19-24th September 2007, Sussex
On the 19-24th September, over 200 people gathered for the UK's first No Border camp near a small village called Balcombe in Sussex. The camp was organised to protest against the building of a new detention centre near Gatwick which will take the UK's capacity to detain asylum seekers & people with precarious immigration statuses to 3,000. The camp provided an opportunity for groups and individuals working on issues surrounding migration to meet, do actions, network and give workshops on a wide range of topics which are documented on the camp's website (www.noborders.org.uk).
At the camp there was a large feminist and queer presence that both reflected the involvement of feminists and queers in no border politics and the fact that it is often women and queers who suffer most at the hands of an extremely unfair, racist and homophobic system. Notable events included the 'Moving Gender' workshop which took place on the Friday of the camp. The workshop explored a number of issues around gender and migration, including how the control of people's mobility is linked to the control of sexuality and an important contribution to the debates and activism that surround the trafficking of women. This section of the workshop, which was led by the founders of X talk who provide free English classes for sex workers so that they can communicate better with clients (http://www.xtalkproject.net/), presented the opinion that there needs to be a more rigorous 'labour rights' perspective applied to the contemporary feminist perspective on sex work. Sex work should be understood not only as prostitution but as a multiplicity of work choices that sell sex and there should be an awareness of the contradictory position that sex workers hold in relation to capital - that is they illustrate what it means to be marginalised and invisible because of their working practices but are also fundamental to the operations of capital. The workshop conceptualised sex work as affective labour - a theory that can also be applied to other areas of work that are often done by women and queer migrants such as domestic and care work. Affective labour is labour which has a value not only in terms of capital but in terms of its relational value; the feeling it produces for the user of a particular service. This theory can provide a useful tool in measuring the economic value of relation that sex and care work encompasses, when this is valued more highly this will hopefully lead to better pay and working conditions for people working in this sector.
The workshop concluded with a presentation about radical queer politics in Beograd (www.queerbeograd.org) and the everyday confrontation with borders and bordered thinking that queer people rub up against when they visibly deviate from binary sex and normative sexuality. Overall the workshop provided some useful contributions to a variety of debates surrounding sexuality, the home, women's place, sex work, gender and migration that will continue to be acted upon at events such as Feminist Fightback (20th October 2006) and the Feminist Activist Forum www.feministactivistforum.org.uk. The workshop underlined how radical queer politics continue to both inform and transform feminist political praxis in our activist and social communities.
Approaching issues surrounding trafficking & sex work from a no borders perspective potentially offers a great coalition space for feminists who are usually in great conflict over issues surrounding sex. These debates in the 1980s onwards greatly fragmented the WLM and those divisions can still be found in the contemporary feminist political landscape. One example of this was at Ladyfest Leeds where the festival was labelled a 'Porn Fest' by anti-sex direct action group, Object, following an alleged inclusion of a burlesque performance at a fundraising event for the fest. If feminists can however lay down their differences over sex then the No Border banner would be a productive space under which to unite: simply, there would not be any trafficking of women if border laws did not exist. So instead of feminists fighting between each other over debates whether sex work is empowering or degrading for women, it is far better to focus on removing the root cause of the oppression - the border laws - which produce the conditions for exploitative trafficking in the first instance.
Other notable events that occurred at the No Borders camp were hearing the testimonies from women who had been detained in Immigration Removal Prisons such as Yarlswood and Harmondsworth, these were sobering and powerful to hear, reminding us of the brutal, inhumane and racist treatment women receive in detention prisons. It was also inspiring to hear the spirited, defiant resistance to the system by one of the women. Common stories that recurred were of racist assaults, denial of adequate medical treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape. Maltreatment often occurs in these immigration prisons because they privately run for profit and are not subject to the same regulative procedures as the UK's prison service, which creates scope for greater abuse and limited accountability. Women from Crossroads women's centre, who have been tirelessly working and supporting women to empower themselves in asylum cases for many years, presented a workshop that shared strategies, frustrations and successes when fighting the UK's detention regime. Crossroad's work, which includes direct support and research, concludes that the system consistently refuses to believe women when they say they are feeling brutal regimes such as Mugabe's in Zimbabwe, while also reporting on the gross malpractice of lawyers working on asylum cases. Women from the All African Women's Group who meet at the centre, also shared the work they do.
Overall the camp provided a relaxed and focussed political space in which to explore strategies in which to further the campaign to end Britain's detention and border regime. Many friendships, ideas and plans for further action were mobilised while the camp also included a number of actions, culminating in a large march from Crawley to Tinseley House, one of the first immigration prisons opened in 1993, to the planned site of the new centre Brooke House, which will have the capacity to hold 436 people. At the march the queer and feminist bloc formed a colourful contingent, including a number of feminist, anti-capitalist queer superheroes devised for the camp. We marched for a world without borders, without racism, homophobia, sexism and class exploitation, a world of unity, diversity and where freedom of movement is a reality for everyone on the planet. We will to continue to act in this way until it is achieved.
Reviewed by deborammmrah.