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Windrush and Operation Vaken: A Rude Awakening?

In 2013, the "Go Home" vans were seen up and down the streets of London in areas with a large black immigrant population. This was first opening gambit of the UK government's hostile environment policy: a pilot scheme which was low key and lasted just a month. However many have suggested that this particular initiative presented a departure from the usual innocuous names given to earlier operations.


With the destruction in 2010 of Windrush settlers landing cards by the UK's Home Office, many long-resident migrants from the Caribbean became inadvertently caught up in Theresa May's policy. It left those who had never applied for a passport with no official record of their rights to live and work in the UK.


"The average cost of a voluntary removal is £1,000, and the average cost of an enforced removal is £15,000.

'Operation Vaken', ran in the six London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, and Redbridge from 22 July to 22 August 2013. It's aim was to encourage people to leave the UK voluntarily. The operation was a test of the theory that more immigration offenders would leave the UK of their own volition if they understood that:

a. there was a near and present danger of their being arrested;

b. the voluntary departure route was advertised and explained as an option; and

c. safe routes of approaching the Home Office for assistance were provided, without the fear of arrest and enabling the offender to return home with dignity.


“almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany”

According to the Home Office’s own evaluation paper, the average cost of a voluntary removal is £1,000, and the average cost of an enforced removal is £15,000. Operation Vaken targeted adverts in newspapers, shops, and charity and faith buildings used by ethnic minorities. The scheme which lasted one month was reviled, vilified and short-lived, not least because of the connotations that the name brings up.

What was the meaning of the term Vaken, and why did it depart from many of the more innocuous names used for previous operations?


Germany, awake from your nightmare!/Give alien Jews no place in your Reich!/We will fight for your rebirth,/Aryan blood shall never perish!

In trying to establish a rationale for its selection, the term vaken has been attributed to Swedish origins, meaning awake. There have also been the suggestion it may be a biblical reference to immigration raids on undocumented migrants who should be alert and ready for arrest, detention and removal:


Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13

However many have noted It also has symbolic resonance in many languages – not least distinct references to anti-Semitic Nazi Germany and to the Dietrich Eckart, who has been labelled “the spiritual father of national socialism”. In 1922, Eckart wrote a famous poem called Deutschland Erwache (Germany Awake).

One commenter Lord Kerslake, who was in charge of the civil service between 2012 and 2014, remarked in an interview that Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy brought against illegal immigrants when she was in charge of the Home Office was seen as “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany” by some in government,

The phrase “Deutschland Erwache” was emblazoned on banners that flew at the Nuremberg Nazi rallies.

A loose translation of its key verses reads thus:

Germany, awake from your nightmare!

Give alien Jews no place in your Reich!

We will fight for your rebirth,

Aryan blood shall never perish!


All these hypocrites, we throw them out.

Judas, leave our German house!

If the native soil is clean and pure,

We united and happy will be.

We're the fighters of the NSDAP,

German in our hearts, in battle steadfast and strong.

To the swastika, devoted are we.

Hail our Leader, Hail Hitler to thee!

Deutschland Erwache was adopted, for many years in the 1920s and 1930s, as the Sturmlied (Storm Song). It became the de facto anthem of the Sturmabteilung, the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party until eventually replaced by the Horst-Wessel-Lied. The phrase “Deutschland Erwache” was emblazoned on banners that flew at the Nuremberg Nazi rallies.

The popular stance is that Operation Vaken implied a need to be alert to the possibility of arrest and detention. Unfortunately some believe Theresa May's own drive to implement the policy displays her personal ideological drivers rather than an electoral strategy. Ultimately, it's a word that resonates in the psyche - and one which many will continue to argue carries undertones of an ideology forever grounded in hate and persecution.


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