the government is going to raise a “levy” on migrants to pay for our impact on local services.

  • It cost me £135 to apply for permission to get married – yes, you need government permission to marry a non-national in the UK.
  • It cost me £500 to apply for limited leave to remain at the Liverpool office.  I could have applied via post for the “low” price of £350, but that takes 4 – 14 weeks, and the government holds your passport during that time, and if they lose your application it’s your fault.
  • It will cost me between £500 – £750 pounds to apply for unlimited leave to remain when I am eligible in 2009.
  • Additionally, if there is a charge for the “life in Britain” test, I will have to pay that.
  • I will have to pay the cost of a “national identity” card.
  • When I apply for citizenship, I will have to pay the fee for that, which is currently £750, and will undoubtedly be more by the time I can actually apply.
  • In addition to all this, I pay taxes on my income, and I pay council tax. 
  • I am not eligible for benefits, so while everyone is worried about the credit crunch, I do wake up nights terrified of losing my job.  We can’t live on my partner’s income alone, and the government is quite literally happy to see me starve.

There is no way that the hour I spent in the Liverpool office cost the government £500.  So, I have to ask:

WHAT THE HELL DID THEY DO WITH MY MONEY?!??!?

Even if I never apply for citizenship, it will have cost me upwards of £1500 to marry my partner and for us to live in the same country.  And the government is already getting all of my tax money as well.  Study after study has shown that the average immigrant actually contributes more money to the government than the government spends on her.  So the government is already profiting from immigration.

I want my money back!

 

According to The Independent, High Court Judges have ruled that asylum-seekers from the DRC whose claim has failed should be deported.  This means that approximately 5 000 people face imminent deportation.

The DRC is currently in a state of civil war, with an estimated 5 million people having been killed since 2002.  Women are at particular risk, as there as been a lot of documentation of the way in which rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war. The Amnesty International 2008 report states:

“Political and military tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) resulted in major outbreaks of violence in the capital, Kinshasa, and Bas-Congo province.  Unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the security forces and by armed groups were common across the country, in many cases directed at perceived political opponents.  Rape by security force members and armed group fighters continued at high levels.”

I’m appalled that the UK government is deporting anyone to the DRC right now – this amounts to a sentence of death.  I suggest writing to Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, and asking for an immediate moratorium on deportations to the DRC.  I’m not sure how effective this will be – she’s never appeared particularly concerned about the plight of asylum seekers in the past.  I will do research into other ways of resisting this appalling decision and post when I have more information.

In the meantime, Anxious Black Woman has written a lot about this, so head over to her blog.

An Open Invitation

December 4, 2008

Since this year’s RTN, there’s been a lot of discussion on all sides about the protest and counter-protest outside Spearmint Rhino, and Feminist Fightback has been criticised quite a bit for it’s role in the counter-protest.

My personal view is that some of these criticisms are valid, and worth exploring, while some are just scurrilous and slanderous.  For the record, Feminist Fightback does believe that trafficking for sexual slavery happens, and also opposes pimps, along with anyone else seeking to benefit from the exploitation of women.

I would urge everyone to come to a Feminist Fightback meeting and find out what we think for yourselves.   I don’t even agree with other members of Feminist Fightback on all issues, so I’m not issuing this invitation on the assumption that we’ll suddenly all agree with each other.  Sex-work/prostitution is a complicated issue and I’m sure feminists of all stripes will continue to disagree with each other.

However, you may find that we have more common ground than previously thought.  Or at the very least, that it’s possible for all of us to be in the same room without a fistfight breaking out.  And, you may find that it’s possible for you and your group to work with Feminist Fightback on other campaigns.  At the moment, we are active on 2 main issues:

1) Reproductive Freedoms, which for us means ensuring that a woman is free to choose to have or not to have a child, as she sees fit.  This involves campaigning for free abortion on demand, free birth control of a woman’s choice, decent healthcare for all on the NHS, a welfare state that ensures that no one chooses to end a pregnancy because she can’t “afford” a child, and an end to the demonisation of single mothers and migrant mothers in the popular press and government policy.

2) Migrants Rights, which for us means working in solidarity with the campaigns of migrant workers, opposing the detention of asylum seekers, opposing all forms of immigration control, and doing what we can to offer solidarity and support to migrant women’s groups and their campaigns (eg. we do what we can to support the No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign, and we work closely with the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and the All African Women’s Group).

For those of you in London and the South, our next meeting is:

Saturday 13 December from 3- 5.30 pm, Arbour Community Centre, 100 Shandy Lane, Stepney Green, E1 4ST

Feminist Fightback London meets the 2nd Saturday of the month at that location.

For those of you north of the Watford Gap, Feminist Fightback is co-sponsoring “Feminism and the Student Movement”, also 13 December, 11 – 5pm at the University of Manchester Student Union. 

The next Feminist Fightback North meeting has not been scheduled yet – but I’ll let everyone know when it is.

With other anti-capitalist feminist groups, we are also involved in organising “Gender, Race & Class: An Anti-Capitalist Feminist Event” which will take place in London on 14 February and in my opinion will be the most awesome feminist conference of all time.  More info to follow.

I think it’s important to remember, that basically, we’re all on the same side.  People of good will can disagree with each other; it doesn’t mean that anyone is “evil.”  It’s possible to build a feminist movement where disagreements are aired openly in a civil and respectful manner, and dissent is valued, and where we still work together on issues where there is agreement.