Myrna Simpson, mother of Joy Gardner, at a protest in 1995. Photo: Getty
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Jimmy Mubenga: What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually?

Disrespected by the state, and demonised by the press - the most pressing "fears about migration" are those that belong to migrants.

Last month, an inquest jury of seven men and three women returned a majority verdict that Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully killed during a deportation. Yesterday the coroner published a report into the ease with which Mubenga’s life was taken by the state and its contractors.

What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually? The same one that produced the van driven through London's black and minority ethnic communities last week, inscribed with the slogan "go home".

The van was not the latest project of the English Defence League, or a far right splinter group, but a pilot campaign by the Home Office operating under the mandate of Parliament. The government had chosen to restore a chant made infamous by the National Front. A chant that greeted my grandparents and a generation of post-war British migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. A chant that was often accompanied by violence. The Home Office put that chant at the heart of a flagship campaign.

The timing was particularly insensitive: it was near the 20th anniversary of the death of Joy Gardner, a 40 year-old Caribbean mother killed in front of her five year-old son while the police attempted to deport her. It added to the feeling that Mubenga and Gardner’s deaths were not individual accidents, but the inevitable result of attitudes towards migrant citizenship in "modern" Britain. The coroner looking into the Mubenga case found "pervasive" racist attitudes among deportation guards in the same way that the Macpherson report found "institutional racism" in the police. 

The next question is this: why would G4S guards respect a migrant's life, when the message our political class has sent out is that migrant lives have no value in Britain - unless they are generating revenue for the Treasury?

The story of how Mubenga's wife became a widow, and his five children, all British born citizens - the youngest just three years old - lost their dad should make us ask why the state was forcibly removing a father from his family.

Commentators routinely complain about the absence of black fathers - most recently Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s disastrous piece of urban tourism in the Mail - but are silent on how the right to family life of black and minority ethnic Britons is restricted.

The Conservatives present immigration only as a problem and have pledged to cut net migration by more than 50 per cent in five years. Labour, meanwhile, cannot stop apologising for "getting it wrong on immigration". But neither party appears to be talking about American financiers, western Europeans or Britain’s Australian and Canadian cousins when they talk about problem migrants.

Some tabloids, meanwhile, routinely run headlines scapegoating migration as an existential threat to core parts of our welfare state - the NHS and our housing stock. Yet the papers rarely cover the frequency of violence against migrants when restrained and detained, or the trauma to their (often British-born) children. Migrants' own humanity is systematically obscured. 

A study by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD) published in April 2013 found that children who had been split from their parents who were in detention experienced weight loss, nightmares, insomnia, frequent crying and isolation. Each of these symptoms indicate a crisis of mental health. Over the past months a growing number of detained asylum seekers have starved themselves.

And for black and minority ethnic Britons, the suspicion does not end with a passport and a stamp of Britishness. Suggestions that the border police were targeting non-white people at Kensal Green station have alarmed many. Concerns over stop and search are already well known. The result is that BME Britons can feel like they only have the status of "visitors", not citizens.

Anti-racism has become a dead dogma. The average Briton knows racism is wrong but cannot recognise it in practice, even when the government borrows a slogan that was once enforced on signs with "no dogs, no blacks, no Irish". A recent poll by YouGov found that 61 per cent of people did not find the "Go Home" van to be racist.

That poll result shows that, although Doreen Lawrence has been made a baroness for fighting racism, Britain understands the subject less and less. It is not that the majority of the public want to be racist - they don't - they simply just do not get it.

After the death of Jimmy Mubenga, the head of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, David Wood, "apologised" in these words: "I am willing to apologise to the extent that it was our responsibility." More absurd than the shallowness of his apology was that Wood was apologising for doing his job. Crudely speaking, the drive to create a "hostile environment for migrants" is masterminded by our government. Sections of the press have played their part too. 

For Jimmy Mubenga, Joy Gardner and the many others treated violently by the state, justice will only be served by reform. That starts with the recognition that the "fears about migration" which may be most pressing are those that belong to the migrant.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.