‘Illegal’ is a fast-growing category of non-person. Or, as US Customs and Border Protection call them, ‘inadmissables’. These are now the most visible among what Franz Fanon called ‘the Wretched of the Earth’.
The UN estimates that the world now contains 71 million displaced people, 29 million of whom are refugees displaced from their home country, including 3.5 million registered asylum seekers.
These are the most high-profile – and also the most vilified – of the victims of the global crisis. Their displacement is the result of some combination of four factors: war, genocide, poverty, and climate change. People leave their homes either because they are in fear of their lives or because they face destitution if they stay put. They leave their homes because they have no hope if they do not.
The world is like this because capitalism is geared to private profit, not human need or ecological balance; because it is a system of competing corporations and rival states whose purpose is to enrich the 1%. Greed and power are all that matter.
The ‘inadmissables’ are the system’s collateral damage. Not only that: they are also its ideological shock-absorbers.
As the system wrecks people’s lives, it leaves behind great pools of social despair. This might crystallise into anger against the system – against the asset-strippers, the privatisers, the landlords, and the corporate debt-collectors. So the system allocates a special role to its ‘inadmissables’. Let them, the poorest of the poor, the most powerless of the powerless, take the blame.
So important is this role that demand quickly outruns supply. So valuable are ‘inadmissables’ that more are created. Take the case of the Indian province of Assam.
Indian state fascism
The Hindu chauvinist regime of Narendra Modi has just deemed 1.9 million residents of the north-eastern province of Assam to be ‘illegal’. Hindu chauvinism – as my colleague Seema Syeda has explained in the second edition of our book Creeping Fascism – is the Indian form of fascism. ‘A new revolution, to defeat the alien enemy, is beckoning,’ proclaims a promotional song of India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). ‘Bravely let us shield our motherland.’
The NRC leaves no-one in doubt as to the identity of the ‘alien enemy’. The official NRC Facebook page displays a message from an Israeli woman that reads: ‘This Israeli sends her love to India: I stand with India in their fight against Pakistani terror.’
Modi has just put mainly-Muslim Kashmir – a territory in dispute between India and Pakistan since Partition, and contested in three subsequent wars between the two countries – under martial law.
The NRC is turning Assam Muslims who fled Bangladesh in 1971 into ‘illegals’. At the same time, Modi’s BJP party is considering a bill to enshrine the rights of Hindu migrants in law. Pakistan is the external enemy. Muslims are the internal enemy. The long-term aim is an exclusive Hindu state.
What will happen to the newly created Assam ‘illegals’? They have been given a right of appeal – a grotesque travesty given India’s expensive, clogged-up, and increasingly chauvinist courts. ‘Everyone will be given a right to prove their citizenship,’ Assam’s BJP law minister told the BBC. ‘But if they fail to do so, well, the legal system will take its own course.’ Pressed further, he explained this meant deportation.
To where? Bangladesh has said it will not take them. So they will be locked up. The BJP regime is building new camps for the mass incarceration of Muslims deemed ‘illegal’.
The regime is also giving the green light to Hindu-fascist pogroms.
An estimated 24,000 Rohingya Muslims were murdered, 18,000 raped, and 116,000 beaten in state-backed pogroms in Myanmar in 2017. Around 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
A wave of Islamophobic violence by state police and communal mobs in Hindu-chauvinist India, a country of 1.4 billion people, where Muslims account for 14% of the population, could turn the Rohingya Genocide into a historical footnote.
American state fascism
Take another example: Trump’s America. The US operates the world’s largest migrant detention system. Around 20,000 people are held on the US-Mexican border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), more than 50,000 elsewhere in the country by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and more than 11,000 children by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
As well as deporting around a third of a million people at the south-western border each year, the US state is currently targeting around one million ‘illegals’ inside the country in paramilitary-style raids, arresting and incarcerating hundreds of workers at a time, many of them with children at home, who are then left abandoned. Conditions inside US concentration camps can include: families separated and children either incarcerated apart from their parents or left to fend for themselves; hundreds of sweating men held in wire pens in the heat; lack of access to showers, washing facilities, and toothbrushes; lack of access to private toilets; lack of access to clean clothes; lack of hot meals or even enough food.
At a camp in El Paso, Texas, 900 migrants were ‘being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people.’ One observer described the facility as a ‘human dog pound’.
Children at a facility in Clint, Texas, were reported sleeping on concrete floors. Observers described ‘children as young as 7 and 8 … wearing clothes caked with snot and tears’. A doctor described camps he had visited as ‘torture facilities’.
European state fascism
Now let’s take a look closer to home.
The EU currently has around 900,000 asylum seekers in limbo, their applications for entry pending, most of them incarcerated in detention centres. The rejection rate has risen from 37% in 2016 to 64% in 2019. So a majority of the people held will, in due course, be deemed ‘illegal’ and deported back to the violence and poverty from which they have fled.
Around 9,000 of these people are living in a concentration camp at Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos. Here, people live in metal containers or tents surrounded by rubbish. More than 70 people share a toilet. Raw sewage seeps into children’s mattresses. Suicide attempts are at epidemic level. Traumatised children held in the camp draw pictures that show stormy seas dotted with terrified faces, lifeless bodies floating in the waves, planes dropping bombs, and eyes that weep blood.
Around 140,000 people reached Europe across the Mediterranean last year. But many who tried failed to make it. Some were drowned: an average of six a day. But many were herded back by EU-funded Libyan coastguards, many recruited from warlord militias, and many of these ended up among the estimated 5,400 held in Libyan concentration camps. Crowded into huge breezeblock and corrugated iron warehouses, hundreds together, they sleep on bits cardboard. Most are considered by refugee agencies to be ‘at risk’, and there are reports of murders, rapes, suicides, and deaths from disease and starvation.
In another part of the Med, the EU has paid the authoritarian regime of President Erdogan £4.6 billion in aid to prevent Syrian refugees reaching Europe. Around 3.5 million are living in the country. Some have been shot dead by Turkish police and army. Thousands have been driven back across the border into the war zone. Only 200,000 are accommodated in camps, though some of these are little more than giant warehouses for surplus people. The rest are rooting for themselves on the margins of society and dodging police raids against the ‘unregistered’ (another of the terms favoured by state racism). A measure of the extreme marginalisation of the refugees is that an estimated 80% of Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school.
Britain holds about 25,000 people in detention centres. The Guardian described conditions thus: ‘In some senses, they look, sound, smell, and taste just like prisons: bland food, bleak corridors, standard-issue tracksuits and blue flip-flops, and the mechanical clunk at 9pm when everyone is locked in for the night. But Britain’s network of immigration removal centres are a case apart for the 25,000-plus people who pass through one each year: there is no rehabilitation, no criminal sentence, very often no time limit on the loss of liberty. Many of those incarcerated say the conditions are far worse than actual prison.’
The British state – under the Brexit regime of Boris Johnson – is promising further repression. The Tories are talking about raising the income threshold for immigrants from £30,000 to £36,700 per year – this being the amount they must earn to secure residence rights. This, one assumes, will now be applied to a new category of ‘illegals’. Around 40% of the 3.6 million EU citizens resident in Britain are being denied permanent residency in the run-up to Brexit on 31 October. Their plight was encapsulated by the televised plea on 29 August of a Portuguese woman who has lived and worked in Britain for 20 years. ‘I have no voice… The resettlement scheme is not working… I can’t just be kicked out… I am very angry,’ she told a Sky News reporter.
This is the true meaning of Brexit for the working class: the division of the population into ‘nationals’ and ‘illegals’. This is the face of state fascism.
This is what fascism looks like
The ‘illegal’ Muslims of Assam and the ‘illegal’ Europeans in Britain have not actually done anything to earn their new status: it has been imposed upon them by the state. They have not murdered a black man in a cell like some police do. They have not stolen public money by fiddling their expenses like some MPs do. They have not sexually abused children like some celebrities do. They have not dodged their taxes like some corporations do. The Muslims of Assam and the Europeans in Britain have not done any of these things. Instead, simply by virtue of who they happen to be, they have been designated ‘illegal’, reclassified as ‘unregistered’, turned into ‘inadmissables’, by a nationalist-racist state.
How many people were held in Nazi concentration camps in 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, more than six years after Hitler first came to power? Compared with what was to come, not many. One estimate puts the number at 21,000.
When the war ended, of course, there were three-quarters of a million in the camps, and some 12 million had been murdered. It was the war, and in particular the Nazi conquest of Poland and western Russia, that created the context for interwar fascism’s hideous culmination in the Holocaust.
Fascism is a process. It has begun again.
The people of the world must organise, mobilise, and fight – by any means necessary – to stop the wave of nationalism, racism, ande fascism that is now threatening to engulf us. And we must face the hard and simple fact that the main enemy is the state itself.
The upsurge of mass resistance to the Brexit Coup has to be seen as part of a global struggle to smash second-wave fascism.
Never again! Onto the streets!
Stop the Coup! Stop Brexit!
All Migrants are Welcome Here! No-one is Illegal!
Neil Faulkner is the author, with Samir Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.