New Internationalist

Racists, go home

October 2013

Readers in Britain may be familiar with the now-withdrawn #RacistVan1, whose billboard declared: ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice.’

Now obviously, this is a genius idea. Because if you lived in a country where you could be tortured and killed for your beliefs, and you’ve battled through hell to get into a country that you believe can offer you safe haven, you’d definitely see an advert on a van and think to yourself, ‘It’s illegal for me to be here? Oh my goodness, I didn’t realize! In that case, let me just text the government, on that phone that I definitely own, and hand myself in. To think I could have had a criminal record! I really dodged a bullet there.’

‘Go home!’ It’s the language of rightwing extremists, and the government knows it. The vans aren’t meant to appeal to ‘illegal’ immigrants – they’re meant to appeal to Conservative voters who are drifting to the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

But it did make me wonder – how could I be sure that I was here legally? I needed to check. I am a patriot, after all. So I texted in.

First thing the next day, I received a voicemail from the Home Office: ‘If you are genuinely interested in a voluntary departure, please call us back.’ They stressed the word genuinely, as if it were a response to an online dating ad: ‘Genuine people only, no time-wasters, must have GSOH, especially with regard to our ludicrous anti-immigration policies.’

But it did make me wonder - how could I be sure that I was in Britain legally?

Later that day I spoke to a very stern no-nonsense lady and I explained to her, in my finest BBC English accent, that I wasn’t sure if I was here legally. Wearily, she sighed – a sign that perhaps I wasn’t the first person to have had this idea – and said, ‘Come on then, let’s hear it.’ Why, it’s almost as if hundreds of other people are trolling the Home Office with preposterous excuses, in protest at their racist propaganda! Isn’t that a shame.

I told her that I was born in this country, and so were my parents. And so were their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents. But, here’s the thing – I’ve no idea about THEIR parents! Where did they come from? What if they snuck in centuries ago from ‘Bongo Bongo Land’? (A country which I can’t find on a map, but which I’m sure exists, because why else would UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom claim it’s where $1.5 billion of our foreign aid goes?)

Anyway, the Home Office lady assured me that I didn’t need to worry. ‘But how can you be sure?’ I asked. Well, I’m sorry to say I never found out – because she hung up on me.

But dear reader, perhaps you could find out for yourself. How many generations can you trace back? Chances are that if you go back far enough, you’ll find your heritage was Dutch, Roman or French. In which case, you’re almost certainly here due to an illegal invasion. I implore ALL of you in Britain: text HOME to 78070. Do it now. And be sure to keep the Home Office on the phone for as long as possible. Not to waste their time, you understand; but simply to make absolutely sure that they’ve got all the facts before they decide if you can stay. You may not hear it in their voices, but the Home Office will definitely be grateful.

  1. The government scheme involved vans being driven through six London boroughs with adverts calling on illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily. A big Twitter campaign against them used the hashtag #RacistVan

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist. Follow him on Twitter: chris_coltrane. His show ‘Activism Is Fun’ is a free download at

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 466 This column was published in the October 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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