A group of rough-sleeping Roma have returned to Park Lane after being targeted in a dawn raid by Westminster council officers and police last week.
The raid, part of Operation Chefornak, was intended to address rough sleeping, begging and crime within the Roma communities in the borough, and offered free flights back to Romania. The BBC report says 20 people accepted the offer and a further 19 later agreed to leave.
Always keen to demonstrate to the electorate that they're tough on illegal immigration, the government has recently launched a wider campaign urging immigrants to leave the UK or face arrest. Six London boroughs — Hounslow, Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge — will see advertising vans advising illegal immigrants to take up the offer of a free flight home. The mobile adverts say:
"In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention."
The campaign has been criticised as 'intimidation' and it's not hard to see why. Threatening people who need help isn't likely to do a whole lot to encourage illegal immigrants to come forward. The Home Office's recent tweeting about how 'there will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants' also came in for some stick and when even UKIP's Nigel Farage uses the Daily Mail to come out in opposition of an anti-immigration campaign, you know you may not have hit on a winning strategy (though we're not naive enough to ascribe reasons of altruism to Farage's criticism of the government).
The campaign relies heavily on the obvious — that mobile phone-owning illegal immigrants are able to return to their country of origin. There will undoubtedly be some for whom going home is possible and preferable to staying put, but generally they're here for a reason (and no, it's not to claim benefits because illegal immigrants are by definition illegal and therefore ineligible). Many face arrest and persecution in their home countries, or have families under threat. One of the commenters on the Redbridge story also raises a valid point (albeit perhaps not interpreted in the way they intended) — the assumption that all illegal immigrants speak English, yet another government bugbear over immigration.
Any discussion around immigration, illegal or otherwise, is a bit of a hot potato. The Roma evictions have led to a protest being planned in August while Migrants' Rights Network director Don Flynn calls the ad campaign 'shocking' and 'dog whistle politics at its very worst'.
At a cost of £10,000, it's certainly cheaper than forcible repatriation. We could almost believe that the campaign is intended for voters rather than illegal immigrants. But that would be cynical of us.
Photo by IG_Dan_W8 in the Londonist Flickr pool.