“As many anti-racists warned at the time, the hostile environment against immigrants simply became proxy for racism towards all black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including those who had British citizenship.”
By Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism
Ten years on from the start of the ‘hostile environment’ it’s hard to imagine a more racist and draconian immigration and asylum system in operation today.
Shortly after the passing of the controversial Nationality and Borders Act earlier this year the government announced that Rwanda would be used as an offshore ‘processing’ centre for asylum seekers. The full details of the £120 million agreement between Britain and Rwanda have still not been made available.
Last week Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that so-called “illegal migrants” who had crossed the English Channel would be among those receiving removal notices imminently. The first flights to Rwanda are expected to take place soon.
The Nationality and Borders Act includes measures such as “Clause 9” which gives the government powers to remove the citizenship from people who have one or more parents born abroad on spurious grounds.
Campaigners fear that clause 9 could lead to another Windrush scandal and see people wrongly stripped of their citizenship and deported. The Windrush scandal exposed the horrors of the hostile environment, and forced the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd in 2018.
Both the Nationality and Borders Act and the Rwanda scheme are facing much opposition.
The scheme already faces a legal challenge. Law firm InstaLaw argues that the Rwanda scheme is a “publicity stunt” that contravenes international law, the 1951 Geneva Convention and British data protection law.
Last weekend hundreds gathered in Dalston, East London to oppose police officers in what was believed to be an immigration raid. The “My London” newspaper reported that the police were “chased from Dalston” after a man was stopped for “immigration offences.”
On the same weekend around thousands joined “Celebrating Kenmure Street- A Festival of Resistance” in Pollokshields, Glasgow, marking the first anniversary of the #BattleofKenmureStreet that stopped a dawn raid of two neighbours.
In 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May announced the “Hostile Environment” policy strategy aimed at combatting ‘illegal immigration’ by making life so unbearable for undocumented migrants that they would voluntarily choose to leave. In 2013, May launched the infamous “go-home” vans.
May said: “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”
Hostile environment policies effectively called upon the British public to take on border policing roles. Landlords, doctors, employers, staff across educational facilities, community workers and more became legally responsible for assessing individuals’ immigration status before engaging them in their work, with mistakes punishable by law.
Hostile Environment policies also lead to a widening of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) policy. NRPF dictates that any migrant who has not secured ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ in the UK is unable to access most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance including local authority homelessness services. Therefore there is a correlation between Hostile Environment policies and abject poverty.
‘Hostile Environment’ policies cut off undocumented migrants from access to any public services, including healthcare services and the government aimed to make working or renting a safe place to live impossible for migrants without adequate paperwork.
The reality of the hostile environment was even worse than this. As many anti-racists warned at the time, the hostile environment against immigrants simply became proxy for racism towards all black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including those who had British citizenship.
During the last decade racist attacks, support for the far right and fascist organisations have increased and politics has been dragged further and further to the right, with a Tory government in the style of Enoch Powell in currently in power. Anti-immigration racism, as well as Islamophobia, have been the cutting edge of this rightward shift.
This is because racism has provided scapegoats, a distraction and divided the 99 per cent in the context of the biggest attack on living standards in centuries. That is why it is crucial for the left to oppose racism.
The cost of living crisis is set to worsen with wages falling to the lowest level in more than a decade with consumer price index inflation at 9.1 per cent – the highest level in 40 years. We’re seeing the biggest fall in pay since November 2011.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) regular pay dropped by 2.9 per cent in March when taking Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation into account. In the three months to February, real regular pay was 2 per cent lower, the steepest decline since 2013.
We must fight the rising cost of living crisis and rising racism. The TUC’s “We Demand Better” march on Saturday 18 June could not be more timely. Stand up to Racism is organising a bloc on the demonstration: “Stop Rwanda Off-shoring – All Refugees Welcome” to highlight the need to oppose racism in the context of the cost of living crisis. We urge Labour Outlook readers to join us.
- Sabby Dhalu is the Co-Convenor of Stand up to Racism (STUR). You can follow her on twitter, and STUR on twitter and Facebook.
- Join the Stand up to Racism bloc at the TUC’s national demonstration on June 18th – details here.