Dear IRR News subscriber,
The Institute of Race Relations may have had to close its office in London (please keep in touch with us through email, twitter or facebook), but staff and volunteers, operating remotely, have been working extra hard to ensure that we bring you news of the ways in which civil society are holding governments to account over their handling of the Covid-19 crisis. This week on IRR News, IRR vice-chair Frances Webber provides chapter and verse on the faultlines exposed by the handling of coronavirus in the UK and Europe. Refugees, asylum seekers, prisoners and other vulnerable and marginalised populations are being callously exposed to the worst risks of infection in policies of containment (not suppression) that see them trapped in overcrowded and insanitary asylum hostels, camps and detention centres – or left out on the streets to fend for themselves. And John Grayson, in ‘Asylum in the time of Covid-19’ describes the terrifyingly insanitary conditions faced by those in asylum housing.
In the UK, the government cynically chose the time when all eyes and minds were on the Covid-19 pandemic to release the Windrush ‘Lessons Learned’ report. The final report drew back from finding the Home Office institutionally racist, although earlier drafts submitted to ministers and officials for comment apparently did make such a finding. The report’s author, HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams, did express serious concerns about racism within the department, referring to a culture of disbelief and carelessness, and institutional ignorance about race ‘consistent with some elements of the definition’ of institutional racism. Two years on, she finds that some Windrush victims still face homelessness and unemployment because of hostile environment policies. But her recommendations – a race advisory board, teaching staff colonial history, an internal review of hostile environment measures – go nowhere near matching the scale of the injustice and suffering wrought by such policies, and cannot effect real change. As our calendar of racism and resistance shows, campaigners will not leave it there, and are calling for an investigation into institutional racism at the Home Office.
The true lesson to be learned from Windrush is that hostile environment policies have no place in a society with pretensions to humanity, and must be abolished. The coronavirus crisis demonstrates that only universal provision provides protection for all. As the shocking entries in our special Coronavirus roundup demonstrate, the welfare of all of us depends on decent housing, healthcare and social inclusion without regard to race, class or immigration status.
IRR News Team