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UN Special Rapporteur on racism concerned by widespread anti-migrant, anti-foreigner rhetoric in the UK

Date of Publication: 
15 May 2018

Immigration policy creates hostile environment for all ethnic minorities

UN Special Rapporteur on racism concerned by widespread anti-migrant, anti-foreigner rhetoric in the UK

15 May 2018

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, E. Tendayi Achiume, said last week that the anti-migrant, anti-foreigner rhetoric which developed around the referendum campaign in favour of Brexit had become widespread in UK society.

Achiume was speaking following an official fact-finding mission to the UK. As she noted, her visit coincided with the intense political debate around the Windrush scandal.

Achiume said that the Government's "hostile environment" immigration policy, ostensibly created for and formally restricted to irregular immigrants, was effectively creating a hostile environment for all racial and ethnic communities and individuals in the UK.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concerns over widespread discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in the UK. She found that access to employment and health and the over-criminalisation of young men from ethnic minority communities were big issues, along with an alarming increase in hate crime and a normalisation of hateful discourse.

Achiume also found that austerity measures were having a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities.

The Special Rapporteur's full statement is here. The section dealing specifically with immigration law and policy is excerpted below:

"In 2012, then-Home Secretary May adopted a policy that explicitly sought to create “a really hostile environment” in the UK for irregular immigrants. This hostile environment was characterized by a web of policies—many of which remain in place today. It included high profile enforcement campaigns, which saw controversial vans printed with the slogan ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’, as well as legislation which restricts access to basic services for a range of categories of foreign nationals and criminalizes those who find themselves without status. Although it is these specific policies that appear to be at the center of the government’s engagement with the Windrush scandal, the hostile environment that prevails in the United Kingdom is rooted in a much larger legal and policy framework, including beyond the narrow confines of immigration law. Importantly, this hostile environment applies not only just for irregular immigrants, but for racial and ethnic minority individuals with regular status, and many who are British citizens and have been entitled to this citizenship as far back as the colonial era.

"In consultations with racial and ethnic minority communities and civil society representatives it has become clear that the rotten core of the hostile environment resides to a great extent in the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, although the 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act is also a part of this picture. These laws have created an immigration enforcement framework that deputizes immigration enforcement to private citizens and civil servants in a range of arenas. In a national context that is deeply polarized, including on issues of race and ethnicity, and that is characterized by the demonization of ethnic minorities on racial and religious bases, it is no surprise that a policy that ostensibly seeks to target only irregular immigrants is destroying the lives and livelihoods of racial and ethnic minority communities more broadly, including many that have been instrumental to the prosperity of this nation for decades, and are rightful claimants of citizenship status.

"A study by Warrick University on the Home Office’s “Go Home” campaign, for example, found that for many members of the wider public, the distinctions between legal and irregular immigrants; among refugees, asylum seekers, residents, and workers; and between immigrants and ethnic minority British-born people, can all be difficult to understand. It also found that “many people reported harassment for being ‘illegal immigrants’ when they held settled status, or were British citizens.”

"Consider the racialized impact of the right to rent requirement, through which the Government requires landlords and agents to check the immigration status of all potential tenants, and to deny tenancy to certain categories of immigrants, or risk civil and criminal penalties. Research shows that “BME households are more likely than White households to be in private rented accommodation.” These communities that are therefore more likely to be required to produce immigration documentation than their white counterparts. A survey found that 51% of landlords said the scheme would make them less likely to let to foreign nationals, while 48% stated that the fine made them less likely to rent to someone without a British passport. The survey also found that racial and ethnic minority citizens may be subject to increased racial profiling as a result of the scheme, as landlords stated it made them less likely to rent to individuals with “foreign accents or names.” Of great concern, asylum seekers or trafficking victims do not have a Right to Rent and must gain “permission to rent” from the Home Office, which can also deter landlords from renting accommodations to these groups.

"The underlying immigration enforcement strategy of the Government relies on private citizens and civil servants to do frontline immigration enforcement, effectively transforming places like hospitals, banks, and private residences into border checkpoints. This strategy must crucially be evaluated in the context of national economic and security anxiety, in which racial and ethnic minorities, refugees and migrants have been the popular scapegoats for a wide range of societal ills. Under such conditions, racial and religious profiling in the exercise of immigration enforcement by private citizens and civil servants is a predictable and arguably incentivized outcome. To be clear, international law and even international human rights law protect national sovereignty, including in the area of immigration enforcement. However, where the strategy for immigration enforcement is so overbroad, and foreseeably results in the exclusion, discrimination and subordination of groups and individuals on the basis of their race, ethnicity or related status, such a strategy violates international human rights law, and the commitments that the UK government has made to racial equality.

"The hostile environment described above will remain in place for as long as the legal and policy frameworks rooted in the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts remain in place. Shifting from the rhetoric of a hostile environment to one of a compliance environment will have little effect if the underlying legislative framework remains intact. Efforts such as eliminating deportation targets can achieve only slight cosmetic changes to an immigration enforcement regime that has permeated almost all aspects of social life in the UK. I wish to underscore that a hostile environment ostensibly created for and formally restricted to irregular immigrants, is in effect, a hostile environment for all racial and ethnic communities and individuals in the UK. This is because ethnicity continues to be deployed in the public and private sector as a proxy for legal immigration status. Even where private individuals and civil servants may wish to distinguish among different immigration statuses many likely are confused among the various categories and thus err on the side of excluding all but those who can easily and immediately prove their Britishness, or whose white ethnicity confer upon them presumed Britishness. And finally, both unconscious bias and even conscious racial prejudice remain alive and well and will further compound the physical, socio-economic and political expulsion of racial and ethnic minority communities and individuals from the British nation.

"As a start, I strongly recommend that the Government repeal the aspects of its immigration law and policy framework that deputize immigration enforcement to private citizens and civil servants responsible for vital public and social services."