Speaking for Ourselves

Our Migration Week roundtable: how Britain diverged from its international obligations on migration.

Our Migration Week roundtable: how Britain diverged from its international obligations on migration.


 Migrant Voice - Our Migration Week roundtable: how Britain diverged from its international obligations on migration.

As part of our efforts to have a migration system that respects the dignity of all people and adheres to the UK’s commitment on the global stage, and to advance the discussion on migration beyond the hostile narrative that is presented by the current government, Migrant Voice organised a Roundtable Event for Migration Week 2024.

The panel consisted of speakers who are closely involved with, or have first-hand experience of migration.

Chairing the event, Migrant Voice Director, Nazek Ramadan, explained how, as it was Migration Week 2024, it was the right time for a discussion about how the UK’s current policies, and rhetoric, on migration were increasingly moving away from its international obligations.. The Global Compact for Migration, was the first globally accepted blueprint to create a coordinated, global, approach to international migration. It had, and has, the potential to guide government into implementing the best approaches towards migration, however, since the adoption of the agreement the UK has moved further away from its commitment to its principles. The UK’s hostile policies and rhetoric are noticeable evidence of this.  

As we draw closer to a General Election, migration is already being exploited for political gain, and migrants continue to be subjected to further hostilities. Ms Ramadan explained that through this event we aim to highlight the approach that the UK has taken and the noticeable discrepancy between its global commitments and policies pursued at home. She continued by sharing how Migrant Voice engaged with the process of the Global Compact alongside other civil society organisations at the time of its creation, bringing the voices and experiences of migrants.

The panellists for the evenings discussion where then invited to present their contributions:

Michele LeVoy, Director of PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants), highlighted the history of how civil society organisations organised at the global level to get to the Global Compact, the active contribution they played in shaping the content of it, and what role they can play now.

Ms LeVoy started by setting out the history, and challenges, involved for civil society in organising, and engaging with, nation states to influence the discussions which helped lead to the creation of the Global Compact. “As civil society groups, we organised ourselves”, she explained: “but had to fight many barriers to be formally ‘allowed’ to sit with states and governments in the same room to discuss and influence”. The key development, she explained, was when the ‘Global Forum on Migration and Development’ was launched in 2017, bringing states and members of the civil society together for informal discussions.

In 2018, through six months of negotiations, civil society organisations were able to influence the Global Compact. Ms Levoy shared examples of some of the specific recommendations and principles in the final Global Compact that was influenced by civil society, e.g. around detention.

Turning to the pressing issue of what we can do as civil society now that the compact has been created, Ms LeVoy emphasised that “one of the roles of civil society is to demonstrate the gaps between the commitments of the global compact and the reality on the ground.” With recent challenges to migrants’ rights, civil society should speak out about these contradictions.

Professor Nando Sigona, Director of the Institute for Research into International Migration and Superdiversity (IRIS), University of Birmingham, highlighted  three key trends regarding the UK post Brexit migration regime:

  • The reduction in arrivals from EU countries to 10% compared to 70% of arrivals in 2016.
  • The conditions under which people are arriving in the UK to live and settle.
  • The increase in all fees related to different aspects of the process and the precarious and volatile nature of it, which has led to an increased risk of people losing their immigration status.

Notably, he said, the new migration system is an ‘’employer led system’’ and it ‘’makes migrants dependable on the employers’’ which ‘’makes people more exploitable.’’

When it comes to the asylum system, Professor Sigona highlighted the  “criminalisation of asylum’’, which is leading to the collapse of the asylum system by creating a huge backlog. Moreover, the term ‘safe and regular route’ has been appropriated by the government by creating schemes like the ‘Afghan Resettlement Route’, along with the Hong Kong and Ukrainian visa routes, which are changing the meaning of protection in the British legal system. This is creating a system that is difficult to fit within the UK’s international obligation.

Dr. Peter Walsh, Senior Researcher at The Migration Observatory, and Departmental Lecturer in Migration Studies, University of Oxford grouped the current developments in the UK migration system into two categories, the approach to ‘legal’ and ‘irregular’ migration.:

Dr Walsh explained how the UK immigration system is becoming more restrictive in the UK, including restrictions on spouses and dependants, such as changes to the minimum income requirements. There are four recently introduced  restrictions  for those coming for work, family or study: restrictions on student dependents, a ban on care workers from bringing partners or children, an increase to the general salary threshold and an increase to the minimum income requirement for British citizens or settled people to bring  foreign partners. While the argument made is to reduce migration, the family routes account for less than 5% of net migration, however there will be a disproportionate impact on lower earners, particularly women and ethnic minorities.

Dr Walsh highlighted that enforcement and deterrence has been the government's approach towards ‘irregular’ migration. He discussed the use of policies intended as "deterrents", and how, and why, the core part of the Illegal Migration Act, a duty to remove, has not been implemented, as the UK has only one agreement for removals, Rwanda, which is being contested.

Dr Walsh explained that issues within countries of origin tend to drive movements, rather than factors in host countries, and the factors which lead to where people choose to seek asylum tend to be around existing ties, making deterrents unlikely to be particularly effective.

Dr Helia López Zarzosa, Sociologist, independent researcher, human rights advocate and guest lecturer. Former refugee from Chile. Organiser of educational and drama schools for refugees and migrant families and Chilean returnee children.

Dr López Zarzosa focused on contextualising the history of migration in the UK, and the response to it, some of the historical accusations laid against migrants,  and relating that to the current hostile rhetoric and environment.

Dr López Zarzosa provided a fascinating analysis of how attitudes towards migrants have often historically included hostility such as being seen to undermine ‘native workers’, even when it was recognised that migrants were essential to society, giving different examples through the history of migration to the UK. These same attitudes, and language, can still be seen today, however so can positive attitudes towards migrants, such as among those supporting refugees.  Language has become "militarised" though, presenting migrants as a threat.

Dickson Tarnongo, Development Practitioner and social activist, with special interest in disability rights.

Mr Tarnongo addressed the UK asylum system and its impact on people. Despite the positives of protection and humanitarian provision, there are many negatives, including family separation, extended waiting times etc.) He spoke about the challenges people face such as language barriers, waiting times and delays in processing cases, which ‘’exacerbate the uncertainty and anxiety experienced by those who are claiming asylum”. Moreover, lack of access to essential services coupled with public and political discourse contribute to vulnerability and marginalisation.

Mr Tarnongo  noted that "The asylum system is subjected to changes… It is difficult to predict an asylum matter". He explained how the system fluctuates, where even people facing the same circumstances mean that people can receive different outcomes to their claims. Mr Tarnongo called for a balanced approach between humanitarian concerns and practical approaches, to ensure that people are receiving support and protection.

Keziah GitongaSocial justice activist and a Migrant Voice visa fees campaign steering group member, shared her experience interacting with the Home Office as an advocate for a fairer immigration system. Unpicking some of the contradictions that the Home Office has shown in a statement given as a response to a petition regarding visa fees, Ms Gitonga highlighted how the ‘double taxation’, which is intrinsic to the current system, makes it unfair.

Migrants are taxpayers, yet the system is categorising them as non taxpayers, in contradiction to the reality in which they pay their regular tax as well as other fees like visa renewal fees, NHS surcharge etc. Ms Gitonga  concluded by expressing her concerns regarding the current political rhetoric and the negative impact it has and will have on people’s lives.

Ms Gitonga concluded by saying that: "UK policy is, let's face it, they do not want an immigration system that works". Explaining how the system we have is moving further away from its obligations under the Global Compact, and questioning why hostile rhetoric against migrants is becoming so prominent.

Sofi Taylor is a Trustee of Migrant Voice and the Human Rights Consortium for Scotland.

Ms Taylor highlighted the global nature of the migrant population, and their contribution in the different industries around the world. She brought the issue home by pinpointing the different jobs that migrants do in our society. From care workers in our health services, to professors at our universities, the exploitation to get permission to work is beyond comprehension. The outsourcing of our labour recruitment leads to a high cost to the workers by the agencies to get a job.

The exploitation is not limited to the recruitment agencies.The government’s policies are also designed to extract more money using different reasons like visa fees and NHS surcharge.

Ms Ramadan added more information about the Global Compact for Migration and its objectives, and then asked the speakers some follow-up questions concerning the next steps to advance the agenda for a fair and humane migration system.

The recommendations included:

  • building alliances,
  • civil society organisations acting as watchdogs and pushing for the implementation of the Global Compact agenda,
  • continue to work on the ground,
  • civil society acting as agents of legal challenges,
  • working towards depolarisation and changing the narrative in the media,
  • highlighting the contribution of migrants in our community, and
  • education about migration.

Ms Taylor summed up her recommendation in partnership, movement and making it personal. This was followed by questions from the audience which highlighted some of the concerns that people had.  

The roundtable covered a huge amount of information, on a range of issues around migration. When it came to summing up though the speakers were almost unanimous in their vision for the future. As Ms Taylor explained: “Rather than making it a migrant issue, we need to make it a community issue”.

The consensus was that moving forward we can have hope to change things for the better, but we need to work together, build networks, create alliances, and, as Ms Gitonga said: “There are still avenues we haven’t explored…We need to stop assuming that people know…We need to fight for real protection.”

That is what we hope will come from the meeting, a sense of community and coming together to continue fighting to ensure everyone is protected and treated with dignity and respect.

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

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

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