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UN Special Rapporteur on racism says UK must urgently abandon 'hostile environment' immigration strategy

Date of Publication: 
17 June 2019
Summary: 

Report warns Government policies violate international human rights law and undermine racial equality

UN Special Rapporteur on racism says UK must urgently abandon 'hostile environment' immigration strategy

17 June 2019
EIN

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance last week released the report of her visit to the UK.

You can access the 21-page report here.

The Special Rapportuer, Tendayi Achiume, is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. She visited the UK last May.

As noted by the UN in a press release, the Special Rapporteur found that UK Government policies exacerbate discrimination, stoke xenophobic sentiment and further entrench racial inequality.

While the Special Rapporteur welcomed the fact that the UK has shown leadership in key areas for the achievement of racial equality, including in legislation that prohibits racial discrimination and intolerance, she found important work remains to be done to address structural forms of racial discrimination and inequality. Persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities have poorer outcomes in many areas of life, the report states.

The report includes a section looking specifically at immigration, in which the Special Rapporteur finds the Government's 'hostile environment' immigration polices have scapegoated and negatively stereotyped migrants, and led to a hostile environment for all racial and ethnic communities in the UK.

Achiume calls for the 'hostile environment' strategy to be urgently abandoned, warning it violates international human rights law and undermines the Government's stated commitments to racial equality.

Labour MP David Lammy told the Guardian: "Decent people across the country will be ashamed that the British government is now receiving international condemnation from the UN, in particular for the hostile environment which turns doctors and landlords into border enforcement officials."

Responding to the report, a Government spokesperson told the Independent that it contained "misinterpretations, inaccuracies and mischaracterisations" and said: "We do not recognise the picture painted of the UK and our approach to tackling racism and intolerance. This government is committed to creating a fairer society in which all people, of whatever ethnic origin or background, are valued and able to participate fully and realise their own potential."

It's worth reading the section on immigration in full and we've excerpted it below:

"D. Racial impact of laws and policies on immigration

"52. In 2012, the then-Home Secretary, Theresa May, spearheaded the adoption of a policy that explicitly sought to create "a really hostile environment" in the United Kingdom for irregular immigrants. [1] That hostile environment policy – referred to by the Government as the "compliant environment" policy since the Windrush scandal broke in April and May 2018 – has been characterized by a web of policies [2] grounded in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, [3] many of which remain in place today. Originally, the policy aimed to restrict access to housing, employment, health care, banking and other such services to migrants in an irregular situation. [4] It included high-profile enforcement campaigns that controversially included vans printed with the slogan "Go home or face arrest", as well as legislation restricting access to basic services for a range of categories of foreign nationals and facilitating punitive treatment of those without regular immigration status. The hostile environment policy has had an impact not only on irregular immigrants, but also on racial and ethnic minority individuals with regular immigration status, many of whom are British citizens or are entitled to British citizenship.

"53. In consultations with racial and ethnic minority communities and civil society representatives, it has become clear that the rotten core of the hostile environment policy resides to a great extent in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, although the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 is also a part of this picture. These laws have created a framework that deputizes immigration enforcement to private citizens and civil servants in a range of areas. In a national context that is deeply polarized, including on issues of race and ethnicity, and that is characterized by the scapegoating and negative stereotyping of minorities on racial, ethnic 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 the United Kingdom for decades, and are rightful claimants of citizenship status.

"54. A study by Warwick University on the Home Office's "Go home or face arrest" campaign found that many members of the wider public have difficulty understanding the distinctions between regular and irregular immigrants (for example, among refugees, asylum seekers, residents and workers, and between immigrants and ethnic minority British-born people). It also found that many people reported harassment related to their perceived or presumed immigration status when they held settled status or were British citizens. [5]

"55. Through the "right to rent" requirement, the Government obliges landlords and agents in England to check the immigration status of all potential tenants and to deny tenancy to certain categories of immigrants, or risk civil and criminal penalties. [6] Research shows that Black and minority ethnic households are more likely than White households to be in private rented accommodation. [7] Black and minority ethnic communities are therefore more likely to be required to produce residency documentation than their White counterparts. A survey found that 51 per cent of landlords said the "right to rent" scheme would make them less likely to rent to foreign nationals, while 48 per cent stated that the fine made them less likely to rent to someone without a British passport. [8] The survey also found that United Kingdom citizens from racial and ethnic minority communities may be subject to increased racial profiling as a result of the policy, as landlords stated it made them less likely to rent to individuals with "foreign accents or names". [9] Of great concern is the fact that asylum seekers and victims of trafficking do not have a right to rent and must gain "permission to rent" from the Home Office, which can further deter landlords from renting to such individuals. [10] This facially race-neutral immigration enforcement provision is ultimately racially discriminatory in its effect.

"56. The Government's underlying immigration enforcement strategy relies on private citizens and civil servants to do front-line immigration enforcement, effectively transforming places like hospitals, banks and private residences into border checkpoints. In the context of national economic and security anxiety, in which racial and ethnic minorities (including and especially those who are refugees and migrants) have been the popular scapegoats for a wide range of societal ills. The Government must urgently abandon this strategy. 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, including international human rights law, protects 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 undermines the Government's stated commitments to racial equality.

"57. The hostile environment policy described above will remain in place for as long as the legal and policy frameworks rooted in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 remain in place. Shifting from the rhetoric from "hostile environment" to "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 United Kingdom. It is important 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 United Kingdom. This is because public and private actors continue to deploy race and ethnicity as proxies for regular immigration status. Even where private individuals and civil servants may wish to distinguish among different immigration statuses, it is likely that many are confused among the various categories and thus err on the side of excluding all but those who can easily and immediately prove that they are British or those whose White ethnicity confers upon them presumed Britishness in certain contexts.

"58. It should be noted that there are significant differences between England and the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of approaches and openness to immigration. Asylum and immigration are not devolved matters and remain reserved powers of Westminster. However, the devolved nations have responsibility for the implementation of integration policies and the delivery of basic services to asylum seekers and refugees. In her consultation with local authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the Special Rapporteur generally encountered more human rights-based approaches to immigration among government authorities in the devolved nations. For example, on 22 March 2018 the Welsh parliament launched a consultation on a draft plan for refugees and asylum seekers [11] to seek views on proposals intended to develop and improve access to help, advice and services for people seeking sanctuary across Wales. The consultation also included proposals aimed at tackling inequality and poverty experienced by communities.

"59. In Scotland too authorities and politicians have promoted a more welcoming and human rights-based approach to integration. The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018–2022 outlines a vision of a welcoming Scotland that supports the early integration of refugees and asylum seekers from the moment of their arrival. The Strategy adopts a rights-based approach and emphasizes the importance of ensuring the involvement of refugees and asylum seekers in shaping the Strategy and its implementation. [12] Although the Special Rapporteur was informed about certain difficulties in implementing the Strategy in practice, interlocutors appreciated that the Strategy is a departure from the rhetoric and policies of the hostile environment.

"60. In general, civil society consultations confirmed documented concerns that asylum seekers and refugees experience extreme hardship in securing decent, dignified livelihoods, and have limited access to basic services across the United Kingdom. [13]

"61. In March 2018, the Government published a green paper on its Integrated Communities Strategy and, in February 2019, it published an accompanying action plan. [14] Although civil society actors seem generally to welcome these developments, they have also expressed concerns, including the view that the policy disproportionately emphasizes migrant communities' abilities and responsibilities in relation to integration without similarly elaborating the responsibilities of host communities or guaranteeing adequate State support for the processes and institutions necessary to achieve national inclusion."

[14] www.gov.uk/government/news/james-brokenshire-unveils-next-steps-to-build....