On Monday, 22 July 2013, the UK Home Office launched a pilot scheme targeting irregular migrants and urging them to ‘go home.’ This advertising campaign, which has appeared on large signs on vans, leaflets, posters, and messages in local newspapers, has sparked significant controversy. 

13 07 22 New advertising
Across the political divide, it seems, the ‘go home or face arrest’ sloganeering is a step too far. A wide-range of commentators have criticised the scheme as racist, anti-migrant, and reliant on scare tactics. It is being challenged in the courts and calls are growing to abandon it.

The ad reads: “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 return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.”

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Next week, two vans displaying the ads will be driven around the London boroughs of Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent, and Redbridge. The ads will also show residents of these neighbourhoods the number of irregular migrants arrested recently in their area. According to the Home Office press release, the purpose of the pilot scheme is “to highlight the advantages of returning home voluntarily – while making clear enforcement action will be taken if they [irregular migrants] do not.”

The blunt directive to ‘go home’ frames the UK as a home for some and not for others. The threat of arrest and detention is used to reinforce these boundaries, reveals the productive relationship between criminal justice, coercion, and border control. In so doing, it has illuminated how citizenship has become a mode of governance under conditions of mass mobility.

The prominent focus on ‘home’ in this campaign raises a number of questions about the affective nature of home and the links between identity and belonging. Where is ‘home’? How long must one reside in a country before it ‘feels like home’? What are the pre-requisites for belonging?

For the Home Office, the billboards suggest, immigration status is all. Yet, as the level of disquiet about this campaign grows, such easy assumptions about the relationship between citizenship and belonging are drawn into question. The advertising oversimplifies this complex relationship, not just denying those without legal status the right or capacity to belong, but overlooking their membership in wider communities which include British citizens and legal residents.

Despite being couched in the language of ‘rational choice’ and ‘deterrence’ this campaign starkly reveals the cultural and emotional nature of border control. In so doing, it resonates with decades of punitive sentiment and practice that have seen a vast escalation in the size and scope of criminal justice. At the same time, however, the public debate over this campaign suggests that a punitive approach to migration control is not uncontested. Is there room, after all, for moderation in the politics of migration? Has the government misjudged the views of the British public and (some) of their own politicians?

For some recent publications related to home, belonging and border control see:

  • Bosworth, M. and B. Kellezi. (2013). ‘Citizenship and Belonging in a Women’s Immigration Removal Centre’ in C. Phillips and C. Webster. (eds.). New Directions in Race, Ethnicity and Crime. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Kaufman, E. and M. Bosworth. (2013). ‘Prison and National Identity: Citizenship, Punishment and the Sovereign State.’ In D. Scott (Ed.). Why Prison? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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