By WAYNE FARAH (Chair, Migrants’ Rights Network)
The passing of A. Sivanandan on 3 January 2018 is a moment for all of us to re-dedicate ourselves the universal struggle for justice and equality he championed, and to which our struggle for the rights of all migrants is one small contribution.
Those of us who were fortunate enough to have known Siva will have our own fond memories of the time we spent with him. I will always remember his wicked sense of humour, our shared love of Paul Robeson, and his ability to tell you off, set you straight, and lift you up, all in one sentence.
The Migrants’ Rights Network is a small part of Sivanandan’s enormous legacy. It was Siva who exposed the institutional racism of the British state’s immigration policies in “From Immigration Control to ‘Induced Repatriation’” in his classic work A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance (1982). His analysis of the nexus of immigration control and institutional racism foresaw Theresa May’s “hostile environment,” and remains central to MRN’s demand for the rights of all immigrants. Not just some immigrants, not just the “good immigrant,” not just the vulnerable refugee, not just the European immigrant, or the highly skilled immigrant, but all immigrants. Everyone who crosses a state borders to live their life, for whatever reason, for whatever period of time, must maintain their fundamental human rights.
For as Siva taught, “We are here because you were there.” The “new circuits of imperialism” which displace migrants and refugees and land them on Europe’s shores as so much “flotsam and jetsam” gives rise to new “racisms” and new modes of state repression to manage the newcomers and guarantee the exploitability. As a consequence there can be “no anti-racist movement, no women’s movement, and no Green movement anymore that does not place the migrant at the core of its struggle.”
Therefore, years ago when we were in the early stages of developing MRN, I went to visit Siva at the IRR and talk with him about the project. As always his testing and probing as to what we wanted MRN to be, forced us to refine our thinking on what we meant by “migrants’ rights,” and where MRN would fit into the wider struggle. The legacy of that conversation is made flesh in our current director, Fizza Qureshi, who also had the good fortunate to know Siva and benefit from his mentoring.
Those of you who did not have the luck to know Siva personally have experienced him at one removed by your engagement with MRN. If you have never read his work, I hope you will visit
and learn more about this remarkable man. Those of you about to encounter Siva and his writing for the first time are about to meet a new best friend, just as we grieve for our lost comrade.