At the end of March, the Home Office launched its consultation about the New Plan for Immigration. It has commissioned a private consultancy, BritainThinks, to create an online platform for individuals and organisations to take part in the consultation process until May 6th.
The consultation questionnaire has 45 questions – some are multiple-choice and some are open questions. But all of them are framed in such a way that it is almost impossible to answer any of them in a meaningful way – unless you already agree with the Government that all migrants are criminals except a deserving few, and no one should ever come or try to stay in the UK.
Priti Patel’s “New Plan for Immigration” is not so new and it is not a plan either. It is written as if it was copied and pasted from random documents and old rules. It talks about fairness and care for vulnerable refugees and women, but the only solutions that is proposing and wish to consult on is more enforcement, detention, criminalisation – the Hostile Environment 2.0
In the past year, we have had to deal with the huge loss of life in the pandemic, a lockdown that has had a severe impact on our mental health, our jobs, and our society, and we have witnessed blunder after blunder that exposed how incompetent, unaccountable and corrupt our governing elites are.
This is happening across the board, but let’s focus on immigration and this offer to ‘consult’.
Remember the Hostile Environment?
There is no mention of the current Hostile Environment policy in the New Plan. Not once! After seven years of hostilities that turned many public services into brutal immigration enforcement, the government has failed in its mission to sort out what they see as a ‘problem’, namely ‘illegal’ immigration. The New Plan document and the questionnaire is full of this kind of inaccurate, pejorative, dehumanising language that incites prejudice. The Windrush scandal exposed the system that labeled a group of citizens as unlawfully here by one change of rules.
Now they are claiming the ‘system is broken’ and the same people who have been breaking it are offering a ‘new plan’ to fix it. No accountability, no shame, pure gaslighting.
Let’s examine their record. The Windrush Scandal, which destroyed thousands of lives, is still ongoing, despite the media coverage, resignations, reports and recommendations, and even apologies. Only 338 people have received compensation payments so far, and people continue to be denied access to healthcare, housing, employment, benefits and more because of their immigration status or ability to prove it.
The pandemic exposed the damage that the Hostile Environment has done to the NHS. People died from COVID 19 because they were too scared to seek help. Many had to continue working, as our essential workers, or became destitute if they lost their jobs because they had No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions attached to their visas. NRPF is also applied to estimated 175,000 children and as their parents are not entitled to welfare benefits, children are also not entitled to free school meals.
The level of detail and the cruel spread of the implementation of the Hostile Environment is in contradiction with the narrative repeated in the New Immigration Plan, that ‘the system is broken’ or ‘is breaking down because it is overwhelmed’.
It is true that the countlessly rebranded bureaucracy that is supposed to make decisions about people’s lives is not fit for purpose, but the New Plan is not going to fix it. 109,000 people and their families will continue to be stuck in limbo, denied access to basic rights and services.
This narrative of a broken system is in contradiction to the efficiency and resources that are thrown at immigration enforcement. Just in the last quarter of 2020, the Home Office spent £4.3m deporting 322 people on 23 charter flights.
There is a lot of talk of care for the lives of women and children making perilous journeys, only for this New Plan to criminalise them as soon as they arrive to seek protection in the UK. The fact that the government would be in breach of international as well as domestic legislation does not seem to be of concern. On one hand, the government is promising access to legal advice, and on the other hand it is reducing pathway to justice by ‘curtailing appeals as a way to frustrate the system’. The Home Secretary’s frustration comes largely from being prevented by the judges from breaking the law.
In addition to fairness, there is a talk of ‘moral’ obligations. The leaked internal documents which showed that the Home Office decided to put people seeking asylum into dilapidated, disused barracks, with no social distancing during the pandemic because ‘more ‘generous accommodation would damage public perception of the asylum system, tells us all we need to know about government’s understanding of moral principles and fairness.
The New Plan contains many other proposals that further criminalise and dehumanise people seeking protection as well as other groups of migrants.
There are proposals to detain all new arrivals in so called reception centres, to make age assessment of children even more inhumane, to criminalise spontaneous arrivals, to re-introduce ‘temporary protection’ (creating a two-tier system for people seeking safety) and seek to deport people after it expires, to ‘process’ claims for protection abroad – probably on a remote island, to conduct ‘one stop’ process and reduce appeal rights, increase and make compulsory ‘wasted costs order’ for people who seek Judicial Review, making legal appeals even more inaccessible for the majority. This list of so-called ‘fair’ proposals goes on. None of these statements of the ‘problem’ or ‘solutions’ are backed by evidence or research, they are only focused on enforcement and further criminalisation of vulnerable people.
Should we waste our time to respond to the consultation framed in this way? And what can we do instead?
If the government is truly looking to fix a system that is indeed broken, then they should be using this consultation to genuinely reflect on the very hostile system that they have created, and engage with individuals directly impacted and stakeholders on the ground. Sadly, this is quite clearly not the case. Why was the consultation announced at the end of March and will be closed on May 6, 2021 – on the day of local and Mayoral elections? And even if this was a genuine exercise, if the New Immigration Bill is to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on May, 11th, how will the consultation responses be taken into account in such a short time?
The government has a huge and seemingly unbeatable majority in the House of Commons and can easily push any legislation it wants. So what is the point of pretending to consult? Why waste money and time when they clearly want confirmation of their plans for more enforcement and hostility towards migrants and refugees, women and children especially?
So what can we do?
Firstly, we live in a democratic society and it is our civic, moral and human responsibility to speak out – in any way that we can – even if the invitation for engagement is so blatantly disingenuous.
Secondly, there is no requirement to answer all questions, and there are many open questions where we can express our concerns and present arguments, research and experiences, against what is proposed.
Finally, it is important for us to realise that the consultation is not a means to an end – that if we want the government to start treating migrants with dignity a broader movement needs to happen. As cynical as this exercise might be on the part of the government, it is a sign of what the thinking is, and it is important for people who care about dignity, justice, human rights and our society, to inform ourselves about what is being proposed in our name and with our money. Those of us who can, have a duty to speak out, for those who are being silenced, criminalised and pushed further to the margins of society. We can start mobilising and organising to resist these inhumane proposals, to make sure our communities are informed and our MPs are made aware of our opposition to this New Hostile Environment Plan. And more importantly to let them know what fair and humane asylum and immigration looks like.
Solidarity in Action
- If you are willing and able to respond to the consultation, colleagues and friends have already created useful resources and guides on how to register and respond to the Consultation – here are just a few:
- Join our event with Asylum Matters and Leeds Anti Raids Action on Tuesday 4 May at 6pm, where we will be saying NO to the proposals and filling out the consultation together – we’ll make it easy and take you through it step-by-step. Make sure you register to attend now, and share the event on Facebook!
- Women for Refugee Women Guide on how to respond to the New Immigration Plan consultation.
- The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) made up of the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, working together for peace and justice has produced a briefing on the Consultation here and here
- How Quakers can respond to the government’s new immigration plan – by Quakers Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)
- Leeds Anti-raids network produced question by question guide here
- If you wish to read more about the dangers of these proposals here are some useful and insightful voices as well as facts:
- Why the new immigration plan is cruel and inhumane – by Jesuit Refugee Service in The Tablet
- Latest from Free Movement on why sticking to the Refugee Convention still matters and their First Look at the New Immigration Plan.
- Everything you need to know about Priti Patel’s ‘New Plan for Immigration‘ by Freedom From Torture
- The Independent covered an open letter signed by 454 immigration scholars in the UK, who point out that the plan circumvents international law and is based purely on assertions, with only one single reference to research evidence in the proposals.
- Also in the Independent, May Bulman talks to five refugees in Britain about their views of the UK Government proposals and how they would have affected them.
- ‘Inhumane’: Priti Patel unveils tougher asylum regime – The Justice Gap
- Regardless of whether you decide to respond to the consultation, let’s take action together to make sure there is a meaningful, organised opposition to these unfair and inhumane proposals. Though the consultation will be over on May 6, there is a long and hard struggle against the injustice that will come out of it. Here are some practical actions you can take:
- There already is a coalition of nearly 40 refugee and migrant community organisations and charities as well as more than 1,200 individuals who came up with the proposal for the Fair Immigration Reform. You can see our demands in the FIRM Charter, now available in 9 languages. Please sign and share, as it is important not only to criticise bad proposals, but also suggest positive, workable alternative solutions – based on principles of dignity, justice, welcome and action.
- We want to build a movement for migrant and refugee justice led by migrants and refugees. We are organising and mobilising for online and direct actions. Details of previous actions and how to get involved can be seen here.
- If you want to be more involved and have time to organise with your community at university, faith institutions, trade union or work place, voluntary community groups, sports or a book club, we are keen to hear from you. We will work with you to find the best way for you to contribute to the solidarity movement:
If you are in Yorkshire, please contact Sarli Nana firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are anywhere else in England, please contact Maymuna Osman email@example.com
If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland please contact Zrinka Bralo firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are working in healthcare or have been denied access to NHS, please contact Aliya Yule email@example.com
If you are working in the advice or legal field and interested in legal organising, please contact Brian Dikoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Migrants Organise team