Forget Liverpool, Spurs and the Champions League: the real football action this week was on the streets of Sheffield and Bristol, where local clubs came together to take on the Hostile Environment.
The initiative was kicked off by Mount Pleasant Park FC and These Walls Must Fall campaigners in Sheffield, with an exciting match right outside the Home Office immigration reporting centre. A rambunctious crowd cheered on the teams, and showed the red card to the Home Office. It was from that building that a local football coach and some fellow Zimbabweans were recently snatched and taken to a detention centre. Sheffield folk were outraged, and their friends were released, but the local campaign to end detention goes on.
After Victor, a local coach, who we play football with, was detained and threatened with deportation earlier this year along with several other Zimbabweans in the local area, all of whom remain at risk, we realised we could no longer stand by. We decided it was time to do something about it.Mount Pleasant park FC
Read the full statement from Mount Pleasant Park FC below
Later in the day in Bristol, the famous Easton Cowgirls held a football match outside City Hall, and handed out These Walls Must Fall leaflets to passers-by.
In a short video online, the Cowgirls read a statement saying their match was in solidarity with their friends at Mount Pleasant Park, and the Sheffield folk who had been detained.
The footy action got a lot of attention on social media, giving a big boost to the These Walls Must Fall campaign. Even someone INSIDE the Home Office in Sheffield tweeted their support!
Do YOU want to organise a football (or other sports) match against the Home Office?
We’ve been contacted by football clubs in Leeds and London, with plans for follow up events to keep up the pressure and spread the campaign. If you would like to organise something in your area (football, cricket, netball, water polo in the pond outside the Home Office in London..?) then get in touch!
Statement from Mount Pleasant Park FC
After Victor, a local coach, who we play football with, was detained and threatened with deportation earlier this year along with several other Zimbabweans in the local area, all of whom remain at risk, we realised we could no longer stand by. We decided it was time to do something about it.
As a club, Mount Pleasant Park FC have always been outspoken about various social and political issues. We often use political slogans, fundraise, and share literature about issues we are concerned about at our matches and tournaments.
The detention and deportation of asylum seekers and migrants living in the UK is something that affects thousands of people, including friends of our team. 30,000 migrants are detained in UK detention centres every year. Deportation to dangerous countries is proven to lead to deaths, which the government could prevent by granting people, such as those five Jamaicans who have been killed after being deported in the last year, safe refuge in the UK.
Detention and deportation – as part of the ‘Hostile Environment’ policies designed to make the lives of migrants in this country as difficult as possible – rip countless families and communities apart, leave people living in constant fear, and is often done under cover of darkness. The actions of groups like End Deportations, who peacefully stopped a charter flight from deporting 60 people, several of whom now have leave to remain in the UK, show just how unjust the system is. After Victor, a local coach, who we play football with, was detained and threatened with deportation earlier this year along with several other Zimbabweans in the local area, all of whom remain at risk, we realised we could no longer stand by. We decided it was time to do something about it.
We understand that Vulcan House, the Home Office premises situated in Sheffield city centre, is a place many people in our community associate with fear and violence. They dread having to report there, in the knowledge they can be detained by the Home Office at any time, without notice or reason.
Detention is a cruel and an unnecessary part of the immigration system. A recent report from a cross-party parliamentary committee on the issue found that the Home Office’s use of detention is “cavalier” in its approach, and locks up many people who are meant to be protected as survivors of trauma. The Home Office ignores its own rules, and even locks up pregnant women and children. Detention is a prison system which locks people up without going through the criminal justice system. The UK is the only country in Europe which has no time limit on detention, leaving detainees, who are held without charge or trial, counting up the days, with no information about when they might be released. Conditions in UK detention centres are miserable, and horror stories of the slave labour used by the private companies who run them for huge profits, and lack of access to medication and sufficient healthcare, are common. Theresa May’s hostile environment shows a complete lack of compassion, empathy and is an inexcusable stain on British society. As long as the Home Office continues to persecute people, we’ll continue to take action.
That’s why we’re organising as part of the These Walls Must Fall campaign against detention. The campaign is supported locally by South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, Sheffield – Student Action for Refugees – STAR, and ASSIST Sheffield, to name a few.
Today we assembled two teams, along with a rambunctious crowd to stage a demonstration/game of football outside Vulcan House. We decided on a football match because it was through football that we have met so many people experiencing the hostile environment. It is through football that we try and create a small space of welcome and community in this city. We know Vulcan House is not a place people associate with these feelings, and we wanted to reclaim that space, as people who have the privilege of freedom inside and outside its doors that our friends are refused. We wanted to increase awareness to the staff inside, to let them know that they are complicit in the detention and deportation of human beings who are part of our local community, and that people from all walks of life oppose what they’re doing. We will be making a short film about the above issues, and about our action today, which will be released in the coming weeks.
We also encourage football fans and players to pay attention to the ways in which the hostile environment is active in the game. In reality, football is not a safe space for everyone. Trafficking is regularly used to exploit talented young people promised a future at big clubs, and whilst big name players can buy visas and citizenship, those at small clubs on low wages still live under the Home Office’s regime. Recent rules have made it difficult for asylum seekers (who are already barred from working in the UK) to coach teams even on a voluntary basis, further marginalising them from mainstream society, while many players in teams we know are living under constant threat of detention and deportation. All this, while the multibillion pound football industry paints itself as a game without borders.