Speaking for Ourselves

10 years of hostility must end

10 years of hostility must end


 Migrant Voice - 10 years of hostility must end

In May 2012 the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, ushered in the “really Hostile Environment”, aimed at making life impossible for undocumented migrants. In the ensuing decade it has been spread like a cancer, contaminating everything and everyone it touches -  including all of us who live here, together with our laws, politics, media, culture and values. 

Indeed, perhaps no other policy in living memory has left such a malign mark, a stain like an oil slick. By design or consequence, it is racist, xenophobic, immoral, illegal, unfair, punishing, divisive, mean-spirite and discriminatory.

Menacingly,  immigration controls were outsourced to ordinary citizens -  turning them into unwilling border agents. It required  landlords, doctors, teachers, employers to perform checks on their patients, students, service users, and report their status to the Home Office. Someone’s name sounds unusual? Don’t offer them a room, a job, a service - they might be undocumented.  

Vans started roaming the streets of some London boroughs proclaiming the ominous message: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.” Migrants, and people perceived as looking or sounding like migrants, started to be treated as unwelcome objects of suspicion. Mistrust and fear spread in communities, as citizens were encourage to report friends, neighbours or people they didn't like the look or sound of.

The Hostile Environment encourages dangerous intolerance, scapegoats individuals and groups, promotes ill-health, splits families, endangers children. It kills - ask the families of harried Windrush victims.

Elevating hostility into a national policy and promoting its spread throughout society is a disturbingly negative and destructive ambition. It is part of a global trend of borders no longer at the edge of the country, but externalised to other countries as well as embedded inside society among ordinary citizens and through greater digitisation of border controls. Borders are now fluid, but they are around and among us.

As our colleagues at Migrant Action write: “The hostile environment marked a defining shift in the architecture of immigration control whereby  state sanctioned ‘hostility’ became the centre-piece of immigration policy in a general sense. This extension of the hostile environment is exemplified by but not limited to ‘astronomically high and increasing immigration application fees… the Byzantine complexity of the rules, the enforced separation of some families, the infamous “Go Home” vans and more. Acting together, these hostile environment policies designed as deterrents to constitute a form of state ‘harm’ on migrants”  

In the face of this assault, resistance has been strong. We and others have been campaigning against the Hostile Environment since its inception. 

But the effects have been crushing.

- People have been made homeless, unable to find a place to rent.

- People have died because they were too afraid to seek health care.

- Families have been torn apart by deportations and detentions.

- Communities have been destroyed by the fear and lack of trust.

Yet new policies continue to be implemented. Measures in the new Nationality and Borders Act include punishing asylum seekers who have made their own way to the UK, and creating a second class of Britons who can easily be stripped of their citizenship.

Then there is the plan to send some of those seeking refuge in the UK all the way to Rwanda to seek asylum there instead, despite concerns about human rights violations in the country. 

A key part of propagating hostility throughout the UK immigration system is keeping visa fees high. In the words of Swansea University lecturer Jon Burnett, in our new report Destroying hopes, dreams and lives: How the UK visa costs and process impact migrants’ lives: “Profiteering inherent within immigration fees is umbilically connected to the Hostile Environment, with fees … leaving people vulnerable to immigration enforcement.”

The report shares migrants’ experiences of this aspect of the Hostile Environment, showing that extortionate visa costs are causing hunger, debt, ill health, stressful working as well as curtailing family and social life, and life chances. Many feel crippling anxiety about their next visa renewal. 

The risk and fear that if you can’t afford the extortionate fees you may become undocumented is bad enough. Meanwhile, the harsh consequences of paying huge sums of money on successive visa renewals, already traps you in a hostile limbo, made worse the longer your route to settlement.

A nation cannot be built on hostility. We, and many others, will continue to resist. We urge everyone who believes in a fairer society to work for an end to the hostile environment, which is destroying hopes, dreams and lives.

Get in touch

Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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