British lambast "racist" government billboard vans with humour

 Whether the Home Office were trying to be helpful in providing a hotline number for those in Britain illegally or whether it was merely a publicity stunt is a question hotly debated. But the backlash against the campaign dubbed #RacistVan by some online critics did not take long to kick in. Spoofs, satire and spamming were the twitterati’s weapons.


"Racist" government-sponsored van drives down London street.


Newspapers announced on 22nd July that billboards on vans, sponsored by the Home Office, were to circulate on the streets of London. Their message to illegal immigrants was simple “Go Home or Face Arrest”. The advert claims that 106 people “in your area” were arrested last week. The hotline number given was to provide free advice and if the campaign worked, then it would be rolled out across the country. Two vans drove around six London boroughs for a week, at a cost of £10,000.


But some bloggers and twitterati questioned the effectiveness of the campaign, accusing the government of simply pulling a publicity stunt which played into the hands of right-wing parties. Hoax text messages were sent to the hotline and satirical, photo-shopped images appeared on blog sites.


Trolling the Home Office. The 'Germans' this texter refers to is the British royal family whose origins are Germanic.


Yesterday, civil liberties and human rights group Liberty has also entered the fray with its own riposte: its billboard van accuses the government of illegally stirring up tensions. A spokesperson described them as “nasty, racist and likely unlawful”. In parallel, they are calling on people who have been stopped by police on the streets in a recent crackdown on immigration, to get in contact with a view to testing this government tactic in the courts.


Civil liberties and human rights organisation, Liberty, has replied to the "racist" vans with its own campaign.


And they are not the only organisations to criticise the government’s recent actions. The Refugee and Migrants Forum of East London has launched its own legal challenge to stop the van being used again in the country. A member of the opposition Labour Party has referred the vans to the advertising authority, saying that the figure of “106 people arrested in your local area” was "grossly misleading". Even the local council where the vans circulated criticised the scheme.



"I experienced verbal abuse when I was younger, and now it is the government doing it!"

@PukkaPunjabi, a graphic designer and self-described “Asian lefty woman troublemaker” is a Londoner who contacted the Home Office.


I read about these vans driving around London the day they were launched and was totally horrified. Although I never saw any of them up close, some of my friends around Brent had and got increasingly incensed.


But eventually, curiousity got the better of me and I texted the hotline number advertised on the billboards. The text message I got back asked whether I wanted a telephone call from the Home Office in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi or English. The racial profiling was blatant, they were clearly profiling people from the Indian subcontinent and not white over-stayers, like the Australians or Americans. Anyone who has ever come through UK immigration and happens to have darker skin will know what I’m talking about. I thought no more about this exchange.


But the following day, I got a phone call back. I had not prepared a script or anything. I ended up speaking to the Home Office man for about 20 minutes. He was polite but I got increasingly despondent that he could not get me a taxi from Harrow, to where I live in Wilsden. [Both places are in London, about five minutes away from each other by taxi].



Since I tweeted the details of my conversation, I got 1000’s of responses in support of my action. The support was phenomenal! People appreciated the humour of what I did but also recognised the seriousness of the issue I was addressing. I guess what I did just caught the public’s imagination.


It is amazing that this sort of thing can still happen in the UK. I’m of Indian heritage although I was born in the UK. When my parents moved here in the 1960s, they faced terrible racism. There was a bar on ‘coloured people’ getting certain jobs and housing. “Paki-bashing” was rife. I experienced verbal abuse when I was younger in the street and remember vividly the “go home” slogan being graffitied on walls. And now it is the government doing it!


A government spokesperson said that the campaign has been a success and that it may still be rolled out across the country. But they haven’t said what success means, how it is measured. I think they have misjudged the reality on the ground. The British people might not be as racist as the government thinks!



Spoof billboard vans appeared on blogging sites.







According to PukkaPunjabi, there are at least 100 bogus text messages that were sent to the Home Office hotline have been shared via Twitter.