Social Justice

Campaigners create Home Office installation to protest migrants' treatment

Items including a baby bottle and packet of tobacco, donated by homeless people, were used to demand protection for migrants at risk

A group of formerly homeless artists teamed up with campaigners to call for an end to the “widespread danger” for migrants in the UK, installing a series of museum items outside the Home Office.

The objects, contributed by Big Issue Changemaker the Museum of Homelessness, included a packet of tobacco and a baby’s bottle – challenging observers to “see the humanity in everyone”.

During the demonstration on Sunday August 30, the activists called for the no recourse to public funds policy to be scrapped – citing the death of Mercy Baguma in Glasgow, who was forced out of work after her leave to remain in the UK expired.

Last month a dozen charities wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson demanding permanent legislative change to stop children whose families had no recourse to public funds from going hungry.

The ‘hostile environment’ policy means households who haven’t yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK are not entitled to support through the welfare system like Universal Credit, tax credits and in many cases free school meals.

The letter followed calls from the Work and Pensions Committee and councils in England to suspend the policy, which leaves many facing destitution, so that local authorities would have a better chance of supporting everyone who needed it during the Covid-19 crisis.

The campaigners said they were responding to the increased risk at which migrants face as a result of UK policy and warned of suspected far-right activists targeting hotels where vulnerable people are housed.

Artist and campaigner David Tovey said: “This installation is a message from a ex-homeless veteran that hate will not be tolerated. I am disgusted by the actions of the far right abusing and intimidating homeless residents staying in Covid hotels. It makes me sick.

“How dare they use the plight of homeless veterans to advocate their hate filled agendas. I served this country so that everyone could live in peace, no matter of your faith, colour, sexuality or where you originate from. As an ex-homeless veteran, I say ‘Not in my name.’”

The activists also demanded criminal charges be brought against those who are found to be harassing or intimidating homeless people housed in hotels as a result of the pandemic.

Streets Kitchen co-ordinator Elodie Berland said: “We are devastated to hear of the death of Mercy Baguma and to have to witness the disgraceful ongoing hostility towards homeless migrants.

“At Streets Kitchen we see the inhumane impact of the No Recourse to Public Funds rules on a daily basis with hundreds of people too poor to buy food and basic supplies, and these numbers keep growing. This installation is a message to the government that they must abolish the punitive No Recourse to Public Funds rules so that everyone has the ability to work, feed themselves and their families and have a roof over their heads.”

The Museum of Homelessness said the installation would likely run again in future.

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