The video footage of a Syrian refugee being bullied is shocking, and it is right that we condemn it. But it didn't happen in isolationby Maya Goodfellow / November 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
Conservative Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood called it a “disgrace.” And it’s impossible to disagree. Footage of a fifteen-year-old a Syrian refugee, Jamal, being assaulted by another boy is appalling. He is dragged to the ground as his attacker tries to force water into his mouth, shouting “I’ll drown you.”
It’s not the first time something like this has happened in contemporary Britain. Last year a seventeen-year-old Kurdish Iranian boy was brutally attacked in Croydon by a gang of people after he told them he was an asylum seeker.
Just like Ellwood, then Conservative MP for the area, Gavin Barwell—who has since lost his seat in 2017 become Theresa May’s chief of staff—was appalled; he condemned the attackers as “scum.”
The responses of the two seem to make sense. But it’s much easier for them to take to Twitter with their disgust than engage in an analysis that recognises such violence is situated in a broader context; one where aggressively xenophobic, dehumanising politics and policies is the norm. A context they, as politicians, have helped create.
When Ellwood claimed—in a now-deleted tweet—that Britain is “supposed to be” a “friendly” and “welcoming country,” you have to wonder how he possibly understands his own government’s political project.
We do not know all the specific reasons or details of the attack against Jamal, which the police are investigating as a “racially aggravated-assault.” But what we do know is politicians like Ellwood have helped sustain and build a toxic climate for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. A climate where refugees and migrants are dehumanised as security threats, where the government proudly named a package of cruelly restrictive policies the “hostile environment” and where refugees are too scared to use the NHS.
For all their anger and disgust, as MPs both Ellwood and Barwell voted for stricter asylum system, which included them voting against giving people seeking asylum the right to work if a decision on their application takes over six months. Forcing people who are waiting on their applications to live on £37.75 a week, with scant access to legal support and risking destitution isn’t much of a welcome.
These individual MPs and their engagement with these acts of violence is a glimpse into what’s wrong with how the establishment talk about asylum and how they like to understand this country. Successive British governments talk…