Today migrant rights activist John O (who writes at http://ow.ly/e2rMK) is in court challenging an attempt by the government to prevent the disclosure of a secret ‘blacklist’ of 44 countries whose residents face tougher conditions for gaining entry to Britain and whose deportations are given higher priority (http://ow.ly/e2rPn). Various criteria are apparently used to assign countries to the blacklist, including ‘specific intelligence that a significant number of its nationals have breached or about to breach the immigration rules’. This echoes the ‘white list’ used previously to rapidly dismiss asylum applications from those countries considered ‘safe’ (http://ow.ly/e2rRO). There is also a smaller ‘rogues’ gallery of countries who have been named and shamed on the basis of poor relations with the UK’.
This amounts to collective punishment. In an extraordinary piece of ‘doublethink’, a government spokesperson was quoted as saying: ‘We expect our officers to treat individuals professionally regardless of their nationality and we take any allegation of discrimination seriously … The ability to differentiate between the risk posed by particular nationalities does not permit individual decisions to be made solely on the basis of a person’s nationality.’ This points to a contradiction at the heart of the UK asylum system. Asylum seekers face oppression from the British state on a collective basis – as non-citizens, as people who are overwhelmingly ethnic minorities and originating from countries that occupy an oppressed position within the capitalist system, and as people from countries with specific political and economic relationships to Britain. Yet they are expected to engage with the asylum system on a highly individualised basis, and any collective assertion of rights is considered illegitimate. The state has a very good reason for doing this – as a myriad of struggles throughout human history have shown, collective action is the most effective way, often the only way, for people lacking in material resources to resist their oppressors. Yet many asylum rights campaigners also fall in line with this individualised approach. For example, the ‘Anti-Deportation Toolkit’ (http://ow.ly/e2rVL) recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns contains a lot of excellent and useful information, but its repeated emphasis on the centrality of an individual facing deportation at the centre of the campaign precludes a collective struggle: ‘The person at risk of deportation should always be at the centre of the campaign. They make the decisions.’ There are alternative approaches, based on building political alliances amongst all those opposed to the government’s attacks on refugees, and making decisions collectively (within which individuals have control over the use of their personal details). This does not mean that the campaign is not accountable to people facing deportation, on the contrary it creates the possibility to build collective accountability, of all the members of the campaign toward one another, through an open democratic process. Ultimately such collective approaches are needed to challenge the collective character of refugees’ oppression that has been exposed once again through the blacklist.