Another blow for May’s hostile environment for immigrants
In the space of just two weeks, two separate parliamentary select committees have issued two damning blows to the government’s policy to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants.
The latest report from the Home Affairs Committee exposes the almost complete lack of evidence for this cruel and inhumane policy that is turning doctors, teachers and landlords into immigration officers and creating a climate of fear for millions of people. The committee questions the appropriateness of a policy that actively puts people at risk as they are discouraged from seeking healthcare or reporting serious crime to the police for fear of immigration repercussions.
This report comes on top of the Health Committee’s recent calls for an end to the practice whereby the NHS shares its patients’ personal information with the Home Office. This data sharing agreement aims to make access to health care as difficult as possible for so-called illegal immigrants in the UK.
And it has been working. Doctors of the World, who run health clinics for undocumented migrants, have said that 94% of the people it saw did not access NHS services. The organisation has found patients, including pregnant women, who are too scared to access the care they need.
But it is not just health care
The hostile environment extends into many areas of everyday life with the goal of preventing people’s access to basic needs and services such as housing, employment, education and banking.
The idea is that by making people’s lives as difficult as possible it will force people to leave the country, and at the same time act as a deterrent to stop people coming to the UK in the first place. This policy, which was the brainchild of May during her time as Home Secretary, provides the backbone to the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.
Under this legislation, people can be denied housing as it has become a criminal offence for a landlord to knowingly rent accommodation to anyone who doesn’t have the ‘correct’ paper work. Private landlords can now be imprisoned for up to five years for doing so. Similar sanctions are in place for employers, meaning people are no longer able to feel safe at work as their bosses are turned into immigration officials. Likewise, children at school are also targeted as schools are obliged to share pupil’s personal information with the Home Office. The legislation has even gone so far as to revoke driving licences and shut down bank accounts, leaving many without access to their own funds, unable to buy food or pay rent.
At the heart of this policy is the drive to make metaphorical borders part of everyday life. It is the natural counterpart to the billions of pounds spent on walls and fences at the UK’s physical borders. In doing so it forces ordinary people – doctors, landlords, teachers, bank managers and employers – to do the work of immigration officers and send a clear message to immigrants: that they are not welcome.
Underpinning this is the deeply problematic notion that some people can be deemed ‘illegal’ on the simple basis of moving to another country. This is not just immoral, it is also hypocritical given the fact that people from rich countries take their ability to move around the world for granted.
Indeed, we live in a world of immigration apartheid. A world in which some people, by virtue of being born in a rich country, can travel almost anywhere with ease, and are generally welcomed as ‘expats’ when they decide to settle. Others, who come from the global south (and who are often the ones who need to exercise the right to move more than anyone), are subject to strong travel restrictions and are treated with disdain and discrimination when they try and settle in another country.
The hostile environment doesn’t work
The hostile environment for immigrants makes the UK a more hostile place for everyone. It has created a climate of fear among people from other countries, pushing them into the shadow economy where they risk exploitation, and it has encouraged discrimination and racism. It is turning the UK into a segregated country whereby whole sections of our society have to live without the basic elements of a secure life that the rest of society take for granted. This is a gross injustice.
Even by the hostile environment’s own terms it has not been successful. Since the introduction of the policy, there is little evidence that it has made much difference to migration figures. This is not surprising given that many people who are targeted are in the UK having left behind a much worse life that they, understandably, do not want to return to. Commenting on the government’s plans to extend the hostile environment, The Independent Chief Inspectorate of Borders and Immigration has said that the scheme is based merely on “the conviction that they are ‘right’ in principle, and enjoy broad public support, rather than on any evidence that the measures already introduced are working or needed to be strengthened.”
The hostile environment is an abhorrent government policy that attempts to treat people with such cruelty that they return to their countries of origin where they may face extreme hardship. This is a brutal form of discrimination. Instead, migrants must be allowed to be equal members of our society and exercise the same rights as everybody else.
Read more in our briefing, The hostile environment for immigrants: How Theresa May has created an underclass in the UK
Photo: Kristian Buus/Bridges not Walls