Migrant rights activists block set-up of London arms fair

Thursday, 7 September, 2017

Photos available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wdm/sets/72157685963971990

  • Day of creative action to block the set-up of DSEI arms fair in London, including an “alternative border force” of drag artists and ex-military veterans stopping vehicles delivering weaponry for display at the arms fair
  • ‘Free Movement for People not Weapons’ demonstration targets companies supplying weaponry that fuel wars and profiting from militarised borders and surveillance technology

On Thursday 7 September, migrant rights activists used theatre, dance and direct action picnics to delay deliveries of weapons for display at Defence & Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI), one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, which is due to take place next week at the Excel Centre in East London. Taking part in a week of action designed to prevent the set-up of the biennial arms fair, activists called for ‘Free Movement for People not Weapons’.
Hundreds of weapons manufacturers and private security companies will be exhibiting at DSEI. Many of them are directly profiting from conflicts which drive people from their homes, as well as from deadly borders and the inhumane treatment of migrants. 
Militarized borders kill tens of thousands of people every year, so there is a booming private security industry that sees commercial opportunity in these racist border controls. It is estimated to be worth £13.7 billion annually, and this is expected to rise to £26.5 billion by 2022.   
Organised by migrant-led feminist and queer groups, the day of action will feature workshops, theatre and dance led by migrants and people on the front lines of military and border violence, exploring the issues and calling for an end to the detention and criminalization of migrants.  

The All African Women’s Group performed their play, We Are Here Because You Were There, while queer music and drag artists joined with ex-military veterans to obstruct vehicles attempting to enter the arms fair by conducting ‘citizens weapons inspections’. 

Kahra Wayland-Larty, a campaigner from Global Justice Now said:
“As Theresa May's government prepares to roll out the red carpet for arms dealers, there is an increasingly hostile environment for migrants and refugees on the streets of Britain. The missiles and drones due to be showcased in East London won’t face border controls as they go on to wreak havoc around the world. But the people who flee for their safety as a result will face violence and persecution at militarised borders as they are forced to migrate. That's why we're taking action today – to join the dots between the dealers in death at DSEI and the tens of thousands around the world facing the effects of these weapons of war."

Sara C  from Women of Colour Global Women's Strike said: 
“Immigrants are here because Western governments are militarily involved directly or by proxy in many countries, fuelling environmental destruction, poverty and the arms trade, to enrich themselves. Millions have no choice but to flee death, starvation, rape, devastation, pollution. We have a right to cross borders, and survive. We have a right to be here because we are owed for 500 years of imperial theft – $14.2 trillion in the African slave trade alone.”

A spokesperson from the All African Women’s Group said:
“We are here because we were imprisoned, raped, starved, saw our children killed or taken from us under dictatorships armed by Western governments and/or corporations. When we get to the UK we are treated like beggars and criminals and made destitute. Two-thirds of the women in our group have been detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC where we’ve led hunger strikes and other protests against sexist, racist abuse (including sexual violence) by G4S and Serco guards.”
“We are campaigning to show that the way asylum seekers are treated gives a green light to racism against all people of colour and immigrant people and that we can come together against the devaluing of all our lives.”

The action is part of a week of action called by Stop the Arms Fair against the DSEI arms fair.

Photo: David Mirzoeff