UK immigration hostile environment policy investigation

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), headed by David Isaac CBE, is currently investigating the Home Office hostile environment policy.  Further details of the investigation have been published recently.  As we have mentioned in the past there are also serious concerns about organisations that are closely linked to the Home Office.   Organisations that are sponsored or involved with the Home Office, intentionally or not have become part of the “hostile environment” policy. 

The overall set of measures under the hostile environment policy, to make it difficult for “illegal immigrants” to stay in the UK is bound to affect people who are visibly from minority groups.   There is considerable evidence to suggest that the “hostile environment” policy has been used to make life for people from minority groups more difficult.  Those from the “Windrush Generation” and other BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups have been affected.  Where race discrimination including institutional racism is already there the policy encourages public officials or crypto Government officials, to behave in an even worse way towards others including British citizens from BAME backgrounds.

Liberty the Human Rights group has said the following:

..If you seem visibly foreign, these policies create a mandate for racial discrimination against you…

…We’re calling for the racist hostile environment to be scrapped and for Government departments and public services to commit to a data ‘firewall’ – a cast-iron promise that personal information collected by trusted services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement…

For example, the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) sponsored by the Home Office, and headed by John Tuckett has shared information with the Home Office relating to migrants.  This information has been used unfairly and unjustly to target migrants who have then had to leave the Country.  There are also extremely serious allegations of institutional racism at the OISC and abusive behaviour towards those in BAME groups.

It is surely not possible for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to properly investigate the Hostile Environment policy without also investigating organisations such as the OISC.   The OISC has already been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

An investigation into the Home Office’s UK visa and immigration hostile environment policy has been launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The inquiry by the human rights watchdog will determine whether the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration measures breach equality laws.

The controversial measures resulted in disastrous consequences for thousands of Windrush generation residents living in the UK, legally. The EHRC has said that it will use its legal powers to assess whether the Home Office adhered to public sector equality duties, as part of a drive to end the ‘systemic and entrenched race inequalities that exist in the UK.’

Principally, the EHRC will examine whether the Home Office took into account the potential impact of its hostile immigration measures on the Windrush generation, especially since legal charities warned that many among the Windrush community had no documentation and were likely to be subject to serious consequences because of the new policies.

Black UK residents wrongly classified as unlawful residents

Following the launch of the Home Office’s hostile environment measures, when former UK Prime Minister Theresa May served as Home Secretary, thousands of people who arrived in the UK under completely legal circumstances in the 1950s and 1960s, found themselves wrongly classified as unlawful residents, under rules not designed to target them.

Consequently, many legal UK residents were left devastated, with many losing their homes and their jobs, while many were denied access to healthcare. In extreme cases, some were detained and later forced to leave the UK.

The ‘Wendy Williams Lessons Learned’ review, an independent report into what went wrong, published in March, concluded that the Home Office had demonstrated ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race.’ The report’s findings prompted an apology from the UK’s current Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

David Isaac fo EHRC says shadow cast across UK values

Chair of the EHRC, David Isaac, said: “The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values. We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.”

“The impact of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd by US police officers has resulted in urgent calls for action to end the systemic and entrenched race inequalities that exist in our country. The law requires that all public bodies must promote inclusivity and opportunity by considering the impact their policies have on ethnic minorities,” Mr Isaac added.

A 16-strong alliance of anti-racism groups urged the EHRC to launch an inquiry into the extent of institutional racism within the Home Office, following the release of the Wendy Williams Lessons Learned review.

Windrush campaigner, Patrick Vernon, welcomed the EHRC’s investigation. Mr Vernon has launched a petition that has, so far, gathered more than 100,000 signatures. The petition is calling for the full implementation of all 30 recommendations set out in the Williams review.

The Home Secretary has so far only committed to ‘review and reflect on the recommendations’ over the coming months.

Vernon said: “The hostile environment is racist and part of the wider structural racism of the Home Office. The ‘lessons learned review’ is a damning indictment on Home Office attitudes and culture of the government in how they treated the Windrush Generation.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP and chair of the home affairs committee, Yvette Cooper expressed her concern over the Home Office’s slow progress in acting to rectify the mistakes made.

She said: “The Home Secretary has committed to looking at the recommendations of the Wendy Williams review, but after successive home affairs committee reports raising serious concerns about hostile environment measures, casework culture and the culture of targets in the Home Office, progress has been slow.”

“It is vital that the government immediately accepts Wendy Williams’ recommendation for a full review and evaluation of the hostile environment policy and measures,” she added.

Runnymede Trust raises issues of tackling longstanding injustices in immigration system

Kimberly McIntosh, of the Runnymede Trust, said: “With the immigration bill making its way through parliament, it’s time to tackle the longstanding injustices that permeate our immigration system.”

“The government should implement the full set of recommendations made in the lessons learned review and end the hostile environment policies that wrought havoc on the lives of not just the Windrush generation, but countless others,” McIntosh added.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are carefully considering the findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned review and will respond shortly to those important recommendations. We will also work with the EHRC on the review they have launched.”

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