Why campaign for the right to remain?

lydia“I don’t know how I would have kept going except that I had so much support from people outside.”

“The second time I was detained, Women for Refugee Women made sure that people like Michael Morpurgo and Joan Bakewell were writing to the newspapers.”

“And the grassroots groups I work with in Manchester were my support. They made calls, they faxed the airline, so no matter what the immigration was doing to me, I still felt strong. Sometimes you think, should you give up, but then you think, no, you are not fighting the fight alone. Other people act like your pillar – if you feel you are going to fall, they keep you standing.”

Lydia Besong: playwright, refugee, campaigner

Source: Women for Refugee Women’s report Detained

Not every campaign has celebrity backing. But Lydia’s words about the importance of grassroots groups is true for all campaigns for the right to remain. In this blog post, we explore what is meant by campaigning, in the context of individual campaigns against deportation and for the right to remain. We ask what campaigning can achieve that other strategies perhaps can’t, what campaigning can’t do, and why Right to Remain believes individuals’ campaigns for the right to remain are a crucial way of exposing the injustices of the asylum and immigration system, and improving people’s access to justice in their cases.

Right to Remain is a national human rights organisation, founded in 1995 (as NCADC), which supports community-led campaigns for justice in the asylum and immigration system, with a focus on supporting people’s campaigns for their right to remain.

We provide free and confidential advice, resources and training to individuals and groups on campaigning to stay in the UK. We advise on the benefits and risks, campaign strategies, non-public campaigning options, and we help promote public campaigns. We do not provide legal advice, or run campaigns for people. Instead, we provide individuals and groups with information about campaigning, tools to get a campaign started, advice and support along the way, and signposting to other sources of help.

What is campaigning?

Immigration and asylum applicants face significant legal and procedural barriers to securing their right to remain. Put simply, a campaign is a series of actions taken to overcome these barriers.

A campaign can be very public or relatively private, and includes practical assistance, advocacy, help with the legal process and more. Campaign actions can be things like providing moral support, writing letters, meeting with your local MP or organising a fundraising event.

Some campaign actions can be included in a public or a private campaign, for example airline campaigning. Some actions are clearly public, such as a solidarity rally in the streets of your local town.

The most effective campaigns are those that bring a diverse range of people together for a common cause, people with different experiences and campaigning strategies.

Why campaign for individuals?

We support campaigning in individual cases because it works: it can overcome the barriers to justice, and win the right to remain; and it can produce other benefits for the individual and the wider community too.

Right to Remain is not alone in believing that the UK immigration and asylum system is riddled with injustice. The asylum system in particular, with its culture of disbelief, leading to “perverse and unjust decisions” falls “seriously below the standards to be expected of a humane and civilised society” (Independent Asylum Commission).

Direct benefits of campaigning

A public campaign or co-ordinated actions by supporters may be enough, in some cases, to strengthen a legal case and help the Home Office or the courts make a positive decision.

It’s clear that, in certain circumstances and with certain airlines, last-minute pressure on an airline can succeed in a person being removed from a flight (see section on ‘Imminent Deportation’). This is an important success – it’s important to remember that stopping a flight is not the same as someone getting leave to remain, but this victory may buy time for legal progress to be made on a case.

Raising awareness of someone’s case through a public campaign can get the attention of experts and professionals who might be able to help in the case, or might bring new evidence to light. The work done explaining the legal situation of a case might show that there is a legal remedy that has not yet been explored, and this work may not have been done without a campaign group looking at the case.

Moral support and mutual aid

In many cases, campaigns are indirectly successful. For example, a solicitor may secure an injunction stopping a deportation and that person may eventually get status. People at risk have told us that they would not have had the strength to continue with the legal process – which can be a long and rocky road – without the knowledge that they had people supporting them. The campaign can be a way of showing that people care; it can boost someone’s morale, giving them the strength to fight another day.

As one asylum-seeker said about the importance of a campaign:

“The support from the campaign along my tough journey gave me the courage and confidence to fight. I have now been granted my rights.”

Campaigning can have the positive impact of an individual or family taking some control back over their situation, by campaigning for the right to remain. Campaigners feel empowered by speaking out and bearing witness to injustice, by feeling the support of those around them, their community, and wider supporters of a campaign who they may never meet.

megaphoneThe asylum and immigration system does not place a high value on the voices of migrants: on the contrary, it is a system that at times silences, at others twists the words of applicants in order to refuse their cases and categorise them as incredible. Individual campaigning is an opportunity for asylum seekers and other migrants to control their own story.

Receiving a positive decision in an asylum or immigration application is rarely straight-forward, or quick. Persevering in the fight for justice in one’s case requires enormous emotional reserves, which we have seen replenished by the support of a campaign group.

With a broken asylum system, and so many people unrepresented or poorly represented in their legal cases, there are many people in need of support and community action to increase their chances of their legal case being recognised.

Broader benefits of individual campaigning

“Anti-deportation campaigns are a crucial expression of human solidarity, and most importantly, an essential device for holding states to account.”

Jennifer Allsop in Open Democracy

In addition to the benefits of campaigning for justice to the individual at the centre of the campaign, we believe in individual campaigning because of its broader impact as well. The campaign group or community that supports an individual in the campaign can gain strength from coming together for a common cause. They may learn skills and lessons that will make them better placed to campaign successfully the next time, irrespective of the outcome of the current campaign. The networking process of a campaign can help to build bonds and links within and between communities.

Individual campaigns are also a unique insight in to the injustices of the asylum and immigration system in the UK, and human rights abuses abroad. The breaking down of stereotypes and abstracts to individual human stories is a key weapon against anti-immigrant rhetoric, and helps to explain the human impact of unjust policies.

The ethics of individual campaigning

new-toolkit-coverCampaigning for the right to remain means people coming together to take action for justice.

Our campaigning toolkit explores the benefits to be gained from campaigning; how campaigning fits in with the legal process; the risks of campaigning; and how to campaign effectively.

A vital consideration is whether someone deciding to go public with their story has fully considered, and understood, the risks of public campaigning. The decision to go to public must involve weighing up the risks of publicity against the benefits of the reach a public campaign has.

It is very important that campaigning is ethical and reflective: making sure that the person fighting for justice in their case is at the centre of decision-making, and that we heard their words, their story. The needs of the individual seeking the right to remain always take priority over broader issues or political agendas.

Action for change

If you’re asking ‘why does campaigning matter?’ or ‘does campaigning work?’ you need to think about what you want to achieve from a campaign. Often campaigning is about raising awareness, but this is usually done to try and effect change. You want to tell people about something, and ask them to take some kind of action that will change the situation.

We’ve realised that one of the hardest things to do is to figure out EXACTLY what you want to achieve from campaign actions. Meaning:

  • how do you get from launching a public campaign to someone winning the right to remain? A campaign is not a single action. What steps do you need to take? What will each step achieve?
  • If you’re asking people to – for example – write to the Home Secretary, why are you asking them to do this? What are you hoping – exactly – will happen?

It might sound simple – we know what we want to achieve: winning the right to remain. We know what kind of actions to do, so lets do them! Now! But each action takes up precious time, so you need to pause and think what you really need to achieve right now.

Planning an effective campaign involves thinking about:

  • motivations for campaigning: why is the person at the centre of the campaign wanting to campaign? If you are in a support group, what motivates you to get involved?
  • campaign actions: the things a campaign group does, or asks broader supporters to do
  • desired outcomes from actions: if you’re taking a certain action, what are you wanting to happen?
  • benefits from campaigning: the goal is the right to remain but there might be benefits for the individual at risk of removal, for other people in their situation, for the community as a whole.

These can difficult things to get your head around – many of the benefits of campaigning for the right to remain are indirect and hard to quantify. But it’s worth it! When you are in the middle of a campaign, you can lose sight of the bigger picture or lose heart. A campaign needs to be taken step by step. Celebrate the small victories and then start planning the next move.

And remember, Right to Remain is here to support you in your campaign. We can run training sessions for support groups and campaigning networks, give tailored advice throughout a campaign, and can also send you printed copies of our campaigning tookit.

– Read the toolkit online, or order printed copies

Contact us about training workshops


4 comments on “Why campaign for the right to remain?

  1. Jackie Fearnley on

    I needed to ring Kenya Airways yesterday about a flight and was surprised to be given very short shrift, unable to even finish a sentence before being told I must talk to Immigration. In the past they would be far more civil. I also thought in the past that they had a policy against handcuffs on the plane and were not in theory keen on forcible or violent removals. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this shift over the last five or six years? It made me wonder whether the strategy of some groups to institute phone blockades, had perhaps made their position more entrenched. My approach has always been to speak to the human being and try to encourage feelings of responsibility. I may be wrong because the impetus for this new hard line may have come via pressure from the Home Office but I would be interested to know what others thought. (For this flight an injunction was achieved five minutes before take off, but another woman on the plane to Nairobi was not so lucky.)


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