Ignore the home secretary’s latest smokescreen as she wears a weird jacket with her job title on it during a police raid in East London.

First published in May 2021.

Priti Patel, weirdly wearing a jacket saying “Home Secretary”, at a raid on people suspected for “facilitating people smuggling”. It is a disturbing trend with politicians trying to deflect from controversies by appearing tough on things related to immigration.

Priti Patel joins raids as police arrest people-smuggling suspects accused of using minicab and lorry drivers to move migrants between France and UK. | Daily Mail

Why is it important to distinguish between Patel being at a raid on people alleged to be involved in smuggling and trafficking, and Patel being at an immigration raid?

I mean either way she is doing it for PR purposes to show she is tough on immigration, right?

Of course she is, and it would be naïve to think this didn’t have anything to do with recent public displays of support for migrants, or her own issues with being accused of breaching the Ministerial Code, but there is a secondary issue here.

Immigration is a highly charged subject, to put it politely. Only a couple of days ago James Kirkup wrote a piece, which I admit to having a number of disagreements with, regarding how and why migrants’ rights advocates keep losing on issues.

Now, one of the areas I disagree with Kirkup on – and something which has been flagged elsewhere – is the need to “understand” what are commonly termed as “legitimate concerns”. I think we should listen, engage, and then debunk and put forward a positive message.

Here is the issue though. That is a long process. There is a debate within advocacy circles at times as to whether you should argue the big stuff and then win smaller battles, or argue the smaller stuff and work up. I am a big stuff advocate myself.

I am also a “don’t give them an easy win” advocate. It was shown last week that there is public support to oppose immigration raids. You would be hard-pressed, especially I would argue among migrants’ rights advocates, to find anyone defending smugglers and traffickers that way.

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This is not black and white. The Home Office has a track record of prosecuting asylum seekers, who for a variety of reasons may have no choice but to steer boats, as smugglers. They routinely deny rights to victims of traffickers, and even deport them, etc.

It is also fairly obvious that Priti Patel is pulling this as a PR stunt to demonstrate that she is “tough on immigration”. All that said, she can also really, really, easily shoot down criticism by making it appear as if those who defend migrants’ rights defend those who exploit them.

It plays straight into her “do-gooders and activist lawyers are undermining the law” argument, despite the fact that the greatest threat to immigration and asylum law right now, both domestic and international, is Patel and the Home Office.

It is an automatic losing position to claim that it doesn’t matter if this is an immigration raid or a raid on organised criminals. Patel and the Home Office can play it out too well and undermine a lot of potential support for migrants’ rights campaigns.

I would argue, however, that it is perfectly okay to call out a home secretary rocking up to any form of raid wearing a jacket with her title on it like she is Judge Dredd or something, because let’s be honest, that’s just plain weird and not a little authoritarian.

As writer and campaigner Minnie Rahman says, and despite having written this piece, ignore the picture. Patel just wants exposure.

Focus on the actual issues, such as included in the attached thread by Zoe Gardner, instead. That’s more important right now. 

Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.


[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 20 May 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Priti Patel. | 14 May 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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