The EU’s new pact on migration: what’s next after all the shock, sadness, and solidarity talk?

The EU’s new pact on migration: what’s next after all the shock, sadness, and solidarity talk?

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The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

Over the past few years, the European Union has used deterrence as its main strategy to prevent an influx of refugees, becoming more hard-handed as the number of refugees has ...

Germany is a deeply racist country―stop pretending otherwise

While Germany has been lauded for agreeing to take in 1,700 refugees from refugee camp Moria that recently burned to the ground, the country has been cited as a role model for its rational, yet humane stance toward refugees ever since it took in more than one million people in a single year during Europe’s so-called ‘refugee crisis’. However, within the country a different type of crisis is brewing—one characterized by deep structural and societal racism. Only if Germany and international observers shake the deceptive perception of the country as ‘welcoming’, change can finally happen, writes Josephine Valeske.

Antirassismus Demo Berlin
Anti-racism demonstration in Berlin, September 2018. The banner reads 'Refugees welcome! Against racism and right-wing violence'. Credit: Uwe Hiksch on Flickr

Two weeks ago, only days after a ring of right-wing extremists was discovered in the German police force in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the police in what can be seen as a PR campaign asked Twitter users to use the hashtag #dankepolizei (‘thank you, police’) to tweet why they are grateful to the German police. The campaign backfired spectacularly. Within hours, there were hundreds of tweets using the hashtag to recount horrific instances of police violence, racial profiling, and verbal and physical abuse, many of them with an explicit focus on racism.

These instances are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Since the Black Lives Matter movement has put racism and police brutality on the public agenda in the USA, police violence has become a hotly debated topic also in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Left-leaning voices argue that racism in the German police force consists not, as leading police officials and politicians insist, of ‘Einzelfälle’ ―individual cases, exceptions to the rule―but that it is a structural problem. Despite mounting pressure on the ministry for interior affairs to gauge the extent and urgency of the problem, the German home minister, seen as one of the most right-leaning figures in Merkel’s cabinet, has repeatedly refused to conduct a study enabling a better understanding.

Meanwhile, the ‘Einzelfälle’ keep piling up. As far back as 2011, it became known that a right-wing group calling itself ‘NSU’ (National Socialist Underground) had murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2007, nine of them with Turkish roots. The crimes had been covered up for years by regional police forces and German secret services, partially by blaming the murders on the victims’ families while making use of racist stereotypes. The extent of the state’s involvement in the NSU and the cover up is yet unknown. Last year saw at least 1,664 attacks on refugees or refugee shelters in Germany, as visualised on this map. And on 20 February this year, a right-wing extremist gunman murdered nine people with a migration background and his mother in the town of Hanau.

This is just one form of direct violence driven by racism. Several less visible forms of racism plague Germany society. The question then arises: How come such multi-dimensional racism that has persisted throughout Germany has not been in the spotlight until now?

In White Innocence, Gloria Wekker in a fascinating dissection of racism in the Netherlands argues that the Dutch self-perception as an open, tolerant culture has led to many Dutch people ignoring racism even if it is staring them in the face. In a societal equivalent of “I have a black friend, so I cannot be racist”, instances of day-to-day racism are written off by referring to the Netherlands’ multicultural society. Although Germany’s culture and history are quite different, this observation struck a chord with me. Germany is often praised for how it remembers and deals with the crimes committed under Nazi rule, and a large share of the population likes to believe that it is anti-fascist. We all spent at least a year in high school studying and condemning the Holocaust, reading Anne Frank’s diary, and visiting former concentration camps―so we are obviously enlightened and anti-racist Germans!

This self-perception is wrong and incredibly dangerous. It takes the knowledge about a historical period and its atrocities as proof of a general ‘immunity’ to racist thought and behaviour. Because we know very well what happened in the past, we surely won’t repeat this, this logic goes. But while German education and commemorative culture emphasizes this historical period, others are completely erased. Perhaps only a few German students are aware of Germany’s colonial past and the genocide of the Herero and Nama in what was once German South West Africa (today’s Namibia), for example. This intentional forgetting has been labelled ‘colonial amnesia’. The German government has yet to answer to Namibia’s call for an official apology and reparations. The point is that Germany is selectively anti-racist and that racism in fact pervades everyday life, rooted in a ‘colonial amnesia’ and denial of structural racism and islamophobia that has persisted, albeit less visibly, after the Second World War.

When it comes to Germany’s supposedly humane refugee policy, Merkel is either lauded or hated for temporarily suspending the Dublin Agreement in 2015 and granting around one million refugees the possibility to apply for asylum in Germany. Whether her decision was indeed fuelled by humanitarian motives or simply a calculated move to combat Germany’s skilled worker shortage, we will never know. The Guardian recently called this Merkel’s “great migrant gamble”, as if the lives of a million people were no more than stakes in a game that could yield positive returns.

German government officials have time and time again emphasised they want to “fight the causes of flight”, leading to dubious development assistance deals that typically benefit the German economy more than the receiving countries – and to the death of thousands. In March 2016, Germany was the driving force behind a deal with Turkey in which the latter country gets paid to keep refugees out of Europe, after which the number of refugees entering Germany decreased considerably. Several such deals have since been made with North African countries like Libya even after full awareness that refugees are being tortured in Libyan detention camps financed with German and EU money. Germany is also a major contributor to Frontex, the European border ‘protection’ and coast guard agency that forces refugees to rely on ever-harder routes to Europe and has reportedly pushed back refugees, which makes it indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every year in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ironically, if Germany was serious about “fighting the causes of flight”, it should probably shut down its ministry of foreign affairs and its many weapons manufacturing companies first. Looking at the number of persons driven from their homes by wars in which the US and its allies, including Germany, are involved, and at the havoc Germany’s economic policies are wreaking in the Global South, the handful of refugees Germany has ‘accepted’ from Moria seem to be no more than a tool to keep up the country’s appearance as humanitarian and welcoming. Finally, it must be acknowledged that Germany is profiting from and supporting the global division of labour that is at the root cause of systemic poverty and thus causes many forms of migration in the first place.

The first step we can take as Germans is to stop pretending that we’re doing enough and that we’re doing it well, and to critically look at and address the myriad forms of racism originating in the country. We are failing spectacularly at making Germany a safe haven for those who need safety most―and we have the moral obligation to change that.

Josephine Valeske
About the author:

Josephine Valeske holds a MA degree in Development Studies from the ISS and a BA degree in Philosophy and Economics. She currently works for the Transnational Institute and is the manager of the ISS Blog Bliss. She can be found on Twitter @josephine_on_tw.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Moria’s male refugees need help just as much as anyone else

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When outright racism triggers migrant precarity: Britain’s Windrush Scandal and the need to move beyond arguments on legality by Anna Cáceres

[Versión en español abajo]

In 2018 Britain once again made news headlines, this time for the Windrush scandal that saw scores of British citizens with migration backgrounds wrongly detained and deported. Almost all were migrants from Commonwealth countries who had migrated to Britain after the Second World War and because of a series of policy changes starting in 2012 were no longer recognized as citizens by 2018. The scandal is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the importance of viewing ‘citizenship’ as a fluid, and indeed socially constructed, category, rather than a binary legal designation. Second, it shows how racism, when coupled with racially exclusive constructions of national identity, can be a more important trigger for migrant precarity than legal status.

The UK’s increasing flirtation over the last decade with right-wing populist discourses on migration has been well-documented and came to a legislative climax with the passing of a migration policy package known as the Hostile Environment (HE) by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012. HE policies ostensibly sought to increase the ‘voluntary return’ rate of undocumented migrants in the UK, but in effect acted to flip the burden of proof in migration cases. Whereas previously it was up to migration enforcement officials to prove the undocumented status of an individual, HE ensured that it was now up to an increasingly random array of non-specialist civil society actors to police the migration status of their fellow residents. Such actors came to include employers, benefit officers, healthcare providers, and landlords.

It was not until 2018, when The Guardian exposed the treatment of legal migrants under HE, that criticism started to gain real traction and several internal investigations were launched. Central to this coverage was a portion of British residents known as Windrush Migrants (WM)—Commonwealth citizens who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973. This group was severely and systematically swept up in the HE despite having the legal right to reside in the UK.

In essence, the HE acted to reintroduce migration-related precarity into the lives of WMs, individuals who had lived in the UK for decades and no longer viewed themselves as ‘migrants’. In the literature on precarity, it is emphasised that migrants experience both traditional socioeconomic precarity—i.e. low-pay, inherently unstable work—and migration-specific forms by virtue of being non-citizens. Problems with legal status, ‘deportability’, and everyday discrimination are all common examples. However, the focus on ‘citizenship’ is limiting, as it is typically defined as a binary legal construct: one either is, or is not, a citizen.

WMs pose a unique example of a group who were citizens and then became non-citizens. Here, the history of Windrush migration is exceedingly important: most WMs had equal citizenship status to British-born residents at the time of their arrival. The passage of the British Nationality Act of 1948 had granted citizenship status, including permanent residency rights, to all subjects of the Commonwealth. These rights were progressively stripped back with the passage of several immigration acts in the 1960s and 1970s, which began differentiating between Brits born on mainland Britain and those born outside of it.  By the time the Immigration Act of 1971 came into force in 1973, individuals from the Commonwealth had been downgraded from ‘British citizens’ to ‘foreign immigrants’. The case of WMs thus shows that citizenship is a fluid category, which can and is reconstructed as suits the needs of the politics of the day.

Even more importantly, citizenship as experienced by WMs was in the eyes of the beholder: white British residents. All of the WMs who were swept up in HE policies had a legal right to reside in the UK, and indeed would have been eligible for full British citizenship, had they even been aware that they didn’t have it already. Many individuals reported feeling stunned by their sudden designation as ‘undocumented migrants’ and indeed even felt betrayed by a country they perceived to be their own. Thus, Paulette Wilson, born in Jamaica but resident in the UK since 1968, had the following to say:

“I don’t feel British. I am British. I’ve been raised here, all I know is Britain. What the hell can I call myself except British […] I’m still angry that I have to prove it. I feel angry that I have to go through this”.[1]

Two things were at play in facilitating the reclassification of WMs as illegal outsiders under the HE. First was a shocking ignorance of the history of migration to Britain and the policies that governed it. Whilst this is not surprising when discussing the myriad members of the public who were being asked to police migration, specialists at the Home Office itself appeared to be blissfully unaware as well.

This collective amnesia about the legal rights and cultural significance of WMs was facilitated by the second factor: structural racism. By asking British residents to trigger immigration checks of their fellow residents, HE opened the floodgates for the harassment of ethnic minorities based entirely on non-specialist judgements of who ‘looks foreign’. That WMs were systematically perceived as ‘foreign’, despite having all the trappings of long-term residents—cultural knowledge, fluency in English, local accents etc.—is a reflection of racially exclusive construction of the British identity in popular memory.

This is to say that in cultural discourses, the historic presence of, and indeed significant impact made by non-white individuals in Britain has been written out at a systematic level. We see this in the all-white casts of British WWII films. We see it, too, in the violent hostility to Britain’s first black female MP, Dianne Abbott, who in a parliamentary career spanning over 30 years has been on the receiving end of the most abuse received by any female parliamentarian. Finally, we see it in a national History curriculum, which in the limited areas where migration is even mentioned does so in the context of ‘race relations’, effectively glossing over the agency of these individuals in favour of reconstructing the perpetually foreign migrant victim.

Windrush migrants present a uniquely fertile case study for migration scholars of all disciplines because of what it reveals about the interplay between citizenship and racism. More importantly however, the injustices of HE have flourished in a climate of wilful ignorance. The more scrutiny this case receives, the better.

[1] Amelia Gentleman, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019), P.40.

Selected literature:

Gentleman, Amelia, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019).

Olusuga, David, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London: Pan Macmillan, 2016).

Paret, Marcel and Gleeson, Shannon, ‘Precarity and agency through a migration lens’, Citizenship Studies (2016), Vol.20, issues 3-4, pp.277-294. 

Williams, Wendy, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, Independent Review for the House of Commons (March 19, 2020) [online] Available from: [Accessed on, April 1, 2020].

Anna CarceresAbout the author:

Anna Cáceres is currently finishing her ResMA in Migration History at Leiden University. Her research focuses on migration and the British public healthcare system since WWII. She is particularly interested in the historic roots of contemporary migration discourses and the role – or lack thereof – of history in national identity.


Title Image Credit: Steve Eason on Flickr. The image has been cropped.

Cuando el racismo abierto produce la precariedad de inmigrantes: el escándalo de Windrush en el Reino Unido y la necesidad de sobrepasar el enfoque sobre legalidad por Anna Cáceres

En el 2018 el Reino Unido estaba de nuevo en los medios, esta vez por el escándalo de Windrush que vio a cientos de ciudadanos Británicos con antecedentes migratorios incorrectamente detenidos y hasta deportados. Casi todos eran inmigrantes de países de la Mancomunidad[1] que habían inmigrado al Reino Unido en los años siguientes a la segunda guerra mundial, pero que en 2018, bajo nuevas políticas introducidas a partir del 2012, no eran más reconocidos como ciudadanos Británicos. El escándalo es importante por dos razones. Primero, demuestra la importancia de concebir al “ciudadano” como una categoría fluida y construida socialmente, en vez de una designación binaria legal. Segundo, demuestra cómo el racismo, cuando se encuentra mezclado con construcciones de la identidad nacional que son racialmente exclusivas, puede ser un catalizador para la precariedad de inmigrantes más importante que el estatus legal.

En la última década, el creciente alineamiento del Reino Unido (RU) con los discursos populistas de derecha sobre la inmigración ha sido ampliamente documentados, y llegando a su clímax legislativo con la aprobación de políticas sobre la inmigración llamado el Ambiente Hostil (AH) por la coalición Conservadora- Liberal Demócrata en el 2012. Las políticas del AH aparentemente buscaban aumentar la tasa de ‘retorno voluntario’ por los indocumentados, pero en actualidad sirvieron para invertir la carga de prueba en casos de migración. Mientras antes era la responsabilidad del oficial migraciones aprobar el estatus indocumentado de las personas, AH aseguró que ahora una jurado aleatoria y no especialistas de miembros del público,   estaban a cargo de vigilar el estatus migratorio de sus compañeros residentes. Este jurado llegó a incluir empleadores, oficiales a cargo de subsidios estatales, proveedores de servicios médicos, y propietarios.

No fue hasta el 2018, cuando The Guardian expuso el tratamiento de inmigrantes legales bajo el AH que las críticas ganaron verdadero apoyo y varias investigaciones internas fueron iniciadas. Una de las piezas centrales de esta cobertura mediática fue una porción de residentes Británicos conocidos como los Inmigrantes del Windrush (IW) – ciudadanos de la Mancomunidad que llegaron al RU entre el 1948 y el 1973. Este grupo fue severa y sistemáticamente marginalizados por el AH, aunque tenían el derecho legal de permanecer en el RU.

Esencialmente, el AH sirvió para reintroducir una situación de precariedad de inmigrante a las vidas de los IW, personas que llevaban décadas viviendo en el RU y ya no se veían como ‘inmigrantes’. En la literatura sobre la precariedad, se pone énfasis en que los inmigrantes sufren una forma de precariedad atada al estatus de ser inmigrantes, además de la precariedad tradicional, económica – es decir sueldos bajos, y empleo inestable –  a causa de no ser ciudadanos. Dificultades legales, la posibilidad de ser deportados, y la discriminación cotidiana son todos ejemplos comunes de la precariedad de los inmigrantes. Sin embargo, el enfoque sobre la ‘ciudadanía’ es limitante, porque en general la ciudadanía está definida como una designación binaria y legal: uno es, o no es, un ciudadano/a.

Los IW son un ejemplo único de ciudadanos que fueron convertidos en no-ciudadanos. Aquí, la historia de la inmigración del Windrush es sumamente importante: El Acto de la Nacionalidad Británica del 1948 dió estatus legal equivalente a los residentes natales del RU, incluyendo derechos de residencia, a todos los sujetos de la Mancomunidad, y entonces también a la mayor parte de los IW. Estos derechos fueron poco a poco revocados con el paso de varias políticas de inmigración en los años 1960s y 1970s, que empezaron a diferenciar entre británicos nacidos en RU y los nacidos afuera. Cuando llegó a promulgarse el Acto de Inmigración del 1971 en el 1973, las personas de la Mancomunidad ya habían sido degradadas de ‘ciudadano Británico’ a ‘inmigrante extranjero’. El caso de los IW demuestra que la ciudadanía es una categoría fluida, que se puede y es reconstruida para servir los intereses políticos del día.

Aún más importante, la ciudadanía experimentada por los IW era condicional y dependía de la aprobación del observador: en este case los residentes blancos del RU. Todos los IW afectados por las políticas del AH tenían un derecho legal a permanecer en el RU, y hasta hubiesen sido aptos para solicitar la ciudadanía británica completa, si se hubieran enterado que ya no la tenían. Muchos de ellos reportaron un shock terrible al darse cuenta que de repente estaban designados como indocumentados, y hasta se sentían traicionados por un país que percibían como el suyo. Así, Paulette Wilson, nacida en Jamaica pero residente en el RU desde el 1968 dijo lo siguiente:

“No me siento británica. Soy británica. Fui criada acá, todo lo que conozco es Gran Bretaña ¿Qué diablos puedo decir que soy sino Británica? […] Todavía estoy enojada que lo tengo que demostrar. Me siento enojada que tengo que pasar por esto” .[2]

Dos factores facilitaron la reclasificación de los IW como extranjeros ilegales bajo el AH. El primero fue una escandalosa ignorancia sobre la historia de la inmigración al RU y las políticas que la rigieron. Mientras esto no es sorprendente cuando consideramos la miríada de miembros del público que fueron reclutados para vigilar la inmigración, miembros del ministerio del interior también aparentaron estar felices con su ignorancia en el tema.

La amnesia colectiva sobre los derechos legales y la significancia cultural de los IW estaba facilitada por un segundo factor: el racismo estructural. En pedir que los residentes Británicos inicien investigaciones migratorias contra sus compañeros residentes, el AH abrió las puertas al acoso de minorías étnicas basado exclusivamente en el juicio de no-especialistas en quien “parecía extranjero”. Que los IW estaban sistemáticamente percibidos como “extranjeros”, aunque tenían todas las características de residentes de largo plazo – conocimiento cultural, fluidez en el inglés, acentos locales etc. – es un reflejo de la construcción popular de una identidad Británica que es racialmente exclusiva.

En los discursos culturales en Gran Bretaña, existe una amnesia colectiva sobre la presencia histórica, y el impacto significante creado por personas no blancas. Esto los vemos en los repartos completamente blancos de las películas Británicas de la segunda guerra mundial.  También lo vemos en la hostilidad violenta dirigida a la primera parlamentaria negra del país, Dianne Abbott, que en una carrera que ha durado más de 30 años ha recibido más abuso que cualquier otra mujer parlamentaria. Finalmente, lo vemos en un currículo nacional de historia, que en los pocos lugares donde se menciona la inmigración, se hace solo en el contexto de las “relaciones raciales”, efectivamente encubriendo la voluntad de estas personas en favor de reconstruir un inmigrante perpetuamente victimizado.

Los IW presentan un caso únicamente fecundo para investigadores de la inmigración de todas disciplinas por lo que demuestran sobre el intercambio entre ciudadanía y racismo. Aún más importante, las injusticias del AH han florecido en un ámbito de ignorancia intencional. La mayor atención que se le dé a este caso, mejor.

[1] La Mancomunidad de Naciones es una asociación de países que formaban la mayor parte del imperio Británico. Se inauguro en el 1926, cuando empezaron las primeras holas de descolonización y ha sido una forma de mantener influencia británica en estos territorios.

[2] Amelia Gentleman, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019), P.40.

Literatura Seleccionada

Gentleman, Amelia, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (London: Guardian Faber, 2019).

Olusuga, David, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London: Pan Macmillan, 2016).

Paret, Marcel and Gleeson, Shannon, ‘Precarity and agency through a migration lens’, Citizenship Studies (2016), Vol.20, issues 3-4, pp.277-294. 

Williams, Wendy, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, Independent Review for the House of Commons (March 19, 2020) [online] Available from: [Accessed on, April 1, 2020].

Anna CarceresBio de la autora:

Anna Cáceres está terminando su  ResMA en Historia de Inmigracion en la Universidad de Leiden. Su investigación se concentra sobre la inmigración y el sistema de salud pública en el Reino Unido a partir de la segunda guerra mundial. Está particularmente interesada en las raíces históricas de los discursos actuales sobre la inmigración y el rol – o no, como sea el caso – de la historia en construir la identidad nacional.


Crédito de la imagen del título: Steve Eason en Flickr. La imagen ha sido recortada.