When I was nine years old, I got called out in my R.E class. I was the only brown girl amongst a class of 30, and my teacher wanted to know what it meant to be a Sikh. I sat there silently and didn’t say a word. Being asked such a question had almost felt like a punishment. As some of my classmates laughed, others stared at me without blinking, waiting for an answer that I did not have. I was nine, and I didn’t know then nor do I know now the answer to what I was asked. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was a lack of representation in the educational system, within my school. I didn’t grow up reading authors with names like mine. I wasn’t taught about the British Empire in my history class. When studying both World Wars One and Two – described to me as ‘white wars’ – my teacher forgot to mention that 1.5 million Indian’s fought for Britain on the frontline, majority of which died for the ‘mother country’ that did not care for them in return. I grew up knowing nothing about who I was and where my people came from, but one thing my father always told me was, “you have every right to be here”. This means more to me now in 2021 that it did when I was nine.
It seems like you and I have some things in common. Both of our grandparents fled countries in the Global South to come to a land that promised them safety. My father came to Britain with his parents in the early sixties for a better life, as did yours. And you and I were both born into a country that was sworn to offer us equal opportunity irrespective of the colour of our skin. I always thought that if there were more people that looked like me within the parliament, then maybe the fears I had of being “the other” in a country that owned my birth-right would slowly disappear. This was far from what I thought. I guess you could call it naivety but who could’ve guessed that the brown girl with refugee parents standing next to the Prime Minister would rather watch innocent people drown than guide them to safety.
The irony is paralysing.
My time spent as a third generation immigrant, meant that I would visit my grandparents and watch them hide their ethnic passports and documentation, ready for the day that they “were told to leave”. As a child, I blamed this on pure paranoia. I realise now that they were ahead of their time and this was in-fact smart contingency planning. “You have every right to be here and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” My fathers words that I heard so much of throughout my life, only now gave me meaning.
Your ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’ is far from anything that claims to be ‘fair’. Criminalising anyone who takes part in the rescue of refugees and migrants crossing the English Channel. Innocent children, mothers, fathers, grandparents. People. No more and no less than you and I. We don’t get to choose where we come from, who we are, what language we speak or what colour our skin is, but each human deserves the right to a dignified life. Who are you to dismiss them from that? The fact of the matter is simple. Imperial Britain ravaged many countries in the Global South and is currently still an active harbinger of death and destruction through its arms exports. In the end, this country always had their hands stuck in the jar of destruction at the expense of people’s livelihoods. This bill serves as a reminder that the words ‘Great’ and ‘Britain’ are mutually exclusive. Citizenship for some is guaranteed and for others its provisional.
Home Secretary, do you ever think to yourself that had your parents not fled their homeland for a better life, that you would quite possibly be in this position yourself? Running the risk of drowning at sea in a bid to fight for a more dignified life? At the mercy of a state that dehumanises your human body in migration detention centres and monitors your allowance of £35 a week whilst looking the other way when its millionaires evade tax.
From planting wave machines in the channel to refugee camps on abandoned oil rigs, these acts not only go against common human rights, but display a terrorising act of inhumane decency. The mantra of “us” and “them” is what will keep inequality and racism alive in this country. I still think back to that nine year old girl, that so deeply asked for any kind of representation in life. I know now that representation rings hollow when those that claim to represent you act against your collective interests.
So Home Secretary, just remember that if you lacked political status, economic privilege, and social legitimacy, then you too would be one home office letter away from going “back to where you came from”.