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The border/national security nexus: Detecting Middle Eastern & North African ‘terrorists’ at the UK border in the 1970s-80s

In May 1980, two terrorist incidents involving Iran and Iranians led to a major overhaul of the UK’s border control system for counter-terrorism purposes, ordered by Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. The below post is how the UK border control system was increasingly used to identify and monitor potential ‘terrorists’ from the Middle East and North Africa from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. It is based on an article that is currently under review, so any comments are welcome (as usual). 

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The intersection between national security/counter-terrorism efforts and the agenda of the immigration/border control system is not just a recent phenomenon, with the national-border security nexus having a well-established historical precedent. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when the threat of international terrorism was at its peak, the immigration/border control system was viewed as a frontline defence against terrorist activities occurring in the UK. The immigration control system was used to prevent ‘potential terrorists’ from entering the country, as well as detecting and monitoring people from certain national/ethnic groups who were thought to be ‘potential terrorists’. Similar to the situation in the contemporary era, the external terrorist threat was believed to come from the Middle East and North Africa. It is the purpose of this paper to show how this anxiety over Middle Eastern/Arab terrorism informed border control practices that profiled certain national/ethnic groups.

In the course of trying to achieve the UK’s counter-terrorism objectives, the actions of the border control system placed blanket restrictions on certain nationals in order to prevent a minute number of potential ‘threats’ entering the country. From a counter-terrorist and border control perspective, it seemed that the procedure was to treat all Middle Eastern and North African nationals seeking to visit the UK as potential terrorists until considered otherwise.

Visa restrictions on Iraqis and Libyans

For the control of non-European migration, the interview at the potential migrant’s place of origin was a fundamental part of the border control process and one of the most significant tasks under taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within the border control system. Not all visitors to the UK had to obtain visas or entry clearances before travelling and fewer of these visitors had to go through the process for a formal interview with FCO staff to obtain said visa or entry clearance, but the FCO and Home Office both felt that it was necessary to conduct widespread interviews with potential visitors from the Middle East and North Africa on the grounds that this was a necessary counter-terrorist measure.

The first time that security checks at the visa application stage were placed upon Middle Eastern or North African national groups for counter-terrorist purposes was in 1972 after the attempted assassination of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, General Abdul Razzaq Al-Naif. After this assassination attempt, a decision was agreed upon by the FCO that ‘all Iraqi visa applications accompanied by photographs should be referred to London for security checking’, with the purpose being ‘to identify and refuse visas to known members of the Iraqi intelligence service who have sought and still seek to enter the United Kingdom’.[1]

By the end of the 1970s, the number of national groups that were subjected to mandatory security checks and interviewing had grown. Similar to the action taken against Iraqi nationals after the attempted assassination of Al-Naif in 1972, in the aftermath of the assassination of Mohammed M. Ramadan, a Libyan Gadaffi oppositionist and BBC employee, in April 1980, the UK government implemented security checks, including substantial interviews, for all Libyan nationals applying to enter the UK. A report prepared by the British Embassy in Tripoli stated that the new process, implemented in July 1980, required ‘full documentation for, and thorough interviews of, almost all Libyan applicants for visas’, with the main exception being wives and children.[2]

The reasoning behind these strict instructions was summarised in an FCO telegram, which argued that ‘[f]urther serious incidents here [the United Kingdom] involving Libyans would be intolerable breaches of law and order, damage Anglo-Libyan relations and endanger both the British community in Libya and our commercial interests’, and therefore, ‘[t]ighter precautions against entry of potential terrorists’ were ‘essential’.[3] The FCO emphasised that tighter precautions could ‘only be achieved by personal interview in each case… by a UK-based officer to enable him to be satisfied beyond any doubt as to the genuineness and purpose of the visit.’[4] It was hoped that this process would ‘help to deter, or failing that, to identify and weed out… potential terrorists’ and ‘complicate Libya’s task if… she is determined to try to send terrorists to the UK’, as well as ‘help to reduce the total number of Libyan applicants for visas’.[5]

Broadening the process

In mid-1980, Lord Carrington requested, upon the urging of the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, that the FCO explore measures using the border control system to prevent Middle Eastern and North African terrorism in the UK and the possibility of expanding the widespread interviewing and security checks to a greater number of countries known to be involved in terrorist activities. The catalyst for this request was the siege at the Iranian Embassy by dissident Iranians (who entered the UK on false Iraqi passports) and explosion at the Queens Garden Hotel in Bayswater (near the Iranian Embassy) which killed one Iranian, both occurring in May 1980. The request by the Foreign Secretary asked the following questions:

in what ways can we tighten up on the issue of visas; how can better checks be made; what categories of people should be most closely examined? Can controls at the ports in Great Britain be effectively tightened to improve screening?… What of conducive leave to enter and deportation?[6]

Although some reservations about effectiveness were raised by FCO staff, it was impressed upon those working in the British Embassies that the visa application process was the frontline in the fight against Middle Eastern and North African terrorism. In a draft document, it stated that this process was ‘one line in the defence against undesirables [with an emphasis on Middle Eastern terrorists] entering the UK and pseudo-visitors whose real intention is to settle in Britain’ and while it was recognised that it was not ‘an entirely water-tight system’, it was ‘nevertheless… a deterrent’.[7]

The FCO believed that the interviews at the embassies acted as a deterrent and ‘make it more difficult for terrorists to switch identities’ and maintained that ‘[w]ithout an interview system posts cannot… make the best use of the intelligence available nor can they provide feedback and early warning of doubtful cases the security services need.’[8] Another advantage of the visa system and the interview process, a secret report expressed, was that it allowed time for checks to be made, ‘for refusal to be made in doubtful cases with less aggravation and protests than when the visitor has already travelled’ and ‘for detailed interviews to be conducted wherever appropriate without the pressure of time which arises at a port where the choice is admission or detention.’[9]

In order for this interview process to be effective, the FCO required embassy staff to be hyper-vigilant in their efforts to detect and ‘weed out’ potential terrorists and as with detecting ‘bogus’ migrants, visa-issuing officers were to be sceptical of all applicants and required a significant level of proof to be consider an applicant to be ‘genuine’. A background paper highlighted the fact that ‘[t]errorist organisations make use of false travel documentation, either forged passports or genuine passports in false names and nationality’ and noted that it was ‘only occasionally that operational terrorists travel in their own name.’[10] The FCO argued that the interviews were a necessity, stating that the interviews were:

an essential part of the process of establishing an applicant’s bona fides and of attempting to identify members or supporters of terrorists organisations by questions concerning the applicant’s reasons for visiting the UK and about their background.[11]

Although nearly all applicants of certain Middle Eastern and North African nationalities were to be interviewed by visa officers, with corresponding security checks, some applicants were to be more closely interrogated. Those to be more closely interrogated were to be selected on the basis of whether they fit the ‘terrorist profile’ drawn up by the security services. Like other ‘offender’ profiles circulated by the immigration control system, this profile of the potential terrorist was broadly defined and was likely to cause many innocent people to be scrutinised and interrogated on the grounds that they fit this very generalised profile. A note circulated within the FCO stated the ‘chances of recognising efficient terrorists when they apply for a visa are evidently limited’, but asked all visa officers to ‘study carefully’ the profile that had been created and use it in their interrogation of visa applicants.[12] The profile of the potential Middle Eastern and North African terrorist, in its entirety, was outlined as follows:

Of either sex, between 18 and 35 (often looking older than the age claimed, if this is in the lower half of that age bracket). Travelling most frequently in pairs but occasionally singly or in a small group, sometimes using travel documents from the same batch. Fit appearance (even if applying for a visa for medical treatment), often giving an impression of mental toughness; not easily discomposed, even in circumstances which might make others irritated or impatient. Unlikely to be official visitors: more likely to apply as students or businessmen (or for medical treatment) but may (a) display vagueness over courses proposed, appointments with firms etc, and (b) appear to lack elementary knowledge of a professed speciality. Some terrorists have in the past sought to avoid interview eg by making visa applications through agents or by post – this tendency may grow. Posts should be cautious in presuming that particular categories can be exempt from interview and careful scrutiny of each application will in any case be needed to determine whether there are factors which suggest that an interview should nevertheless be insisted upon in any individual case.[13]

Detecting terrorists at the ports of entry

The other point in the border control system where Immigration Officers were able to ‘detect’ and prevent the entry of potential terrorist were at the ports of entry into the UK. In the 1970s, the major ports of entry into the UK were Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports, as well as the ferry ports on the South and Western coasts where boats from mainland Europe and Ireland respectively docked. Immigration Officers (as well as Special Branch officers) were expected to use the terrorist profile created by the security services to detect potential terrorists from the Middle East and North Africa and scrutinise their reasons for entry from the UK. Interviews at the port of entry were seen as another line of defence after the visa interviews at embassies, but at these entry ports, Immigration Officers were under much more pressure to quickly assess whether a visitor was ‘genuine’ and thus more likely to rely on stereotypes and racial profiling than embassy visa officers. The FCO encouraged that decisions regarding interrogating and refusing entry to potential terrorists ‘be taken at the visa stage’, but did recognised that ‘nationals from sensitive countries are questioned at port and on occasions refused admission.’[14]

One of the ideas that the FCO, Home Office and the security services considered in trying to identify ‘bogus’ visitors from the Middle East and North Africa (possibly including potential terrorists) was to require that nationals visiting from these regions to hand over a specially designated landing card with additional photograph, which could be compared with the information and photograph provided when the visitor applied for the visa originally. This idea of a landing card with additional photo to be kept by the Immigration Officer on arrival into the UK was referred to in several FCO documents with several people being enthusiastic or supportive of a photograph being kept for reference by the authorities. A report from late 1980 outlined that there were three main benefits of this. Firstly, it was argued that this would ‘make it more difficult for passports to be used by someone other than the applicant’. Secondly, it was proposed that it would be beneficial for the security service and the police to have a photograph of the person ‘who actually entered the UK’ and that ‘a failure to match would in itself be grounds for investigating the individual’. Thirdly, it was noted that the photograph could be used by the authorities to ‘identify and investigate an individual, for instance, after a terrorist incident.’[15] In the end, it was decided that an additional form and photograph were to be required from certain applicants. A FCO circulated note from December 1980 explained:

This will make it marginally more difficult for a visa’ed passport to be used by someone other than the applicant to enter the UK. But the main purpose is to give those concerned here a photograph of the person who actually enters the UK (the form and photo will be collected at the port of entry). This can subsequently be checked against the photograph attached to the normal visa application and would be used to help trace an individual in the UK after a terrorist incident.[16]

The same circular outlined that this was an additional requirement for visa applicants from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan (except holders of Diplomatic Passports), Lebanon, Libya, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, the Yemeni Arab Republic, Syria and ‘Palestinians travelling on a stateless person’s document issued by any third country.’[17] The circular also warned embassy staff that they ‘should not be drawn by enquiries as to the purpose of the new form’ and ‘say simply it is a requirement imposed by the British immigration authorities.’[18]

Conclusion

Many scholars have recognised that Muslims entering the UK, as well as the Muslim communities inside country, have been regarded as a ‘suspect community’ over the last decade. This has a much longer history, particularly through the screening and interrogation of Muslim visitors to the UK from the Middle East and North Africa. After small-scale terrorist incidents in the UK (such as assassinations) occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, the UK government, advised by the security service and implemented by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, chose to place restrictions on all visitors from certain Middle Eastern and North African countries. Although there was little evidence of this process having an effect on catching suspected terrorists trying to enter the UK, blanket restrictions that placed all visitors from places such as Iraq, Iran and Libya under suspicion were utilised as a frontline defence against Middle Eastern terrorism occurring in Britain. These compulsory and wide-ranging security checks were first implemented against Iraqis in 1972, then against Libyans and Iranians in 1980, and as the perceived threat of ‘international terrorism’ grew in the early 1980s, were extended to nationals of most countries in the Middle East and North Africa. By the mid-1980s, the intersection between national and border security seemed almost complete, with many of these border security measures still in place in some way today.

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

[1] J.H. Mallett, ‘Visas for Iraqi Business Visitors’, 3 July, 1974, FCO 8/3245, NA.

[2] British Embassy Tripoli, ‘UK Visas for Libyans’, p. 1, 29 September, 1980, FCO 93/2356, NA.

[3] Telegram from FCO to British Embassy Tripoli, no. 131, 1 July, 1980, FCO 93/2356, NA.

[4] Telegram from FCO to British Embassy Tripoli, no. 131, 1 July, 1980.

[5] British Embassy Tripoli, ‘UK Visas for Libyans’, p. 2.

[6] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, 4 July, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[7] ‘Entry Clearance Policy: Requirements and Resources for the Issue of Visas and Entry Certificates – Comments to First Draft’, n.d., p. 1, FCO 50/685, NA.

[8] Letter from A. E. Stoddart to Sir J. Graham, 12 August, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[9] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventive Action’, n.d., p. 3, FCO 50/685, NA.

[10] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[11] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[12]FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control: Anti-Terrorist Measures’, 29 December, 1980, FCO 50/686, NA.

[13] ‘Terrorist “Profile”’, FCO 50/686, NA.

[14] Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain [final version]’, p. 5.

[15] ‘Background’, n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[16] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

[17] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

[18] FCO Circular, ‘Entry Control’.

‘Fortress Britain’ and the end of the Cold War

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian this week that the walls and barriers that had fallen in 1989 were being rebuilt in 2015. A cartoon in the pages of Marxism Today published in December 1989 seems to have made the same argument – that while the West celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, at the same time, they were seeking to build metaphorical walls of their own to keep out ‘undesirable’ migrants.

Wall 1989

In 1982, Thatcher described the Berlin Wall as ‘a monument to oppression and cruelty, but also to futility’. The British border control system, which was significantly strengthened during her Prime Ministership, could be described in the same terms.

Since Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, the free movement of people within the borders of the EEC (and then the European Union) meant that Britain experienced significantly more numbers of migrants from Europe than from the Commonwealth and other nations, whose numbers were cut dramatically by the introduction of the Immigration Act 1971. Although opposition to Britain joining the European Community has been widespread, but diffuse, since the late 1960s, opposition to migration from within Europe was only a minor feature in the discourse on immigration in Britain until the 1990s.

The most reasonable explanation for this is because there was free movement within the EEC’s borders, labour migration was not permanent and numbers seemed to rise and fall in line with changes in the economic landscape. But there is also the possibility that objections to European migration were muted because most migrants within the EEC were “white”. The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991 and the enlargement of the European Union in the early 2000s have shifted the discourse on European migration in Britain.

A substantial part of the discourse has been a concern over migrants from Eastern Europe to Britain, replicating fears expressed over previous waves of migrants to Britain – that Eastern Europeans, particularly Polish migrants, have been taking jobs away from British people and that others, particularly Romanians, Bulgarians and Albanians, have been involved in crime in Britain, from petty offences to trans-national organised crime. These objections to migration from Eastern Europe have been usually, but not always, part of a wider objection to the European Union and a push for Britain to leave the EU.

Furthermore in 2015, the nations that exist on the edges of the EU, such as Greece, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania have been seen as having porous borders that have allowed asylum seekers and ‘illegal immigrants’ from the Middle East and South Asia into Europe. Under the Conservatives (and driven to the right by UKIP), anti-European and anti-immigrant sentiment had reached such a height that Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU and Cameron has pushed for a renegotiation of the nation’s obligations to Europe. This is possibly the biggest assertion of British self-interest within the EU since Margaret Thatcher refused to join the Schengen Area in the late 1980s.

In 1985, the Schengen Agreement was first signed by member countries of the EEC to discard the operation of border control between these countries, which has expanded within the EU to twenty-five countries. Thatcher refused to join and during an infamous speech in Bruges in 1988, stated:

Of course, we want to make it easier for goods to pass through frontiers. Of course, we must make it easier for people to travel through the Community. But it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants.

By this time, ‘Fortress Britain’ had already excluded most Commonwealth immigrants and now it resisted relaxing its controls with regards to people from within Europe.

As travel restrictions between East and West Germany were abolished in November 1989, Thatcher expressed that she hoped that ‘this is only a prelude to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.’ As the rest of the Soviet Bloc collapsed, while many proposed greater integration of the former Eastern ‘people’s democracies’ into the European Union, Thatcher and other Eurosceptic Tories worried about expansion of the EU eastwards. However by the time that EU expansion was actually tabled, Labour was in power, who did not oppose this, much to the chargrin of many.

While the walls are going back up across mainland Europe now, Britain’s (metaphorical) walls have been erected since the dying days of the Cold War.

 

Removing the barriers to deportation from the UK: Lord Carrington and counter-terrorist efforts in the early 1980s

A story has appeared in The Guardian today that the UK Appeals Court has ruled that it is legal for foreign convicted criminals to be deported without their chance to appeal from the United Kingdom. The right to appeal before deportation was originally enshrined in the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 and was long considered a problem by the Conservatives to an effective border control system. The following post is based on my research into the UK border control system and counter-terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s and the efforts by Lord Carrington in 1980 to speed up the deportation process for those suspected on being involved in terrorist activities.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

In 1980, the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington requested, upon the urging of the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, that the FCO explore measures using the border control system to prevent Middle Eastern and North African terrorism in the UK and the possibility of expanding the widespread interviewing and security checks to a greater number of countries known to be involved in terrorist activities. The catalyst for this request was the siege at the Iranian Embassy by dissident Iranians (who entered the UK on false Iraqi passports) and explosion at the Queens Garden Hotel in Bayswater (near the Iranian Embassy) which killed one Iranian, both occurring in May 1980. The request by the Foreign Secretary asked the following questions:

in what ways can we tighten up on the issue of visas; how can better checks be made; what categories of people should be most closely examined? Can controls at the ports in Great Britain be effectively tightened to improve screening?… What of conducive leave to enter and deportation?[1]

One of the questions that arose out of this discussion of monitoring potential terrorists in the UK concerned what could be done to visitors from the Middle East and North Africa who had been granted leave, but were considered ‘undesirable’ to remain in the country. In several internal documents, FCO and Home Office staff voiced their frustration with the delays involved in deporting someone from the UK, as the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 allowed the deportee to appeal the decision to deport them. As one report explained:

The power to deport on security grounds has been used very rarely and has proved cumbersome and difficult to operate… The Security Service have gained the impression that Ministers would be reluctant to utilize this procedure.[2]

Douglas Hurd wrote to the Minister for Immigration, Timothy Raisom that it was ‘desirable… to try to limit the extent to which foreign officials, who are found to be using this country as a base for involvement with terrorist activities, are able to exploit legal procedures to delay their deportation’.[3] Hurd warned that ‘[a]ny delay in removing them increases the risk that their government may take action harmful to UK interests or UK citizens as a way of putting pressure on HM Government’ not to deport them, and identified the ‘advisory procedure’ rule (‘whereby a person may make representations against his deportation in a case where he has no statutory right of appeal’) as a significant cause for this delay.[4] Hurd suggested to Raisom that a way around this delay was to make an amendment to the Immigration Rules that only allowed non-patrials to make representations against deportation ‘after they had been removed from this country’.[5] In an earlier draft of the same letter to Raisom, Hurd noted that changing the Immigration Rules would not ‘be too controversially received in this country’ if it was to be ‘restricted to those cases in which the deportations were ordered on grounds of national security’, but did note that any further amendments to right of appeal against deportation would require a legislative change to the Immigration Act 1971, nor could the government ‘prevent such people resorting to Habeas Corpus and the Prerogative Orders.’[6]

Another report reiterated the thinking that the public would be more willing to accept the deportation of foreign nationals and limitations put on appealing these deportations if it was emphasised that they were in the name of national security and focused on a minority national group. The report stated:

It may be that difficulties [with the deportation process] have been over-emphasised and that where intelligence suspicions concern terrorism, particularly by Arab nationals, public opinion would be less critical of the exercise of the security provisions and Ministers would readily consider exercising them. The real constraint however seems likely to remain the availability of intelligence about an individual to justify action.[7]

A similar report enthused that the authorities could deport foreign officials from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Libya (including diplomats) by declaring them persona non grata if there was a suspicion that they would be involved in terrorist activities. The report advised the government ‘could declare a person p n g if we found out that he had links with organs of state terrorism and… [it] would be a punishment to those concerned and would also have a deterrent effect.’[8] The benefit of this, the report continued, was that ‘[n]o reason need be given for declaring a person p n g so the risk of compromising our sources of information would be lessened.’[9] A letter to Hurd’s Chief Clerk from the Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department claimed that the power to declare a foreign official or diplomat persona non grata was ‘clear, straightforward and unilateral’ and was granted under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but warned that this might result in retaliatory actions against UK representatives in other countries.[10]

This discussion reached the top levels of the government, with Peter Carrington imploring Willie Whitelaw to ‘consider more extensive use of your existing powers under section 15(3) of the Immigration Act 1971’, and argued that the it was view of the FCI that ‘these powers could be a useful weapon against suspected terrorists as well as other undesirables’. Carrington also suggested that Whitelaw proceed with limiting the legal procedures that can delay the deportation of a foreign national, ‘once this has been ordered in the interests of national security as conducive to the public good.’[11] This was tied to Carrington’s private concerns that the ‘entry clearance system cannot be a fully effective barrier’, particularly if the sponsors of state terrorism were ‘intent on getting a terrorist into this country… or chooses to employ someone already here’.[12] A letter from the FCO to Gerald Hayden Phillips, Assistant Secretary in the Home Office, stated that Carrington was ‘inclined to think there would be more substance in changing the immigration rules so that the Home Secretary could swiftly deport suspected terrorists without running into the Agee/Hosenball difficulties[13] and in extending the Prevention of Terrorism Act.’[14] Whitelaw’s response was that for the Immigration Act to be effective in deporting suspected terrorists without appeal, ‘the legislation would have to be in sweeping terms, giving the Home Secretary the right to deport instantly without right to appeal’ – a legislative move that he described as ‘highly controversial’.[15]

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 only covered terrorism offences related to the political situation in Northern Ireland, and there was discussion, prompted by Carrington, into whether the Act could be extended to cover all forms of terrorism – particularly the powers of detention and exclusion. A report outlined that the advantage of the exclusion orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act was that they ‘were quick and it obviates the necessity for going through the appeals procedure which accompanies deportation under the Immigration Act’, but warned that these orders were of ‘little practical use… unless the power under the Act to make an exclusion order from this country on the authority of the Home Secretary is extended to cover any terrorist.’[16] This, the report noted, would need legislation to amend the Act, which would be a difficult task for the government. Willie Whitelaw, in a letter to Carrington, made a similar claim, stating that amending the Act ‘would be a focus for criticism unless this was done in the context of a dramatic increase in the level of international terrorist incidents in Great Britain.’[17] Whitelaw suggested that the only change ‘which might be made overnight’ related to the ‘extension of the power to arrest and detain suspect terrorists’, but cautioned that ‘[a]ny extension of the power to exclude… would require amending legislation.’[18]

In 1983, a report by Lord Jellicoe into the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 recognised that Middle Eastern terrorism was an increasing threat to the UK, writing ‘[m]any fear that London… could become a battleground for warring Middle East terrorist factions’, and recommended extending the powers of arrest and detention at ports under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to ‘suspected international terrorists of any group, cause or nationality’.[19] The subsequent amendments in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1984 was the first legislative step for the UK authorities to create a generalised counter-terrorist response, rather than a focus on Irish terrorism with other forms of terrorism as a side concern.

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

[1] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, 4 July, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[2] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventive Action’, n.d., p. 5, FCO 50/685, NA.

[3] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[4] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[5] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[6] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [first version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[7] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 5.

[8] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[9] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[10] Letter from M St E Burton to Mr Adams, 20 November, 1980, p. 5, FCO 50/686, NA.

[11] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4, FCO 50/686, NA.

[12] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4.

[13] Philip Agee and Mark Hosenball were two American nationals who were deported after a very lengthy process from the UK in the mid-1970s. Philip Agee was a CIA officer based in the UK, who was suspected by the US authorities (who allegedly put pressure on Merlyn Rees and James Callaghan to deport Agee) of exposing CIA activities in the Caribbean. Hosenball was a journalist who had written a piece for Time Out magazine on the UK security services. There was considerable public support for both men to remain in the country, but were eventually deported in 1977. See: R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Hosenball [1977] 1 W.L.R. 766; [1977] 3 All E.R. 452; Duncan Campbell, ‘Official Secrecy and British Libertarianism’, Socialist Register (1979) pp. 75-88; Duncan Campbell, ‘The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold’, The Guardian (10 January, 2007),

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jan/10/usa.duncancampbell (accessed 17 April, 2013)

[14] Letter from M St E Burton to G.H. Phillips, 26 August, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[15] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington, 6 November, 1980, FCO 50/686, NA.

[16] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 7.

[17] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[18] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[19] Rt. Hon. Earl Jellicoe, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (London: HMSO, 1983) p. 27.

Determining the number of ‘virginity testing’ cases within the UK immigration control system

On this day (February 19) in 1979, Labour MP Jo Richardson led the criticism in the House of Commons of the Home Office and the Home Secretary Merlyn Rees over the gynaecological and physical examinations conducted upon South Asian women migrating to the UK, colloquially known as ‘virginity testing’. During this session of parliament, Rees announced:

a vaginal examination … may have been made only once or twice during the past eight years, according to records which have been looked at.

However a month later, Richardson stated that the Indian government was aware of at least 34 cases. The following post is an excerpt from our book, Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control, which discusses how much we know from the archival records about the number of cases of ‘virginity testing’ there were between 1968 and 1979.

Palgrave cover

We will never know how many women underwent virginity tests, in part because the government pursued a policy of denial and minimisation. Its reconstruction of the facts – and the shielding of evidence – suited its strategy of maintaining ‘good race relations’. For example, on 19 February 1979, Home Office Secretary Rees asserted in Parliament that ‘a vaginal examination … may have been made only once or twice during the past eight years, according to records which have been looked at’.[i] Yet in contrast to this assertion, we know from Amrit Wilson’s visits to immigration detention centres in 1977 that ‘“virginity tests” were routine’[ii], suggesting a completely different picture of what was taking place on British soil. From official and internal documents, we could only establish that the practice was mainly recorded offshore, at the High Commissions on the Indian subcontinent.

In mid-march 1979, more information emerged at the official level about offshore cases. In the House of Commons, Labour MP Jo Richardson, citing the Indian Minister for External Affairs, revealed that ‘at least 34 cases of virginity testing’ had occurred at the British High Commission in New Delhi.[iii] Behind closed doors, stories of these cases and others were already emerging and being shared amongst certain parties at the Home Office. In a letter in early March 1979 from the FCO to 10 Downing Street staff, Private Secretary J. S. Wall stated that ‘[t]he facts, as far as India is concerned, are that since October 1975 … there appear to have been nine cases in Bombay and 73 in New Delhi’.[iv] By January 1980, the FCO had a much clearer picture of the figures, but was reluctant to make them, or the extent of their impact, known. This was evident in a handwritten note to D. W. Partridge from the Migration and Visa Department of the FCO that we identified, which noted that those 73 cases that had occurred at the British High Commission in Delhi since October 1975 were examinations that ‘formed part of the normal medical examination’ and ‘all examinations [of the genitals] had been visual only’.[v] The same note said there had been 10 cases in Bombay, three of which involved internal vaginal examinations, with it unclear whether the other seven examinations were internal or external examinations of the genitals.[vi]

The note to D. W. Partridge also stated that in Islamabad there had been ‘no requests specifically for vaginal examinations made since 1975’, but acknowledged that ‘in some cases ECOs had asked [the] doctor to report “signs of marriage”’, which was a euphemism amongst High Commission staff for scrutiny to be placed upon the applicant’s genitals, breasts and stomach.[vii] It further stated that ‘no record of the number of such cases’ existed but that ‘they may account to a total of under 20 a year in the past two years’.[viii] The note emphasised that in Dacca, where Alex Lyon knew of previous cases of virginity testing occurring in the mid-1970s, ‘[n]o women were ever referred for vaginal examination’, but admitted that ‘one virginity test’ (emphasis in original) was performed in 1978 ‘by purely external examination, not involving examination of [the] vagina’.[ix]

The same note also referred to the Dacca High Commission, where it was much more common for women to be examined for physical evidence that they had borne children, upon the request of an ECO, which involved doctors examining the breasts and stomach for stretch marks. These cases numbered 20 to 30 per year.[x] The note mentioned that on ‘rare occasions’ women were examined ‘to establish whether they were pregnant when they claimed not to be but obviously were’, and ‘whether the applicants had borne children if conflicting evidence from other family members’ was available.[xi] The note concluded that ‘it is not possible for us to quote a precise and accurate figure’, but gave the approximate figures for the number of women given some form of physical examination to determine whether they had borne children or had ever had sexual relations, as requested by ECOs in South Asia:

          Delhi                            73

          Bombay                       10

          Dacca                      40–60 (over 2 years)

          Islamabad                    [unknown]

          Karachi                        [unknown]

          ————————————-

          Total                            123–143[xii]

There is no evidence in the file that this note was ever typed up and distributed within the FCO other than to Mr Partridge. We also do not know whether and, if so, how Mr Partridge communicated with others on this matter. However, this is the most detailed document that we have identified in our research that records the number of victims of virginity testing and other forms of physical examination imposed upon South Asian women by the British immigration control system. Even though we have captured these figures, there remains a sense that the total picture is difficult to access. Yet these numbers do help us appreciate that virginity testing was far from an isolated practice.

This handwritten note to D. W. Partridge also attempted to draw a distinction between the examinations that occurred at Heathrow and those that occurred in South Asia. Discussing the examinations carried out in Delhi, the note stated that these ‘formed part of a normal medical examination’, but acknowledged that the gynaecologist ‘had been asked to advise on the marital status of the female applicants’.[xiii] However, even though the gynaecologist later stated that ‘all examinations had been visual only and that she had not carried out any internal examinations’[xiv], the examination of the genitals for administrative immigration control purposes, rather than for a medical purpose, was a violation of the human rights of the women involved. The note confirmed that the 10 cases in Bombay involved examinations of daughter dependants (all over the age of 18), with three definitely involving a vaginal examination, as mentioned previously.[xv] While the FCO claimed that these cases were ‘part of a normal medical examination’, a telegram from the High Commission in Delhi stated that it was ‘the practice at all posts in India not … to refer or encourage wives and children under 18 for settlement to have a routine medical examination’.[xvi] The telegram claimed that in the second half of 1979 no women or children under 18 had been referred for medical examination in India, in contrast to 281 husbands.[xvii] This suggests that the physical examination of women at British High Commissions in India was carried out but was not officially recorded, as were medical examinations for men seeking to migrate to Britain.

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[i] Hansard, 19 February, 1979, col. 221.

[ii] Wilson, Dreams, Questions, Struggles, p. 78.

[iii] Hansard, 21 March, 1979, col. 672w.

[iv] Letter from J. S. Wall to N. Stephens, 5 March, 1979, PREM 16/2000, National Archives, London (hereafter NA).

[v] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 1, FCO 50/675, NA.

[vi] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 1.

[vii] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 2.

[viii] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 2.

[ix] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 2.

[x] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 2.

[xi] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 3.

[xii] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 3.

[xiii] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 1, FCO 50/675, NA.

[xiv] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, p. 1.

[xv] ‘[Mrs K]: Claim for Compensation’, 9 January, 1980, pp. 1-2.

[xvi] Telegram from British High Commission in Delhi to FCO, no. 35, 9 January, 1980, FCO 50/676, NA.

[xvii] Telegram from British High Commission in Delhi to FCO, no. 35, 9 January, 1980.

 

State crime and the migrant experience in the UK

After the coverage of the number of recent deaths of black people at the hands of the police in the United States and the commentary about similar victims of police/prison brutality in the UK and Australia, I thought I would post this excerpt from our book Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control. Although it concentrates on the immigration control system, it also talks about the concept of state crime more broadly and the importance of transforming how we look at the deaths, injuries and abuses suffered by ethnic minorities in the UK (as well as elsewhere) at the hands of state institutions.

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The conduct of the immigration control system as state crime

The theory of state crime is a relatively recent development in criminal justice research, particularly in relation to the discussion of the practices of governments in Western liberal democracies, where the rule of law maintains that a legitimate use of force may be wielded by the institutions of the state, and effectively ‘consented’ to by the people who elect the government. This relates to the idea of ‘sovereignty’ – that a country has the right to solely determine its own laws (and enforce them) within its borders – although many scholars have argued that this idea of sovereignty is a myth.[1]

Criminologists Penny Green and Tony Ward have developed this idea of state crime by questioning the concept of the liberal democratic state’s legitimate use of force and arguing that the ‘legal limits of legitimate force are inherently vague’, and that the ‘strict enforcement of what limits do exist is intrinsically difficult and will often be contrary to the interests of the enforcing agency.’[2] For Green and Ward, the concept of legitimate force derives from a state’s claim to sovereignty and from ‘some degree of consent’, such that ‘there is likely to be some tacit understanding of the limits of legitimate conduct’.[3] One of the factors these authors use to define state crime is thus when the state acts outside the limits of legitimate conduct and its actions would seem illegitimate in the eyes of the civil society that the state purports to serve. They propose that state crime ‘should be restricted to the area of overlap between two distinct phenomena: (1) violations of human rights and (2) state organizational deviance’.[4] Human rights, in Green and Ward’s view, are ‘the elements of freedom and well-being that humans need to exert and develop … for purposive action’, while state organisational deviance is defined as:

Conduct by persons working for state agencies, in pursuit of organizational goals, that if it were to become known to some social audience would expose the individuals or agencies concerned to a sufficiently serious risk of formal or informal censure and sanctions to affect their conduct significantly.[5]

It is taken as implicit by Green and Ward that ‘passive failures to protect individuals against violations of their rights’ are also included within this definition of state crime.[6]

Green and Ward also point out that there is a difference between ‘individual deviant acts committed by state agents’ and ‘acts committed in pursuit of organisational goals’[7], with only the latter constituting state crime. Michael J. Lynch and Raymond Michalowski emphasise the term ‘organisational’ in the concept of state crime, proposing that often those who commit human rights abuses ‘are not morally depraved’, but are usually ‘ordinary workers who come to accept the normalcy of an organisational culture in which these acts, even if regrettable, are understood as simply part of their jobs’.[8] We have seen this in the history of abuses within the British immigration control system, as the government has tried to refute such abuse by attributing it to an individual (or individuals), usually at the lower levels, acting outside the parameters of their job. But it is often the case that the individuals are under pressure and informed from above, which creates the opportunity for abuses to occur.

In the area of immigration control policy, with a particular focus on Australia’s immigration control policy, Sharon Pickering and Michael Grewcock have both utilised he concept as developed by Green and Ward to highlight how the modern discourses that criminalise irregular migration (by refugees and asylum seekers) provide the context for state crimes to occur whereby these migrants become the victims. Grewcock states that Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers has been long criticised for ‘breaching human rights norms’, but notes that ‘few legal or formal sanctions have operated against Australian government policy’.[9] Along similar lines, Pickering points out that over the past decade and a half, ‘Australia has retreated from its international human rights obligations and has sought to particularly distance itself from its international human rights obligations to refugees’.[10] However, any condemnation by the international community has been interpreted by many in Australia as ‘an attempt to undermine the policies and practices of a democratically elected government’.[11] A ruling government is unlikely to prosecute itself for state crimes, even if its practices do constitute a violation of human rights, are institutionally embedded and are conducted in pursuit of the goals of the state. So what is the point of labelling these practices as state crimes? Pickering and Grewcock both argue that labelling a certain practice or act as a state crime allows a space for a challenge to be made within civil society and an alternative view of the ‘refugee question’ to emerge. As Pickering concludes in a 2005 article, the use of the term ‘state crime’ ‘may assist in the deployment of alternative meanings for legitimate sovereign behaviour and the terms through which its legitimacy may be judged’.[12]

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An IRR report into the deaths of asylum seekers and ‘irregular’ migrants in the UK

British immigration control and state crime

We see similarities between the phenomena described by Pickering and Grewcock and the abuses that we have described in this book. One of the continuous features of British immigration control since the 1970s is that there are ever tightening restrictions placed upon non-European migration, but as mentioned earlier this has not stopped the flow of people into Britain. Liza Schuster has argued that, despite controls becoming ever tighter, people still find a way into the destination country, stating that:

Controlled borders, let alone closed borders, are a fiction, and … the European and other governments which attempt to enforce these are involved in a symbolic battle at best.[13]

It is within this symbolic battle, Schuster claims, that there are ‘very real serious costs and consequences’ of the enforcement of immigration control, not only for migrants but also for the destination countries.[14] In addition to the massive financial costs of maintaining border control, hundreds of migrants die or are injured while seeking to gain entry to the destination country and there is an ‘increase in racial prejudice and racial violence each time migration controls become the focus of political attention’.[15]

The figures on how many have died, been injured or been physically or mentally abused within the British immigration control process are incomplete, and only cover a much more recent period of time than that examined in this book. For example, Harmit Athwal for the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) states that, between 2006 and 2010, ‘77 asylum seekers and migrants … have died either in the UK or [while] attempting to reach the UK’.[16] Of these 77, 15 died ‘taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country’, 44 died ‘as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system’ (with 28 of those committing suicide), seven died in police custody, seven died ‘at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations with a racial dimension’ while out in the community and four died while undertaking work in the ‘black economy’ as irregular migrants who are not provided with any state assistance.[17] After the deaths of three migrants in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre in July and August 2011, Athwal reported on the IRR website that 14 people had died in British immigration detention centres since 1989.[18] These reported figures are most likely to be underestimates of the real size of the problem and Athwal suggests that there may be more, such as those who die while trying to enter Britain, those who are repatriated to a place where they fear for their safety and those who die while working in the ‘black economy’.[19] Athwal also emphasises that these figures do not include the violence experienced by settled migrants and the next generations, at the hands of either other members of the community or institutions of the state, such as the police. Another IRR study from 2010 found that 89 people had died as a result of racial violence since 1993 (the year of Stephen Lawrence’s murder)[20], while the IRR website claims that over 140 black and ethnic minority people died in police custody between December 1978 and November 2003.[21]

Can these deaths be attributed to state crime? Looking back at Green and Ward’s definition, these deaths can be seen to eventuate from the pursuit of organisational goals by state personnel (such as preventing irregular migrants from entering the country, deporting unwanted migrants, and ensuring that living in the UK as an irregular migrant intolerable) or the failure to adequately protect vulnerable individuals. As Leanne Weber argues:

[t]he majority of border-related deaths can be attributed to the ‘structural violence’ of border controls – that is, to systemic effects that multiply the risks of death and injury faced by illegalised travellers.[22]

And like the Australian context, in Britain the migrant has little recourse against state crimes. Mary Bosworth and Mhairi Guild have explained that the migrant is in a ‘substantially different, and far more vulnerable, position’ than the domestic criminal, and the ‘British immigration complex does not encounter the same [legal] constraints as the [domestic] criminal justice system’.[23] Liz Fekete has lamented that ‘[n]ot one of the twelve deportation deaths the IRR has documented since 1993 [to 2007] has led to a police officer or immigration official being successfully prosecuted for murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter’.[24]

The death of migrants is not the only basis on which to justify use of the term ‘state crime’. Serous abuse and physical and psychological harm at the hands of the state can be classified as state crime. And the practice of virginity testing reveals that the maltreatment of vulnerable migrants is not reserved to irregular migrants. Moreover, migrants showing up at the border with documents are subjected to state abuse. This demonstrates that state crime at the border can take many forms, and more often than not goes unreported and remains unknown. However, these abuses can be explained as a consequence of attempts to achieve the organisational goals of the immigration control system: the ‘desire for order’ and the aim of preventing ‘undesirable’ migrants from entering the country.

This raises a question in relation to the cases of abuse seen in the British immigration control system and in the Australian system: can these abuses be considered ‘state crimes’ as defined by Pickering, Grewcock, and Green and Ward? Clearly, similar abuses have occurred in both immigration control systems. And by the definition put forward by Green and Ward, as used by Pickering and Grewcock, these abuses could indeed be defined as state crimes, pursued in the process of state organisational goals.

What is the purpose of calling these abuses state crimes? It must be to redress the balance in the discourse on how migrants are treated within the British immigration control system. The present discourse is framed by a popular assumption that migration is a transgressive act that must be responded to with the full force of the coercive powers of the state, which often surpasses the ‘legal’ limits of this coercion. By highlighting the actions of the state as a form of criminal activity, rather than focusing on the possibility of people entering the country under false pretences, we are hoping for a shift in the dominant discourse.

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[1] See David Garland, ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State: Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society’, British Journal of Criminology, 36/4 (Autumn 1996) pp. 445-471; Saskia Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York, 1996).

[2] Penny J. Green and Tony Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, Social Justice, 27/1 (2000) p. 102.

[3] Green & Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, p. 108.

[4] Green & Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, p. 110.

[5] Green & Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, p. 110.

[6] Green & Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, p. 111.

[7] Green & Ward, ‘State Crime, Human Rights and the Limits of Criminology’, p. 110.

[8] Michael J. Lynch & Raymond Michalowski, Primer in Radical Criminology: Critical Perspectives on Crime, Power and Identity (Mansey, NY, 2006) p. 186.

[9] Michael Grewcock, Border Crimes: Australia’s War on Illicit Migrants (Sydney: Institute of Criminology, 2010) p. 18.

[10] Sharon Pickering, Refugees and State Crime (Sydney: Federation Press, 2005) p. 13.

[11] Pickering, Refugees and State Crime, p. 14.

[12] Sharon Pickering, ‘Crimes of the State: The Persecution and Protection of Refugees’, Critical Criminology, 13 (2005) p. 160.

[13] Liza Schuster, ‘An Open Debate on Open Borders: Reply to Stephen Castles’, Open Democracy (29 December 2003) http://www.opendemocracy.net/print/1658 (accessed 18 November 2009).

[14] Schuster, ‘An Open Debate on Open Borders’.

[15] Schuster, ‘An Open Debate on Open Borders’.

[16] Harmit Athwal, Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010 (London, 2010) p. 2.

[17] Athwal, Driven to Desperate Measures, p. 2.

[18] Harmit Athwal, ‘Three Deaths in Immigration Detention’, IRR website (4 August 2011) http://www.irr.org.uk/2011/august/ha000008.html (accessed 26 August 2011).

[19] Athwal, Driven to Desperate Measures, p. 2.

[20] Harmit Athwal, Jenny Bourne and Rebecca Wood, Racial Violence: The Buried Issue, IRR Briefing Paper 6 (London, 2010) p. 3.

[21] IRR, ‘Black Deaths in Custody’ (19 February 2004) http://www.irr.org.uk/2002/november/ak000006.html (accessed 26 August 2011).

[22] Leanne Weber, ‘Knowing-and-yet-not-knowing about European Border Deaths’, Australian Journal of Human Rights, 15/2 (2010) p. 41.

[23] Mary Bosworth and Mhairi Guild, ‘Governing through Migration Control: Security and Citizenship in Britain’, British Journal of Criminology, 48 (2008) p. 711.

[24] Liz Fekete, ‘Europe’s Shame: A Report on 105 Deaths Linked to Racism or Government Migration and Asylum Policies’, European Race Bulletin 66 (Winter 2009) p. 5.

The Prevention of Terrorism Acts and exclusion orders: 40 years since their introduction

This week it will be forty years since the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1974, passed quickly in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974. The POTA was a broad piece of counter-terrorism legislation and many of the controversial elements of contemporary legislation concerning counter-terrorism and national security can be traced back to this 1974 Act. Many have written about the dramatic powers of the POTA, including the extensive powers of arrest and detention, but this post will focus on exclusion orders, which were granted under the POTA and the first piece of border control legislation to inhibit travel between the UK and Ireland. Although abolished in 1999, the national/border security framework created by the POTA and its exclusion orders have informed how terrorism is “countered” at the UK border in the 21st century. Part of this post is based on a paper on monitoring potential ‘terrorists’ coming from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s and 1980s currently under review, which is why there are references and comparisons to this in the post. If you would like to read a draft, please get in touch.

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The major terrorist threat to the UK during the 1970s was from the Provisional IRA and other Irish nationalist groups. Although most of the attacks during the 1970s occurred in Northern Ireland, Irish terrorism was always seen by the UK authorities as an internal or domestic terrorist issue. This was in contrast to the terrorist threat from the Middle East and North Africa, which was seen as an external threat, with an internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office report from 1980 stating ‘The main, continuing external threat of terrorist activity in Great Britain still comes from the Palestinian groups’.[i] As Kathryn Fisher has written, ‘International terrorism was positioned as non-domestic and non-British, an enemy from outside’.[ii] From a border security perspective, the irony of the Irish nationalist terrorist threat was that Irish citizens were free to enter and reside in Britain without restriction,[iii] while the much less immediate threat of Middle Eastern and North African terrorists entering Britain was heavily regulated.

In 1973, the Provisional IRA shifted its focus from merely targeting the British in Northern Ireland to a wider bombing campaign on the British mainland. This began with a bombing at the Old Bailey at March 1973 and continued throughout 1974 until November that year, when two Birmingham pubs were bombed, killing 21 people, and the UK government, blaming the Provisional IRA (the group has never claimed responsibility for it), hastily formed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act gave the police and the security service wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention to counter terrorism extending from Northern Ireland. Of particular importance are the exclusion orders that could be delivered to potential terrorists under the Act to prevent people under suspicion of terrorist activity from entering Great Britain (as opposed to the United Kingdom, which included Northern Ireland). Part II of the Act gave the Secretary of State the power to exclude persons from entering mainland Britain if they were suspected of preparing terrorist acts ‘designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to affairs in Northern Ireland.’[iv]However UK citizens who had been living for the last 20 years or born and ordinarily resident in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) could not be excluded. This meant that people could not travel to mainland Britain from Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland if they were suspected of taking part in Irish nationalist terrorist activities and were excluded under the new legislation.

The 1974 Act did not prevent people from entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain if suspected of being involved in acts of terrorism. The reason that Northern Ireland was not included in the legislation was because it was believed by the UK government that ‘terrorist attacks in Britain inevitably tend to be committed by people who have travelled here from Ireland, while those that take place in Northern Ireland tend to be committed by those already living there, or by those who have come over the border from the South’.[v] If a person who was not a UK citizen, they could be prevented from entering the whole of the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), but this was only for people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities designed to impact upon the politics of Northern Ireland, which became a problem for the authorities in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they tried to formulate ways in which the border control system could prevent potential Middle Eastern and North African terrorists from entering the country.

Exclusion orders were, as Josephine Doody has argued, symbolic that ‘an explosion or death from terrorist activities in GB was intolerable or unacceptable to the House of Commons but such an explosion or death in NI was of little concern.’[vi] But Doody also points out that exclusion orders were ‘viewed in NI as a second best option’ because the powers of arrest and detention were far greater in Northern Ireland under Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.[vii] Between 1974 and 1999 (when the legislation allowing exclusion orders was repealed), 448 people had received such orders.[viii]

In 1976, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was revised and strengthened, with exclusion orders now able to be used to prevent people travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but this was a rarely used loophole by Irish terrorists. But the 1976 Act also, for the first time, introduced (under Section 13) checkpoints at ports of entry between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though both regions belonged to the United Kingdom and travel between them by UK citizens was completely allowed. Because the monitoring of travellers in between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was implemented under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and not the Immigration Act 1971, immigration officers did not work at these port entry points, with the control points actually staffed by the police (often Special Branch officers). The police, in some cases, used landing and embarkation cards similar to those used under the Immigration Act for all non-UK passport holders and for many who travelled between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the line blurred between border control official and police officer. In his review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Lord Shackleton wrote, ‘a passenger may thus be in doubt whether he is speaking to a police officer, an immigration officer or some other official’ and that ‘[h]is attempts to find out may not always meet with success’.[ix]

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[i] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventative Action [final version]’, n.d., p. 1, FCO 60/685, National Archives, London.

[ii] Kathryn Fisher, ‘From 20th Century Troubles to 21st Century International Terrorism: Identity, Securitization, and British Counterterrorism from 1968 to 2011’, unpublished PhD thesis, London School of Economics, 2012, p. 19.

[iii] There has not been much research into the policing of the UK-Irish Republic border and counter-terrorist efforts against Irish nationalists, although Henry Patterson’s recent book uncovers a lot of new material regarding this. See: Henry Patterson, Ireland’s Violent Frontier: The Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During the Troubles (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[iv] Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, Part II, s. (3) 1.

[v] Cited in, Josephine Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities: Exploring the Use of Exclusion Orders in Northern Ireland’, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 4/1 (January 2012) p. 82.

[vi] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[vii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[viii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 80

[ix] Lord Shackleton, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts 1974 and 1976 (London: HMSO, 1978) p. 30.

Trends in myths about immigration

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Today The Guardian published a very thorough Q&A about European immigration to the UK and addressed some of the routinely asked questions about immigration, particularly as UKIP and the Tories seem to want to make immigration an issue at the next election. As I was reading the article, I was reminded that many of the persistent questions that people have about immigration have existed for a long time and have been addressed, in one way or another, since the 1960s. One of my ideas for a future research project would be to map which questions have been continually addressed in anti-racist literature since the 1960s and how these ‘myths debunked’ or ‘questions answered’ pieces have changed since then.

As a quick experiment, I found five pieces written in this format since 2001 (including today’s piece). The five pieces were:

Ceri Mollard, Asylum: The Truth Behind the Headlines (Oxfam, 2001)

Richard Smith, ‘Asylum – Myths of Truths’ (BBC, 2003)

Socialist Worker, ‘Migrant Myths’ (Socialist Worker, 2004)

Isabelle Koksal, ‘Mythbuster: Immigration – The Real Story’ (Red Pepper, 2012)

Jonathan Portes, ”Immigration: Could we – should we – stop migrants coming to Britain?’ (The Guardian, 2014)

All address the issue of immigration to the UK, although two of the earliest (from 2001 and 2003 respectively) focus on asylum while the latter focus on EU immigration (as well as asylum in the case of one from 2o12). I looked to see whether similar questions were raised in all five and which questions were specific to each piece – hoping to see some some trends and indicators of the wider debate about immigration occurring at a particular time.

Some of the reoccurring themes that were present were:

The severity of Britain’s immigration control system

Myth:… Britain is a ‘soft touch’ (2001)

MYTH: Britain is a soft touch (2012)

That ‘bogus’ asylum seekers outnumber genuine ones

Myth: Only a tiny proportion of refugees are genuine, and the rest are ineligible for asylum. (2001)

Aren’t most of them “bogus”? (2003)

Migrants receive a greater amount of state benefits

Myth: Asylum seekers get huge State handouts (2001)

Why do they get more benefits than people who’ve always lived here? (2003)

Myth 1 Migrants are ‘benefit tourists’ (2004)

MYTH: They come here for our generous welfare system (2012)

Do we have a problem in the UK with benefit tourism? (2014)

Migrants are abusing the NHS

Myth: The numbers of asylum seekers using State-provided services, such as the National Health
Service,are spiralling out of control and crippling the services. (2001)

Myth 3 Migrants are ripping off the NHS (2004)

MYTH: They are draining public services (2012)

But what about the argument about pressure on the public services? (2014)

Migrants are taking British jobs

Myth: Most asylum seekers are ‘economic migrants’. (2001)

Why are they allowed to take our jobs? (2003)

Myth 2 Migrants will take British jobs (2004)

But how can this be? Isn’t it just the economics of supply and demand – if you increase supply of workers, wages will fall? And if an immigrant takes a job, then a British worker can’t. (2014)

As part of my research into the history of British immigration control, I had a copy of a 1973 pamphlet by the Runnymede Trust that answered questions on immigration and found that similar questions could be found in the 1970s to those in the pieces from post-2001.

Regarding the severity of the immigration control system, the 1973 pamphlet had two questions:

How much illegal entry is there? Are the penalties severe?

Regarding the receipt of state benefits, it had this question:

Do immigrants cost the social services as a whole more?

And this one on the NHS:

Do immigrants cost the health service more?

And finally, on the issue of migrants taking jobs, the pamphlet asked these questions:

Do immigrants take white workers’ jobs? Do immigrant women go out to work? Are immigrants concentrated in a small number of jobs? Has the availability of immigrant labour prevented modernisation in industry?

So it seems evident from the small amount of source material that I have looked at that similar questions about immigration have persisted for a long time, although they are adapted or modified over time. I would like to try this on a much larger scale. Any suggestions of where to find more FAQs would be most welcome.

What might be just as interesting is seeing what kind of questions were asked in the past that are not asked today. For example, the 1973 Runnymede Trust pamphlet included the following questions:

Why have immigrants come here?

What about the Irish?

Why should we oppose racial discrimination if ‘discrimination’ in general is a part of life?

How do we know that racial discrimination is common?

Is it discriminatory to keep racial statistics?

Are ‘coloured unions’ desirable?

At this stage, this research project is only a pipe dream, but as usual, anyone interested should get in touch.