Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: Complying with hostility

Editorial: Complying with hostility


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: Complying with hostility

“Britain, at its best, is open, welcoming and tolerant.”

That's what the Home Secretary said in his conference speech in October 2018. And we would agree with him. 

But this last week, we have not seen Britain at its best - and it’s because of policies designed and perpetuated by the Home Secretary's department. 

On Monday, MPs and campaigners heard from EU nationals angry about the settled status application process and fearful about their future in the UK. 

“We are being herded, registered, labeled, shoved into an arbitrary, error-prone system,” one EU national who was there wrote later on Facebook. “And if we don’t comply, we are threatened with closed bank accounts, unemployment, and ultimately, deportation.”

On Tuesday (a particularly bad day for those supposedly British values of openness and welcome), we learned the government is creating a database of migrants in the UK that will allow landlords, doctors, teachers and employers to assess a person’s rights “in real time” – and we heard that failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are being returned to a country that forced them to flee after the UK struck a deal with President Mnangagwa’s government, which has been accused of human rights abuses.

The hostile environment has already turned ordinary citizens – doctors, teachers and so on – into often unwilling border guards, a process that generates division and mistrust within communities. Migrants (and people who look like migrants) start to be perceived and treated as problems, making integration impossible. We are concerned that a new database that makes it even easier for immigration checks to be carried out will only make things worse.

And by reaching an agreement with the undemocratic regime in Zimbabwe – and one that may threaten the lives of those being removed – the UK government makes a mockery of the very idea of democracy.

The next day, we read the Home Office had admitted to detaining a woman who was a victim of trafficking, which even this draconian department says is a step too far. Such news can shake the trust that migrants – and British people – have in this system. And it’s a system that can only function if there is trust – that the rules are fair and that everyone is following them.

In his first speech in charge of the Home Office in April 2018, the Home Secretary said he did not like the phrase "hostile environment" as it “does not represent the values as a country”.

Again, we agree with him. But erasing the word "hostile" and replacing it with "compliant" as the Home Secretary proposed – a word with troubling connotations of its own – doesn’t mean hostility is eradicated. Especially when that hostility has been embedded within the immigration system for decades.

Still, we hoped change might come. But the only change has been the rhetoric.

Britain should be “a safe home,” the Home Secretary said in his conference speech. “An open, welcoming tolerant home… A home where all the different residents and guests come together under one roof.”

Those Zimbabweans, including Victor Mujakachi, who first came to the UK as a student in 2003; those EU nationals now being herded, registered, labelled and threatened; all migrants who seek rightful access to education, healthcare and work but now fear the results of an instant immigration check – they are some of those residents and guests in this place. But they are treated as unwelcome objects of suspicion.

The UK is their home, but they no longer feel safe in it.

They were complying with the rules – however absurd or unjust some of them may be – but they were still punished, subjected to the heavy-handed policies of a government driven by an unappeasable obsession with the quarterly migration statistics and by an unreasonable suspicion of foreigners.

Britain at its best is indeed open, welcoming and tolerant. And many of its residents – and guests – embody those values. Indeed, anyone who believes more votes can be bought by introducing increasingly aggressive immigration policies underestimates the British people.

It is not too late to replace hostility and heavy-handedness with humanity and fairness. This must begin with stopping deportations to Zimbabwe, halting further progress on the migrant database, and ending the cruel and unnecessary practice of immigration detention.

An open, welcoming, tolerant Britain is possible – but only if those in power have the will to make it reality.

TOP IMAGE: Crawford Learmouth/FlickrCC by 2.0

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