Is The UK's Travel Red List Really A 'Black List'?

African countries face restrictions following the Omicron outbreak. Young British people are questioning what's really going on.

“Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Nigeria, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe. This red list is suspiciously very black to me.”

Adesayo Talabi’s spoken word poem titled ‘Black List’ has had almost 3.5 million views on Instagram.

The 24-year-old felt “frustrated” over the government’s reaction to the Omicron variant and the travel red list that only contains African countries.

She mentions at the start of the pandemic the government were “dragging their feet” deciding on what the travel rules would be, but this time around the decision was made quickly over the countries to put on the red list.

It’s very interesting, the immediacy in locking off and putting African countries on the red list. Is it you learning from your mistakes or is it that you have this irrational fear of this association between diseases and Africa?”

Her viral poem speaks to similar sentiments felt by the African community around HIV.

“HIV has been used to detrimentally stigmatise and shame African countries, in particular South Africa. That was what was being provoked in the way that this new variant was being handled.”

“Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Nigeria, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and counting... this red list is suspiciously very black to me.””

- Adesayo Talabi, spoken word artist

Talabi is British Nigerian and describes her art as “Kpoetry”, a nod to her Yoruba ancestry.

She says it was an “amazing feeling” seeing the poem, which she wrote in five minutes, resonated with so many people. And especially because it was about politics.

“Sometimes you’ll be listening to politicians and you’re just like, ‘what are you talking about’ and that’s because they’re not really speaking. They’re not speaking in a way that is relatable to you.

“I don’t feel like politics needs to be alienating which I feel like sometimes it can be. What I did through that poem is make it relatable so people don’t feel they’re being talked down to or they’re being excluded.”

Adesayo Talabi has performed her poems in public and wants to do more performances in the future.
Adesayo Talabi
Adesayo Talabi has performed her poems in public and wants to do more performances in the future.

Talabi believes people would’ve felt reassured if it wasn’t only African countries being put on the list, especially as Omicron cases were found earlier in the Netherlands and other cases have been reported around Europe since.

“It seems like South Africa was being punished and scapegoated for being the one to actually report it.”

It’s a feeling shared by law student Andrew Coker, who posted a TikTok video that’s garnered more than 60,000 views.

“It’s not adding up at all,” Coker says as he criticises Boris Johnson’s travel list.

“The Omicron strain has been found in countries all over Europe and in America as well and those countries aren’t being put on the red list. So it just seems a bit off,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“I can see why they would put Nigeria on the list. I know how huge travel to Africa is in December so I can understand that.

“But what I think the government needs to do is clarify why they haven’t put other countries with Omicron on the list.”

Andrew Coker (centre) has friends who've had to cancel their Christmas holidays to Nigeria.
Andrew Coker
Andrew Coker (centre) has friends who've had to cancel their Christmas holidays to Nigeria.

Talabi had plans to visit Nigeria and Ghana over the Christmas holidays and she knows other people still in Nigeria who were unable to come back.

For the many Black Brits who were hoping to visit African countries to see family and friends over the holidays, Christmas has been “ruined”.

“Given the whole Christmas party situation, I think the government needs to be aware,” says Coker. “They can only ruin Christmas so many times before people get too annoyed.”

A government spokesperson says most Omicron cases in the UK have clear links to travel from countries on the red list.

“Throughout the pandemic the government has been guided by the science and the advice of health experts to ensure that steps minimise the risk of importing Covid-19 cases and variants from abroad.”

Help and support:

  • Tell MAMA supports victims of anti-Muslim hate.
  • Young Minds offers information on racism and mental health for younger people.
  • SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality) provides help to victims of hate.
  • Stop Hate UK works to challenge all forms of hate.