The hostile environment won’t end with Windrush, we should eradicate it altogether
In June 1948 thousands of people from the Caribbean were invited, by the British government, to come to Britain and help rebuild the country post World War Two. They are known as the Windrush generation, taking the name of the first boat to land here that year. Seventy years later, up to 50,000 of them are facing deportation.
At the heart of this scandal is the hostile environment policy which was brought in by Theresa May in 2012 during her time as Home Secretary. Mark Brantley, the foreign secretary of St Kitts and Nevis, highlighted this saying “Theresa May, is perhaps best placed to deal with this fiasco because clearly she was home secretary when many of the rules went into effect that now are having these disastrous consequences for so many people.”
The hostile environment requires employers, banks, hospitals and a vast array of other bodies and individuals to demand people prove their immigration status before giving them the service they require. For many, this has meant that borders no longer only exist when entering a country but have become a part of everyday life. Unsurprisingly, given the racist nature of our society, this disproportionally affects black and minority ethnic people. Created to affect ‘illegal’ migrants only, the hostile environment has stretched further than this with British citizens finding they have to prove their nationality simply based on someone’s judgment of their skin colour or voice.
A whistleblower has claimed that the introduction of the hostile environment meant that the mentality of civil servants working in the Home Office became one of “I’m going to say no, unless you prove me wrong”. It has now become the responsibility of individuals to prove they have right to remain. In the case of the Windrush generation this is particularly problematic as it has been revealed that the Home Office destroyed many of their landing cards due to an apparent lack of space when relocating office. As many of the Windrush generation came to Britain on the passports of their siblings or their parents, their landing cards are often the only proof they have of when they arrived.
The attention that has been given to this scandal demonstrates that campaigning against the mistreatment of immigrants in the UK can work and that the government is feeling the pressure that is being mounted on them. This is a policy that extends beyond the Windrush children and we must defend the rights of all immigrants regardless of when they arrived in the UK. The Hostile Environment does not see immigrants as human beings or as individuals who form connections and bonds to people and places. Instead, they are seen simply as numbers and statistics. They are pawns in politicians’ games for votes. David Cameron proved as much when he pledged that he was going to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’, six years later he admitted that reducing the number of migrants wouldn’t actually help achieve his aims.
Amber Rudd herself, the current Home Secretary, who is facing calls for resignation due to the treatment of the Windrush generation, has said that she is “concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses the sight of the individual. This is about individuals, and we have heard the individual stories, some of which have been terrible to hear.” As Rudd says, these stories have been painful and heart-breaking to hear. But, they are also scary and deeply concerning. If this is the treatment given to people that were invited by the British government, what treatment can those than came of their own accord expect?
In her apology to leaders of commonwealth countries, Theresa May thanked the Windrush generation for helping ‘us’ build the country that we are today. This is not something of the past. We still heavily rely on migrants – from those that work in the hospitality industry to those that work in our NHS. Furthermore, they are part of our country and part of its beating heart.
We should not just be outraged by the treatment of the Windrush generation; we should be outraged by the lack of humanity shown by our politicians to immigrants every day, which they have demonstrated in their implementation of the hostile environment. Although the attention that has been paid to the scandal around the Windrush generation is important, this is not something that has appeared out of nowhere, nor something that will end with this.
Where does the buck stop?
The hostile environment has been affecting people from the day it was implemented and will continue to do so until it is totally removed as a policy. The hostile environment pits humans against each other; forcing ordinary people to act like immigration officers as well as making people prove that they have more ‘right’ to be here than others. So, we should be working to eradicate it altogether and start treating each other with some humanity.