It is not often that we claim a victory in persuading governments to overturn their policies. But this month, MRCF won a victory with the recent decision by the UK government to abandon the Earned Citizenship policy that would have come into force next year.
MRCF identified the proposals to make migrants volunteer for citizenship applications as damaging, discriminatory, costly and impractical. Since 2009, we have run a successful campaign with our members and partners against this policy. In June we published a report, Should Citizenship Be Earned Through Compulsory Volunteering?, we produced with our colleagues at the Migrants Rights Network detailing the experiences of migrant and refugee volunteers and why they think the proposal was unfair and unworkable.
We also used our report to educate MPs, ministers, civil servants, councillors, peers and the general public about the civic contribution that migrants and refugees already make as volunteers in UK society. In a recent statement the Home Secretary Theresa May went on the record, stating that “We will not implement Labour’s policy of earned citizenship, which was too complicated, bureaucratic and, in the end, ineffective”.
MRCF, alongside its partners and members, worked hard to make our case and we are grateful that the new Coalition government has decided to abolish such a policy. But there is still much work to be done to facilitate integration and to ensure that migrants and refugees are treated with equal respect in society.
Needless to say, there is no time for celebration over this policy u-turn on earned citizenship or the detention of children because despite these successes our list of concerns grows longer.
The number of people who are experiencing serious problems in accessing good quality and affordable legal advice is growing. Additionally, access to justice for the most vulnerable migrants and refugees is threatened after the sudden closure this summer of the Refugee and Migrant Justice as well as the recent changes in the kind of advice work that is funded.
Detention- in particular the detention of children and families-has been on the agenda since the general elections when all three party leaders committed themselves to ending the policy in front of thousands of people at the Citizens UK Assembly. Six months later and things are progressing very slowly as the government continues its negotiations with various stakeholders on the possible alternatives to detention. This is especially difficult for those children who are still being held in detention.
Numerous other changes to immigration rules are being introduced and debated. In addition to changes in immigration numbers and rules for language testing for spouses, changes in all other areas of our society are making it much harder to work on integration and access to basic human rights. It is our concern that reduction in resources for public services will make it even more difficult to access advice and support for those who cannot speak English and for those who are not aware of their rights or how to go about securing certain fundamental needs.
The language that stigmatises migrants and refugees is getting worse, easily whipped up by fears around jobs that are allegedly taken by migrants.
Despite the challenges mounting, MRCF was able to celebrate a successful year behind us at the AGM in September. We hosted the Deputy Mayor of London, started new trainings, had an army of amazing volunteers and we re-launched our website.
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