This guest blog is by Nasrin Warsame, a volunteer buddy at Migrants Organise. It is part of our series of blogs focussing on ‘Solidarity Knows No Borders’: the weekend of action against the Hostile Environment.
Migration is Life, No Recourse to Public Funds Kills – Justice for Mercy Baguma
Solidarity knows no borders
Desperately trying to extract some semblance of humanity, the news anchor repeats for the third time, ‘I’m trying to give you the opportunity to be compassionate’. The Secretary for Work & Pensions, to whom the invitation was offered, was speaking about the story of Mercy Baguma. Mercy Baguma was an asylum seeker who, due a change in her immigration status, was unable to work and had no recourse to public funds. She was left destitute. On the 22 of August 2020, she was found dead in a flat in Glasgow next to her starving baby.
Upon hearing the story, the minister could only robotically repeat the contours of the policy which had led to her death. No accountability and no remorse.
This exchange represents the blatant disregard for human life at the core of Hostile Environment policies directed towards refugees and asylum seekers. The policy targets those who have already made the difficult and often life-threatening journey to the UK, reducing many to poverty and consigning others to life shut out of education, work and home – all the necessities of life.
We need an urgent change in the Home Office policies, a change which reflects the moral ethic that the lives of people who seek asylum are valuable, preservable and grievable.
The ineligibility of asylum seekers to receive help through public funds is a twin violence to the precarious situations, and threat to life, that they have tried to leave. In her poem ‘Home’, Warsan Shire wrote:
No one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark
Her poem is one I go back to frequently. I see so much of my parents and myself in this account, not only because like Shire, my family also left Somalia to escape war, but because Shire’s writing encompasses a multitude of hurdles one experiences when seeking refuge. It encompasses the trauma and violence before the journey, en route, and finally in the host country, where dreams of an alternative life, of safety and security, are ground into dust.
How do we teach empathy and spread life-affirming politics? The unwillingness of the government to affirm and protect the lives of migrants will need a long fight to overcome. We will need to coordinate actions, fight disillusionment, bolster our collective optimism and share resources – whether that be money, time or public space. A transformation towards humane immigration policies will not only assert the bare essentials of life, but it will also cultivate the conditions in which human potential can be realised. We need policies where people can thrive, as well as survive.
Under ‘Dignity’ in the FIRM Charter, we demand an end to the No Recourse to Public Funds Conditions attached to some visas. One way of tackling the diminution of human dignity at the core of Hostile Environment policies is to assert that those who have lost their lives will be grieved. People seeking refuge are NOT disposable or expendable, and their lives will be recognised.
With Migrants Organise, I will be attending the Vigil to Commemorate the Lives Lost to the racist Hostile Environment policy to grieve for Mercy Baguma, Jimmy Mubenga and far too many others. Judith Butler affirmed that ‘even the utterance of a name can come as the most extraordinary form of recognition, especially when one has become nameless or when one’s name has been replaced by a number, or when one is not addressed at all.’
Ultimately, the Hostile Environment was not designed to sustain life, but rather diminish it. The Windrush Scandal has exposed the fragile ground of the concept of citizenship. The Covid-19 pandemic, and now recession, has exacerbated the pervasive structural inequality for migrant workers. Despite this, relational capacities are immense. This Weekend of Action demonstrates that there is a big nation-wide movement, co-ordinated under the FIRM Charter’s demands, ready to confront old systems and produce new possibilities of humanity, of justice, of positive social transformation.