Infrastructures From Below in a Migrant-led Autonomous Housing Project in Hostile Britain


In this conversation preceded by a political contextualization, Helen Brewer and Loraine Masiya Mponela describe the very tangible effects of Britain’s Hostile Environmental policy on asylum seekers and undocumented people on the island, as well as the means undertaken to resist this structural violence.

Brewer Funambulist
In the UK, government responses to the pandemic saw sharp reconfigurations of the internal border take place following the nationwide deployment of “contingency” accommodation sites to house newly arrived asylum seekers. People were moved from immigration detention to quasi-carceral sites outside of detention powers statutory remit: hotels, military barracks, temporary holding camps and re-purposed barges, now operating as carceral infrastructures instrumental in distributing and dispersing border violence. / Drawing and annotations by Helen Brewer (2023).

Britain’s internal border controls are configured by a pervasive and expansive set of technologies, processes, and policy practices which restrict migrant access to the means of life. Evidenced in dangerous mandates coming out of the recent Nationality and Borders Bill 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023, “warehousing” people as they await a decision on their asylum claim in hotels, repurposed military barracks, and floating detention prisons.

Bolstering these evolving carceral configurations is a philosophy of deterrence, exemplified in the Hostile Environment policy. In 2012, then-Home Secretary Theresa May declared her aim to, “create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants,” closing people off from fundamental services like the National Health Service (NHS), schools, the right to rent, and accessing emergency services, and asking doctors, police officers, teachers, and landlords with the border work of checking immigration status. By turning civilians into quasi-border guards, the policy undermines the duty of public services, and instead instills the fear of accessing help when needed. Pushing migrants further into precarity and at worst, destitution.