Illustration by Farnaz Zare
The Queen’s birthday honours list is published once a year, and celebrates those who have “made achievements in public life”, or “committed themselves to serving and helping Britain”. I was offered an honour this year – here’s why I declined.
To the prime minister in waiting,
I decline the offer to be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire as part of the 2019 honours list.
I thank the individuals who nominated me for services to equality in Bristol and I want to use this opportunity to highlight the work of Citizens UK Bristol, an inspiring group of migrants and citizens that lobbied for and co-partnered with Bristol City Council to establish a Syrian refugee resettlement programme.
But I neither want nor need acknowledgment from a queen.
Prime minister, I want your attention instead.
I want you to acknowledge that you serve 66 million people, not a political career.
I want you to acknowledge that the “UK’s proud tradition of welcome” is hampered by its own government. In 2015, during the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the government’s total “quota” for refugee resettlement stood at a meagre 750. It took concentrated citizen efforts and wider political pressure for the government to increase its commitment to 20,000 over five years.
If, like your predecessor Theresa May, you are inspired to quote Sir Nicholas Winton, acknowledge that you must match your words with actions; extend the welcome, and keep open our refugee resettlement schemes, community sponsorship programmes and the Dubs amendment. What is the point of awarding an MBE for community-built infrastructure if you won’t let it live? Extend the welcome.
I want you to recognise that the hostile environment policy is devastating our hospitals, schools, public services, neighbourhoods and homes. Far from being “targeted”, this policy both forces citizens to become border agents when this is not our job and disproportionately discriminates against communities of colour.
As you know, the court has declared the right to rent scheme “unlawful for causing unacceptable racial discrimination”. As you know, public opinion is united in condemning the Home Office’s wrongful deprivation of the Windrush generation’s rights, lives and dignity. And as you know, three million European nationals slipping into undocumented status should not need to be your next lesson. Acknowledge what we all know already; the hostile environment policy is unworkable, unreformable and needs to be scrapped.
Prime minister, I want you to acknowledge that the era of go home vans and divide and rule needs to be over. If the “issue” of immigration needs to be examined, why simplify the conversation? Let’s finally have that conversation. Let’s discuss the empire’s shadow on the British psyche. Let’s discuss a national curriculum, which prevents students from understanding – we are here because you were there. Let’s discuss how white supremacy is embedded in British institutions, law and policy. Let’s talk about the systematic stripping of rights and services for those most in need, and let’s discuss the lived realities of four million children in poverty and record use of food banks. Before blaming migrants, let’s finally have that conversation.
The honours list is supposedly about acknowledging the good deeds of citizens, but it feels as though these deeds should be named for what they are; acts of resistance, acts of common sense, and acts of humanity – despite our government.
In reality, we do not need acknowledgement from a queen. We need our government to take a good long look at itself.