As government plans to build a new prison wing in Nigeria are unveiled, it’s clear that it’s not just the Windrush generation experiencing the harsh reality of UK immigration policy.
The Windrush scandal has exposed a whole generation made to face a wall of cruelty this country reserves only for those deemed at the very bottom. As David Lammy cried in a recent speech at the House of Commons, there should be a “national day of shame”.
And he’s not far off. The scandal has indeed filled the nation with shame – and ripples of rage have appeared in unlikely places. Amber Rudd called it “appalling”, the Daily Mail was uncharacteristically indignant and even the queen of hostile environments, Theresa May, apologised.
The stories published about the Windrush generation are tales of people who have lived in the UK for decades, tirelessly working and raising families here. Rightly, their contributions have not gone unnoticed. However, for many commentators these factors are proof of their commitment to British society – and it’s for this reason they must be given right to remain. They are considered the ‘worthy immigrants’. But what about those deemed ‘unworthy’?
On the question of people who have broken the law, the UK government is clear: “We are committed to increasing the number of Foreign National offenders removed from our prisons”.
Boris Johnson’s announcement on 7 March that £695 525 would be spent on building a new wing at Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos State is yet another step in this direction. If it goes ahead, the 112 new beds will be filled with Nigerian-born offenders, most likely removed from the UK on secret deportation flights. Transferring inmates out of the UK, of course, cuts immigration numbers down.
Prison transfer agreements, like the one the UK signed in 2014 with Nigeria, are not unusual. Similar deals exist with Pakistan, Albania, Rwanda, Jamaica and Libya. What it is uncommon though, is that the prison will be built to fulfil the 2014 deal. However, the UK government is unable to fall back on this agreement because the conditions of prisons in Nigeria are so poor. Currently, to transfer inmates there would break international law.
In 2017, human rights investigators found prisoners in the country were subject to “extrajudicial executions, torture, gross overcrowding and poor basic facilities.” Official capacity in Kirikiri is 1,056, however, as of March 2018 the prison held approximately 5,000 inmates, while 3,700 of the prisoners have been awaiting trial for five years or more.
The offer to build this new wing sees the continuation of a relationship dating back to the slave trade, where Britain replaced the Portuguese as leaders in the region. The first British prison in Nigeria was planned in 1882. However, it was relentlessly targeted by anti-colonialists, who repeatedly set its mud walls on fire, until bricks had to be imported from England to rebuild it.
Kirikiri itself was built by the British in 1955.
The whole plan reeks of Britain’s colonial past, but the ongoing colonial relationship is not just found overseas. As we know, immigration is inextricable from Empire, with the majority of UK migrants coming from ex-colonies. The hostile environment May has fostered at home has predominantly targeted communities of colour, like those in the original Windrush generation.
Since the introduction of a scheme called Operation Nexus in 2012, the relationship between the police and the Home Office has grown ever closer. Nexus, which was initially trialled in London and is now active across the UK, requires police to pass details of all “foreign nationals or suspected foreign nationals” they “encounter or arrest” to the Home Office.
The Home Office say its aim is to ensure ‘high harm’ foreign offenders are transferred to the country they were born in. In practice, the net is cast far wider. The majority of immigrants targeted by Nexus have convictions for petty crime or crimes relating to their immigration status, such as “illegal working”, overstaying their visa or not having the right papers. The UK is not – as some of the media would have us believe – inundated with violent foreign criminals.
Not content with tearing up their parents’ and grandparents’ landing cards, the government is criminalising the children of the Windrush generation in its bid to deport them from the country.
It‘s precisely this criminalisation that‘s so dangerous. History has shown, time and time again, that when a community is deemed a threat, their imprisonment, detention and mistreatment becomes permissible. Prison transfers, Operation Nexus and immigration and incarceration policies are not just about arbitrarily whittling down immigration, they also create borders between us.
Johnson’s proposed prison wing comes in a long history of British imperialism and must be scrapped.