The importance of grassroots campaigning in working towards ending immigration detention

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Lisa Matthews, Coordinator at Right to Remain, wrote for the Detention Forum blog on the importance of grassroots campaigning. You can find the original post here.

Change always requires multiple approaches and multiple actors, ideally working together and acknowledging the value of each other’s methods and successes. In the context of working towards the ending of immigration detention (with major reduction in usage in the meantime), change in the law will ultimately come from MPs and peers; change in policy can come from the Home Office (maybe directed by change in the law, but not necessarily). But where does the power to make those changes happen come from?

At Right to Remain, we very much believe that power comes from the community, from the people. If we want detention reform to be meaningful and sustained, then we cannot rely on law or policy change that is disconnected from grassroots campaigning. Governments are often praised for positive legislative changes but behind this progress, there will always have been long, hard-fought for grassroots campaigning coming from the community and often (not often enough, but this is improving) shaped by people directly affected by the issue. This organic connection with the grassroots is needed not just to make change happen, but to make sure things continue in the right direction and can’t be reversed by a change in government or other decision-making personnel.

That’s why we developed the These Walls Must Fall project, a people-powered network of groups, organisations, communities, people from all sorts of backgrounds but with one thing in common: a determination to end the injustice of immigration detention. People have got involved through their community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, trade unions, activist groups, faith communities, student societies, sports clubs and more. The focus of the campaign is where people are taken from (the community) rather than where people are taken to (detention centres).

Local communities are directly affected by detention.  Migrant members of these communities have the shadow of detention hanging over them; communities are divided and brutalised by immigration raids; and local communities are in reality the source of support for those who are released for detention, invariably with more support issues than before they were detained. It’s also important that MPs see that their local constituents have an appetite for change. Active communities – including local people of influence such as local government, faith leaders, community leaders – saying no to detention can embolden MPs to take a positive stand on this issue.

Local communities are also the answer to, ‘if not detention, then what?’.  Community-based alternatives to detention are vital for providing the mechanism to phase out detention. 

Grassroots campaigning (what is sometimes called the “outsider voice” in campaigning) has always been important, but especially in a context of political flux and, paradoxically, stagnation (such as we have seen recently with Brexit, and now Covid-19). This is especially true when the Conservative Party have such a large majority, we have lost many detention reform allies in Parliament, and so grass roots campaigning will be become more important than ever.



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