In the last year alone, anti-migrant activists have visited accommodation housing migrants and asylum seekers 253 times, a 102% increase on 2021.HOPE not hate research
Four migrants drowned in the English Channel just before Christmas. The news made headlines in the British press for a day or two, but these were not the first desperate people to lose their life while trying to get to British shores last year, and are unlikely to be the last. The shortest distance across the English Channel is only 32 km. The crossings are dangerous, with strong tides and unpredictable weather.
While this route has been used to smuggle people across the channel for centuries, the scale has increased in recent years as British and French authorities have clamped down on ferry, road and rail routes. More than 45,000 people crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2022. This is a 60% increase from the year before and the highest number since these figures began to be collected in 2018.1 Government figures are released daily showing updated statistics of cross channel migration but for a small group of people, this data is untrustworthy and they have decided to take matters in their own hands.
The number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK is a fraction of those who seek sanctuary elsewhere in Europe, and asylum seekers remain a very small proportion of all migration to the UK. Nonetheless, migration has been a central issue for the British far right and activists have obsessed over the issue for decades, and an increased focus on asylum from the political mainstream and media in recent years has seen them adopt new methods, utilising technology to create content designed to incite hatred and stir up resentment.
Throughout the last tumultuous political year, with three prime ministers in 2022 alone, fear and anger about asylum has consistently been whipped up. The Home Secretary post changed hands from Priti Patel, who sought to enact the plan to export asylum seekers to Rwanda, to Suella Braverman who said her ‘dream’ was a front-page Telegraph story about asylum seekers being sent to Rwanda, to Grant Shapps who’s six-day tenure made him the shortest serving home secretary in British political history and back to Suella Braverman who then said asylum-seekers were staging an “invasion” of the South Coast of England. The rhetoric emanating from the government has been irresponsible and only fan the flames of anti-migrant sentiment.
All the while, the Home Office have failed to address a rapidly growing backlog of asylum cases or address the shortage of housing for asylum seekers, meaning that growing numbers of asylum seekers have been offered “contingency accommodation” which includes hotels or B&Bs. This has attracted widespread, and often irresponsible, coverage by the mainstream media over the past year. While campaigners have continuously highlighted the dire conditions and inappropriateness of using such accommodation, the sums of money to house asylum seekers in hotels has resulted in endless headlines. This rhetoric has been gleefully seized upon by the far right, whose own framing of these events is largely dissimilar from that of the government and large parts of the media. And within this broader anti-migrant climate, we have seen a growing threat from committed far-right activists and people radicalized by their extreme propaganda.
Anti-migrant activists and groups have spent the last few years ‘patrolling’ the South coast in the hunt for migrants or to film the RNLI ships bringing in rescued migrants. Chris Johnson, one of the most determined anti-migrant activists monitoring the channel crossings, posts near daily videos of arriving migrants rescued by the RNLI on his Facebook page. His videos are widely shared across a broad range of anti-migrant channels and profiles.
Dover has attracted more mainstream anti-immigration campaigners such as Nigel Farage as well as a coterie of less known far-right activists armed with their phones. There have also been several demonstrations in Dover protesting the influx of migrants, a recent one being on 4 June 2022 which was attended by the neo-Nazi group Patriotic Alternative, as well as anti-migrant activists Steve Laws, Nigel Marcham and members of Britain First. While the scale remains relatively small, the online footage of the event had a wider impact. Anti-migrant activists also regularly film and protest at the accommodation and nearby processing centres housing newly arrived migrants. While we can track the production of these videos back to 2016, there has been a sharp upsurge in the last year as far-right actors have ridden on a wave of fear-mongering about asylum in the mainstream.
In the last year alone, anti-migrant activists have visited accommodation housing people seeking asylum 253 times, a 102% increase on 2021. These activists show up to hotels, harass staff, security and any presumed ‘foreign’ person around the hotel while toting their camera and then post the videos online. The visits are widely shared on anti-migrant groups from Facebook to Telegram to Twitter.
“Look at this beautiful hotel closed to the public, housing illegal migrants, when our homeless veterans are on the streets and there is a cost of living crisis going on in this country.”
This justification is a constant refrain in anti-migrant activist videos over the past year. The influencers attempt to generate outrage by comparing the accommodation provided to “foreigners” with the situation of homeless British people, especially military veterans or speak about the cost of living crisis.
By far, the biggest perpetrator of this harassment in 2022 was Amanda Smith (aka Yorkshire Rose) who visited migrant accommodation 124 times last year, a 143% increase from the year before. Posing as a concerned local reporter, she tries to coax migrants into giving her more details about their crossing into the country or how long they’ve been here. While she attempts to keep a veneer of civility, her visits have at times ended in her screaming “traitor” and verbally abusing staff and security.
Different individuals employ varying strategies when approaching migrant accommodation. Alan Leggett (AKA Active Patriot) is routinely belligerent and rude to the staff. On one occasion, he managed to enter and harass asylum seekers in the canteen, repeatedly calling them “fighting age men”. In another he accosted a child in the hotel, asking him details of his travels. He’s visited contingency accommodation sites at least 38 times in 2022, also an increase on the previous year.
Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, on the other hand is soft-spoken when he attempts to interview asylum seekers. He asks if they are “being taken care of properly” and pretends to empathise with the residents. Seeking to gain political capitol from the issue, Britain First have carried out 81 visits in 2022, a 53% increase from the year before. Similarly, the far-right ‘journalists’ of Voice of Wales visited 15 sites across Wales in 2022, producing online content at each one.
Meanwhile, members of the neo-nazi group Patriotic Alternative rarely interact with asylum seekers or staff in hotels and having only made 14 visits in 2022. Instead, they drop banners with messages such as “White girls are not Fair Game” in front of the hotel, and leaflet the local area, to intimidate residents and in an attempt to stir up local opposition with messages like “we are full”.
Despite the different methods, all the activists and groups have one thing in common: the videos and images taken are posted on their social media feeds and are used to portray themselves as defenders of British citizens. It is not surprising the number of visits have increased over the last year, as social media numbers show the videos are often the most popular content these individuals have posted, especially if they manage to drag the accommodation staff into an argument.
The anti-migrant content and rhetoric found online does not exist in a vacuum as the terrorist attack in Dover sadly proved. On 30 October 2022, a man named Andrew Leak drove to Dover and threw petrol bombs at the migrant-processing centre. HOPE not hate’s archive of Andrew Leak’s now deleted Twitter account revealed a man who extensively consumed far-right material and was obsessed with a desire for violence against Muslims and migrants.
Andrew Leak may have acted alone but he had a long history of consuming far-right content and interacting with other extremists. On the morning of the attack, he tweeted, “Your children will feel the pain we will obliterate them Muslim children are now our target And there disgusting women will be targeted mothers and sisters Is burn alive”. [sic]
Leak was an ardent follower of many anti-migrant “citizen journalists”. He replied to Alan Leggett (AKA Active Patriot) at least 73 times and mentioned him a total of 100 times. Other citizen journalists he engaged with online were Jeremy Davis (AKA Little Boats) and Amanda Smith (AKA Yorkshire Rose), whom he replied to 29 and 18 times respectively.
Importantly, his attack came at a time when demonisation and scapegoating of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by the far right, government and elements within the media, is contributing to a toxic and dangerous climate. This rhetoric shapes hostile public opinion and encourages the far right at a time when violent extremism is at a high.
The combination of hotel harassment, mainstream hostile language, and inconsistent – and often impractical – government policies on immigration have created a toxic mix online, encouraging extreme action and rhetoric. This is unlikely to improve in the coming year, especially with the ever-increasing anti-migrant content coming from the mainstream.
The rhetoric of the far right and the mainstream around migration are increasingly similar. Directing hate at Albanian nationals, branded as ‘criminals’, tropes about people claiming asylum as ‘freeloaders’, claims of Britain ‘swamped’ by an ‘invasion’ of migrants, and direct attacks on so called ‘activist lawyers’ have all come from the heart of power, are amplified by the press, and swiftly become focal points of far right activity. The increasing number of direct attacks from anti-migrant activists we have monitored over the last year is inseparable from how migration is being weaponized by more mainstream political actors and the press.
In a hostile climate, where people who are migrants and refugees have faced daily harassment from organised far-right political groups, we need to see far greater safeguarding and action to address the backlogs trapping people in unsuitable accommodation where they become targets for hate. Politicians and the media need to take real responsibility and drop their line of inflammatory language that incubates the far right.
Sadly, as is so often the case, whenever there is conflict in the Middle East there is fallout on the streets of Britain. Unsurprisingly, some…
HOPE not hate can reveal violent messages from far-right activists threatening the use of crossbows ahead of a series of far-right demonstrations this weekend. Far-right…