We urgently need to challenge the government’s approach to immigration that sees ever tighter border controls, not only in physical form between states, but also via outsourcing border controls into every aspect of people’s lives right here in the UK.
The hostile environment
Since 2012 the government has been implementing a cruel and inhumane approach towards immigrants that involves denying them their basic needs, such as housing and healthcare. By bringing border enforcement in to every aspect of people’s lives, the government aims to make the UK a really hostile for immigrants in the hope that they will be forced leave. This is an outrageous government policy that we must fight against and ensure, instead, that the UK is a welcoming place for all.
Global free movement
It is unacceptable that the wealthy can move their money across the world with very few limits while the world’s poorest people are met with repression when attempting to move. In a grossly unequal world, we cannot turn a blind eye to the hardships people are facing around the world, nor can we simply build fences to hide from the reality of global injustices. We must fight for the rights of all people to cross borders whether it be fleeing wars, escaping poverty or simply be closer to loved ones or taking up an employment opportunity.
The hostile environment is a government policy that aims to make the UK as hostile a place as possible for so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants. The idea is that by denying people access to basic needs and services such as health, housing, education it will make people’s lives such a misery that they will leave the country. You can read more about the hostile environment in our briefing We are opposed to this policy because it treats people in an inhumane way by denying them their right to access services to meet their basic needs. It creates a deeply divided society whereby some people can enjoy the full range of human rights, yet others are forced to live on the fringes of society without access to services. Not only is it bad for those targeted but it is also bad for society as a whole. If people are too scared to seek healthcare when they are sick or call the police if they are a victim of crime, this has a negative impact on society as a whole and can even cost lives. No immigration policy is worth that. This is why we are demanding a society where people are treated equally and no one is denied their basic human rights. Not only is the hostile environment wrong on ethical and moral grounds, it also doesn’t in fact work. It has not impacted immigration figures, and even the Independent Chief Inspectorate of Borders and Immigration has pointed out that the scheme is not based on any evidence that the measures work.
The distinction between legal and illegal is often used solely as a means to discriminate against those who most need support. We think a just migration policy should treat people equally, not punish the most vulnerable people. Dividing people into categories of who is deserving and who is not is dangerous. It is not a humane or just way to manage society. We know from history that what’s legal or illegal doesn’t always necessarily equate to what’s right or wrong. Once upon a time slavery and apartheid were legal, so too was marital rape. But women voting and gay sex both used to be illegal. Sometimes we need to challenge the definition of what is legal and illegal. A human being crossing a border should not be labelled illegal just because they are poor and in need, when a wealthy person carrying out the same act would be considered legal. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about immigration. We reject the conflation of migration of any kind with serious crimes like murder or theft. In any case, the UK makes it near impossible for people in need to become ‘legal’ immigrants. Very few people from the global south are granted visas to live in the UK and the country makes it very difficult to attain refugee status. It is so difficult to move to the UK ‘legally’ that people use whatever means necessary to do so. In most cases this means perhaps entering ‘legally’ as a tourist or business visitor and overstaying. But for the poorer migrants, even visit visas will be refused leaving these people with little choice but to put their lives in danger by attempting to enter clandestinely. It is at this point that these people face the full force of militarised borders and the infrastructure of repression. But even those migrants that arrive through ‘legal’ means live in fear of being deemed ‘illegal’ at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. Immigration law is hideously complex and changes constantly with very little notice, often rendering people previously allowed to be here ineligible to stay. Also changes in circumstances like the loss of a job can mean that someone here legally can fall foul of the rules and become ‘illegal’ from one day to the next.
Global Justice Now is working to build a world where people are not forced to move from their homes because of poverty, inequality, war, exploitation or other injustices. In a fairer world like this, the vision of open borders doesn’t seem so radical – as people are far less likely to be forced to leave their homes in the first place. Of course we have a long way to go before this vision is achieved and we are not proposing to open all borders tomorrow. But the long term nature of this task is not an excuse for inaction now. We cannot turn a blind eye to the hardships people are facing around the world, nor can we simply build fences to hide from the reality of global injustices. We must address the needs of people in the here and now, and fight for the rights of people to move across borders, whether it be fleeing wars, escaping poverty or simply be closer to loved ones or taking up an employment opportunity. In any case, free movement is already something that people in wealthy countries take for granted. It’s important to remember that for UK passport holders there is already almost complete freedom to travel the world, as well as numerous opportunities to live and work in other countries. EU citizens are free to live and work across most of the continent of Europe without any limitations whatsoever. And while they may have to apply for permission to work in non-EU countries, visa requirements for UK citizens in most countries are far less onerous than equivalent restrictions on people from those countries coming to the UK. At the very least UK citizens, are not faced with barbed-wire fences, armed guards and pepper spray. The people who rail against migration rarely argue that people from the UK should have limited rights to migrate. If the UK economy were to drastically decline, many UK citizens might seek a better future in another country – they would expect this right so how can the UK deny this opportunity to others with the ‘wrong’ passports? You can read more about our arguments for global free movement in our booklet
No, we don’t think so. We believe that, as one of the richest global economies, the hardships facing many people in the UK are down to money being in the wrong hands – not those of migrants or refugees – but of corporate elites. The argument that immigration leads to strains on public services is not backed up by fact (in fact, services like our NHS would collapse were it not for migrant workers). It also ignores the reality that a much greater threat to our public services is the government’s harsh austerity programme that have left services like our NHS and libraries crumbling from lack of funding. While many argue that migrants take jobs from UK citizens, or lower wages, this too is not supported by the evidence. One study by the London School of Economics found that there was no effect from immigration on wages or unemployment. While another study from the Bank of England showed only minimal impacts on wages from migration, and it was isolated to only certain low-skilled service sector jobs.
The fact that some parts of the UK are impoverished and services are under-funded is not the fault of migrants but rather, a problem of inequality and under-investment within the UK as well as down to a lack of workers’ rights. Again, the answer lies in government policy, not blaming migrants: a clearer plan for how to settle migrants, a better spread of investment around the country and, crucially, better laws on workers’ rights so that unscrupulous employers can’t use migrants to undercut other workers.
We believe freedom of movement should be a right for everybody. In light of Brexit, there have been increasing concerns over these rights for both UK citizens wanting to travel, live and work in the EU, and for EU nationals in the UK. Global Justice Now has been working with campaign group Another Europe is Possible to push for as many elements of EU freedom of movement to remain as possible after Brexit. We ultimately want to extend freedom of movement to people from countries outside the EU as part of a much more just world, but we won’t achieve that if we start by dismantling the freedom of movement that we have.
Modern migration patterns are inextricably linked to global economic inequality. In a world where wages are much higher in some countries than others for the exact same job, it is understandable that workers will seek to rectify this injustice by emigrating. In a way, the act of migration is a form of resistance against inequality. By moving, people are taking power away from their employers who would otherwise pay them poverty wages. By stopping these workers with cruel immigration rules, we are siding with those who practice this exploitation. Other major push factors for migration like war, famine, drought and discrimination are all exacerbated by global inequalities. Migration also leads to north-south financial flows in the form of increased remittances. This money can be more important to countries in the global south than aid, and unlike foreign direct investment, which tends to disproportionately benefit the richest, remittances go directly to poorer people in society. Ultimately, though, whatever the economic arguments, it is fundamentally unjust that while the wealthy and their capital flow freely across the world, ordinary people are prevented from moving by unjust immigration controls. In a world where bosses can move jobs and money across the world with ease, it is unfair that people cannot do the same.
The injustices of our existing system of borders and immigration controls can have a direct, sometimes devastating, impact on people’s lives. As a result of Global Justice Now’s campaigning on migration, people sometimes turn to us for help with their individual situation – such as advice on visa problems, how to access housing or employment, or one of the huge range of other problems that migrants can face in the UK. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide this kind of advice.
However, there are some fantastic organisations that provide great advice to people facing problems with the immigration system, listed below. We strongly recommend that people facing immigration problems seek expert help from one or more of them.
Some of the organisations listed below can provide advice on how to access legal aid: free legal advice and representation by a lawyer, provided by the government. Although the funding for legal aid has been reduced, legal aid is still available regarding asylum, bail and judicial review matters. It is also possible to apply for exceptional funding in some cases for other issues.
However, legal aid is not the only form of support avalable.
Organisations providing advice and support
We especially recommend the following: The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have a small but excellent legal department, operate a few free helplines (on undocumented migrants, foreign national prisoners, Unison public sector union members) you can ring or you can arrange a consultation to find out the best next steps you can take.
If you are an asylum seeker claiming refugee status, Asylum Aid offer a very good advice service. Asylum Aid has recently become part of the Migrants’ Resource Centre.
Locally there are often volunteer legal advice drop in sessions organised by solicitors. A good place to start is to search the ILPA directory to find immigration advice near you.
If you are a member of a trade union, they will often have legal departments which you might be able to utilise without charge. It is your legal right in the UK to join a trade union. For information on what trade unions are and how to join one see here.
Many organisations have traditionally suggested seeking help from your MP in immigration cases. You should be aware that some MPs have been reporting undocumented migrants to the Home Office so it is wise to check this list first before seeking the help of a parliamentarian.