Last Friday I joined 300 migrants’ rights protesters gathered at St Pancras station, spilling fake blood and blocking passengers from travelling overseas. Here’s why.
On Friday 16th October, I was one of eight people who super-glued ourselves to the ticket barriers of the Eurostar at St Pancras International station in London.
Inside the station and waiting for the signal to go off, I looked around me; the place was packed with passengers. And with policemen. They suspected something; they had cordoned the area and were targeting people they thought were taking part in the action.
Suddenly, a chant boomed out from the 300 protesters who were milling around inside: ”Your borders kill! Your borders kill!”.
It was time. The crowd surged forward to the Eurostar ticket barriers. I ran to one of the eight turnstiles, put my body in the way, and glued my hands to each side – so people would not be able to pass through. I had made it! As police officer approached me, I shouted “I am glued!” to persuade him to not get any closer. He grabbed my hand and yanked it off the metal, bruising me and and ripping off skin.
Some of the others had successfully glued themselves to the barriers – majorly disrupting the running of the Eurostar that afternoon. Travellers could not get through the blocked barriers. Together, a friend and I then stuck ourselves to one of the columns that runs through the middle of St Pancras – right in the centre of the protest. We upturned pots of fake blood on ourselves. Others came to join us. Some would-be passengers ended up showing support and joining us. Others stayed to watch the action. But many were upset and abusive.
The England-France border symbolises freedom of movement for the privileged few, while migrants and refugees die trying to cross over from the other side of it. In 2015, over 3,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean, many of them women and children. More than 6,000 have died or gone missing trying to reach or stay in Europe this year. If Fortress Europe does not let in those that are most in need, then why should anybody have the privilege to cross the same borders with ease?
Our action was called by the Latin-American activist group The London Latinxsand other migrants, to continue the momentum around migrant and refugee rights. We organised along with Black Dissidents, Sisters Uncut and Brick Lane Debates, and others. We believe it is imperative to create a movement that is led by migrants, working with allies, to reach out to the general public to remind them that no human is illegal and that immigration policies supposedly created with the idea of protecting people’s lives make it impossible for many people to live a decent life.
By blocking the Eurostar gates, lying down in a “die-in”, chanting “this is what a border feels like”, we created an actual border that prevented the movements of people who otherwise have the privilege of crossing borders with ease. We wanted to make visible who it is that is prevented from crossing borders by turning things around, for mostly UK/EU citizens who have never experienced that kind of dehumanisation before. By impeding their freedom of movement, we challenged them to transform how they view migrants.
The fake blood was used to grab the attention of a populus bombarded with biased news, but without following the mainstream media tactic of using dehumanising pictures of dead bodies. The blood represented the lives that colonialism continues to take, the blood that is spilt from thousands of mainly black and brown communities as a result of governments failing to respond with humanity and the necessary historical analysis to understand why Europe is the power it is today, and why people are desperately knocking on our door.
These deaths are a direct consequence of European meddling in conflicts, colonialism and imperialism as well as racist and oppressive anti-immigration policies in place in the EU and the UK. It is because of EU policies that migrants are forced onto shoddy dangerous boats that cost them a fortune and sometimes their lives, instead of simply boarding planes. Migrants are fleeing the reality of war and poverty; they should not have to risk their lives again to reach the safety they are owed. Our governments are complicit and guilty and that’s why we decided to take action.
In the past few weeks, we have seen a growing momentum among the general public, with thousands joining the Refugees Welcome Here demonstration in London on the 12th September. Since the deaths of Alan, Galib and Rehana Kurdi, there has been a development of the discourse around migrants. Most newspapers have stopped using overtly racist language like “cockroaches”. We have seen a shift towards the idea of a moral responsibility of the West to provide shelter and safety for those fleeing conflict.
But there is a long way to go. The mainstream narrative of ‘sympathy’ with or ‘charity’ for refugees is not enough. We need to talk about responsibility. We need to talk about hypocrisy. We need to hammer home the point that it is countries like Britain who fuel the fire of the very conflicts and poverty that people have to run away from.
As such, they have a responsibility to stop fuelling murderous regimes. They also have a responsibility to stop funding the killing of migrants and instead use this money to guarantee the safe arrival and resettlement of migrants into the UK. But instead David Cameron’s government has pledged £22 million in funding to France towards security in Calais. This money will be spent on fencing and security measures that put the lives of migrants in Calais in further danger.
In this action we wanted to show that there are many kinds of borders. Migrants’ plights do not end once they reach countries like the UK. Police and immigration raids occur on a weekly basis. At present there are over 30,000 migrants locked up in detention centres, where the sexist and racist abuse has been widely documented. People coming here to find shelter end up in administrative nightmares, the luckier ones get pre-paid cards with about £35 per week to live on.
Last week the Immigration Bill, which pushes for even more draconian measures, was passed on its second reading. These include the right for authorities to deport a person first and have them appeal the decision later, and plans to force doctors and landlords to carry out checks on prospective tenants’ immigration status. These laws will reinforce discrimination against those who are seen as ‘foreign’.
We came together as migrants, people of colour, queer people, working class folk and allies to take action, inspired by detainees in detention centres who have been at the forefront of resistance; going on hunger strikes and fighting from the inside. We would like to acknowledge the diverse group of over 300 people who came together in this act of civil disobedience led by those people who experience oppression the most.
Be warned, this action is not a one off. We need strong, sustained resistance from all directions until we see an end to the racist, oppressive immigration system. The backlash we got during and following the action, with passengers verbally and physically abusing us and violent online bullying, reminds us that there is still much to be done. How can we say #RefugeesWelcomeHere when the far right is growing and the police continues to systematically get away with racial abuse?
We need a transformative migrant rights movement, politically and personally. This movement will connect the dots between different struggles: from climate change to housing, from fighting austerity as a whole to cuts specifically targeting women, BME and disabled people, from fighting the fascists to the movement to shut down detention centres.
We are joining a struggle that has been long fought and demanding our voices be heard through sustained action. #Yourborderskill
This article has been republished from Opendemocracy.net.