BlogHostile EnvironmentThe Hostile Environment in Greater Manchester: policies lacking in evidence but large on misery

This week, in a report examining immigration enforcement, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee concluded that the Home Office “does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption, and prejudice.”

It’s the latest in a string of reports released in the last three months that all draw similar conclusions.

In June, the National Audit Office’s examination of immigration enforcement found that the Home Office “is unable to assess whether its measures to prevent people from accessing government-funded services have any meaningful impact on how likely a person is to return to their country of origin.”

And earlier this month a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research said “We find the hostile environment has […] helped to foster racism and discrimination. […] We find little evidence that the ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration enforcement is working on its own terms. […] The hostile environment therefore does not appear to be working for anyone: for migrants, for the Home Office, or for the wider public.”

Despite a hasty rebrand in the wake of the Windrush scandal, we still live within a web of policies whose aim is to trap people and make lives so unbearable that leaving the UK voluntarily feels like the only option left. This is the Hostile Environment. And at its heart is an astounding lack of evidence, data, learning or fact but a whole heap of discrimination, prejudice, misery and pain.

Let’s not pull any punches. When a report says immigration practices are based not on evidence but on assumption, anecdote and prejudice, what that inevitably means is that they are racist, misogynistic and anti-poor. This is not just about a particular Home Office process or a specific policy. This is about an ideology, a culture, a politics that enables a government department to thrive (and a Home Secretary to gloat) while sacrificing people’s rights in the name of immigration control.

So what does that feel like? And how is affecting people here in Greater Manchester?

For Mavis (who claimed asylum and is now a British citizen):

“I was moved to Manchester. (They don’t like you to be at one place for long, they don’t want you to make friends). I had to report to the reporting centre in Salford regularly, in case I just disappeared. I had to go to Dallas Court – that lovely place where when it is raining you can stand there just getting soaked before they let you in. Dallas Court has always been like a punishment.”

Hiwa came to the UK on his own as a child seeking asylum. His age was disbelieved and he was put in an immigration detention centre with adults. He now has refugee status and has been awarded compensation for his unlawful detention:

“When I came here, I had no documents on me, as I left them inside the lorry. Here they did not sort me out for about two years. As soon as I made a friend in one place, I was transferred. It was very unpleasant for me. When I left my country, I was scared. Here, they arrested me, and they used to say “we will send you back” and things like that, and that is why this time was very scary.”

Grace also came to the UK as a teenager and years later was given temporary leave to remain. She now has the worry of saving to renew her immigration status every 30 months or risk losing it:

“When I was 14 I was brought to the UK by a relative and left with a large Ghanaian family I had never met. I ended up cleaning, cooking and looking after their children. I had no idea then I was a subject of trafficking. After being passed to two other families I worked out something wasn’t right. By my early 20s I was a single mum (my daughter’s father had been deported) with no immigration status. I felt like an outsider who didn’t belong.”

And for Shelley and her four children (all under 18) lockdown has meant sharing one bedroom in the house of a family member. She has no income and is totally reliant on food banks and family support because she has no recourse to public funds.

One of the (many) pernicious aspects of the Hostile Environment is that it is so fragmented. It can be hard to join the dots: age assessments, no access to services, detention, bans on employment, deportation orders, immigration fees… We’ve spoken in an earlier blog about the need to connect campaigns about immigration injustices, to coalesce around core messages that emphasise the inhumanity of immigration control and the need for a more expansive version of who we fight for.

We believe this is vital for our campaigning but also for our services, so that people affected by Hostile Environment policies are better able to recognise when they need immigration advice. We support many people who have spent a long time trying to unpick why they cannot access services, housing, employment etc. before understanding their immigration situation and their options.

For our part, at GMIAU we’re committed to keep standing alongside people through their individual struggles by providing free, independent legal advice and representation. We will also keep supporting people to speak out about experiences in ways that are safe and appropriate – the recent launch of the young people’s guide to age assessments being one example. And we’ll use our voice to campaign and advocate with decision-makers – in Greater Manchester and nationally – with experience and evidence as well as solutions.

Fundamentally this is a fight for the kind of society we live in, for how we live in community with each other, and for how we shape the place we call home. COVID-19, #BlackLivesMatter, Brexit: 2020 has been a year like no other. But, in the words of one mum and doctor we support (who is banned from working because she is claiming asylum),  “Life [in 2020] needs to be a life that looks after everyone and lets us all participate according to our gifts and talents. If the government lets me, I am willing and able to make a valuable contribution.”

End #HostileEnvironment