Migrant, Refugee, and BAME Communities Speak out Against Public Silence

As migrant and BAME groups in Britain, we reaffirm our fundamental right to the freedom of expression, and publicly to express our anxieties about the suppression of information on the history and lived experience of our communities.

Many of us arrived in the UK as migrants and as refugees, seeking safety from war and repression, and the effects of racism, persecution and colonialism both past and present. As a result, we know their oppressive impact on our communities, and can identify where many of the current experiences of injustices we face in Britain today are also based on racism and colonialism.

These problems are having a destructive impact on public discussions about race and immigration. It is therefore our responsibility – and also our right-  to relay our direct experiences of human rights abuses suffered here and abroad, as well as their structural and historical causes, to address them. This democratic obligation is recognised in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, to “receive and impart information”, and provides the basis for a democracy to function. As the Institute for Race Relations recently confirmed, our communities: “have a right to be heard, to make…information public, while others have the right to hear them, and the arguments based on these facts”.

We are deeply worried about current attempts to silence a public discussion of what happened in Palestine and to the Palestinians in 1948, when the majority of its people were forcibly expelled. These facts are well established and accessible, are part of the British historical record, as well as the direct experience of the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinian community in the UK has raised the disturbing absence of key information about these past and current injustices, and highlighted the racism it exposes then and now.

Public discussion of these facts, and a description of these injustices, would be prohibited under the IHRA’s guidelines, and therefore withholds vital knowledge from the public. This silencing has already begun. Today we can freely describe the racist policies experienced in the era of British and European colonialism in our countries of origin (indeed it is taught in British schools), but the colonial history of the Palestinians is continually erased. This is a dangerous breach of our own rights, and of the wider British public: we must all hear the full story of the Palestinians in order to make sense of the current discussions about racism and Israel.

We also know of the efforts by organisations – including UK-based fundamentalist groups aligned with the far-right in the US – to deny Palestinians’ basic humanity by suppressing their entire history and current plight. At the same time, hard-line conservative groups in the US, such as the Middle East Forum, are providing funding and support to anti-Muslim extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), deliberately increasing hatred, fear, and confusion. These coordinated efforts by right-wing extremists are being actively encouraged by President Trump’s racism and fear-mongering, which is now aimed at dismantling UNRWA, the UN agency that protects Palestinian refugees.

Over this past year, several terrible events have demonstrated the dangers of silencing migrant and BAME communities. The fatal fire at Grenfell Tower and the shameful Windrush scandal have shown the active legacies of British colonialism, where racism forms an integral part of British policies, and renders our communities invisible. This denies our dignity and humanity, and our right to fair treatment under the rule of law: the bedrock of British society.

We urgently remind politicians and public bodies of their responsibilities to uphold the principles of the Human Rights Act for every British citizen and resident in the UK equally, especially the direct victims of colonialism, racism, and discrimination. As migrant and BAME communities we stand as one, united against all attempts to suppress our voices and our calls for justice, freedom and equality.

Signed by 84 BAME and migrant organisations.

  • This letter was first published in The Independent on 17.8.2018 and can be viewed here together with the full list of signatories. Additional signatories including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can be viewed here.