Open Access (free)
The politics of immigration controversies

In July 2013, the UK government arranged for a van to drive through parts of London carrying the message ‘In the UK illegally? GO HOME or face arrest.’ The vans were short-lived, but they were part of an ongoing trend in government-sponsored communication designed to demonstrate control and toughness around immigration. This book explores the effects of such performances of toughness: on policy, on public debate, on pro-migrant and anti-racist activism, and on the everyday lives of people in Britain. This book both presents research findings, and provides insights into the practice of conducting research on such a charged and sensitive topic.

Blending original research, theoretical analysis, and methodological reflections, the book addresses questions such as:

  • Who gets to decide who ‘belongs’?
  • How do anti-migrant sentiments relate to changing forms of racism?
  • Are new divisions, and new solidarities, emerging in the light of current immigration politics?


Written in a clear and engaging style, the book sets an agenda for a model of collaborative research between researchers, activists, and people on the ground.

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. Imagine that her husband beats her and kicks her out. She tries to ask her family for help but they will not let her come back: ‘Where will she live? Where will she go?’ Figure 1: Go Home van Lucee, a refugee from Sierra Leone, worried that the van would create ‘racial tension’. All foreigners could be stigmatised. In

in Go home?

experienced and interpreted. Here local issues, such as histories of migration and resistance, and national contexts, such as debates about devolution and the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, impact on reactions to anti-immigration campaigns. Whereas in Ealing and Hounslow (West London), for example, the Go Home van's appearance played into divisive discourses of respectability among established migrants and British citizens (discussed in

in Go home?
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how to stay ahead of a tightening net, navigating the uncertainty of finding out that you no longer qualify for the immigration category you're in. It felt like a finish line of sorts. Finally, I was home. When I took up citizenship in 2013, the Go Home vans were already on London streets, ostensibly to encourage those who might be in the country illegally to return home. In reality, it felt like they were talking to all migrants, but especially ethnic

in Go home?
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Migration research and the media

, fees to the community organisations, the costs of commissioning the survey, travel costs and other incidentals involved with carrying out the project). The rest of the article focused on the controversy surrounding Operation Vaken and the Go Home van pilot and the fact that the pilot had not been successful. The implication was that our project was problematic because it was using taxpayers’ money to criticise government policy – specifically

in Go home?
Open Access (free)
Public anger in research (and social media)

2013 (see Chapter 1 ) all of the authors of this book were angered by the seeming overt and unapologetic racism of the Go Home van slogan, apparent racial profiling in immigration checks in public places and the Home Office's publication of images of raids through Twitter using the #immigrationoffenders hashtag (see Figure 3 ). We expressed this over email, on social media and in conversation. Several weeks earlier, some of us, with others

in Go home?

Immigration, Mark Harper MP, makes a defence of the Go Home vans in a column in the Daily Mail newspaper (see also Introduction ). He argues that it is not ‘rational’ to view the poster as threatening to anyone other than people who are in contravention of immigration law. By extension it seems that Harper would class the experience of terror described by Rita as ‘silly’ too. Why should Rita feel ‘blocked’ if she is carrying a valid visa and being

in Go home?
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Why are we doing this? Public sociology and public life

? Southall Black Sisters : The research was timely. For us, it was part of a process that had already started at SBS. The London borough of Ealing was one of the areas where the Go Home vans were piloted. Alongside that, women using the [Southall Black Sisters] centre were telling us about the stops and checks taking place at the local train station. We were hearing from them that there had been an increase in the

in Go home?

are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For Satwinder there are those ‘that are working’ (good) and there are those that ‘get caught up in drink and drugs and should not be here … women drinking and smoking’ (bad). A similar sentiment was echoed in a Bradford focus group by Nadia, an Iranian woman who had been settled in the UK for decades and now volunteers at a refugee and asylum seeker group. She said that perhaps it was good that the Go Home van scared some

in Go home?
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‘Ordinary’ people and immigration politics

harmed by immigration … [and] The broader fiscal impact of migration is likely to be positive’ ( 2001 : 5–7). The journey from that historical moment of seemingly free market cosmopolitanism to the Go Home vans of 2013 and the subsequent EU referendum decision in 2016 for Britain to leave the European Union, in part as a response to fears about immigration (see Chapter 1 for the connections between the referendum and anti

in Go home?