Ira Putilova is free, for now. After days of relentless public pressure, the LGBT activist, who will face persecution if she returns to Russia, was released from Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Her friends posted a picture of her, smiling and tired on the train, to the Facebook group that had been set up in her defence. At the time of writing, it is not yet known whether she will be arrested and deported again. Ira was luckier than most: her worthy case got national attention, support from celebrities and demonstrations that drew hundreds. That, in all likelihood, is what forced a little charity out of an administration that seems determined to prove it has the appropriate contempt for foreigners, no matter the human cost.
The coalition’s tabloid-facing “tougher stance” on immigration is causing tragedy upon cold-blooded tragedy. On 28 November, despite national outcry, Nigerian asylum seeker Ifa Muazu was deported “home” – where he says he will be murdered by members of Boko Haram – on a private jet. This very public decision was taken despite the fact that Muazu was on hunger strike, starved to the point of death in protest at the inhuman treatment he received in Britain. Muazu would be facing death in Nigeria right now if the country hadn’t refused his plane permission to land.
Muazu, like many others – like my grandparents, and maybe yours too – came to Britain for “a better life”. He was met with the kind of orchestrated cruelty that shrugged at his certain violent death. It was a dark day indeed for this country when the word “asylum seeker” started to mean “a person who is a drain on the state”, rather than “a person in need of help”. But however much money those fleeing persecution and poverty elsewhere are supposedly costing us, there is somehow always the cash available to make sadistic gestures. The private jet that was hired to deport the now fatally ill Muazu “home” almost certainly cost the public purse many times what it would to allowed him leave to remain. That’s without factoring in the bill for holding him in detention for months – today, Muazu remains desperately ill in the medical wing of the Harmondsworth immigration centre in west London.
The fast-tracking of asylum cases is a statement of intent: please do not send us your tired, your poor, or your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If you do, we’ll send them back in a private jet. This government wants us to admire its big, tough, “muscular” stance on immigration. That’s why, earlier in the year, it paid for billboards advising foreign nationals to “GO HOME” to be driven around some of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the country – appropriating the language of far-right thugs in service of a darkening national mood of racial intolerance.
Thanks to Chris Grayling’s recent changes to legal aid services, foreign nationals who have been in the country for less than a year – including victims of rape, torture and political persecution – will no longer be able to access legal help to fight for their right to remain. But the Tories don’t want every single immigrant to go home. In fact, just weeks before she signed off on the deportation of a dying man in the dead of night, Theresa May launched a special “fast-track” service for “foreign business leaders”. Borders have always meant a great deal less to the global super-rich, but Britain has just made that policy official. Our borders are more open than ever to people who have or make money – but asylum seekers and persecuted activists are shipped home to suffer and die at public expense.