20 April 2018
Jean Lambert, London’s Green MEP, has written a blog post on how the Windrush scandal has highlighted the need for the UK Government to ditch the “hostile environment” for good.
Read the full blog post below, or on Medium here.
As Brexit approaches, we need to ditch the “hostile environment” for good
The Windrush scandal is disgraceful, but it’s hardly a surprise. While ministers’ blame administrative “errors” for the crisis, we know that the Government has been deliberately making life difficult for migrants for years.
This is a result of Theresa May’s pet project — creating a “really hostile environment for illegal migrants”, in the hope of reducing the UK’s net migration figure to the “tens of thousands”. The insidious campaign is designed to permeate the fabric of society. It seeks to turn doctors, landlords and employers into border guards, and construct bureaucratic barriers that deter migrants from remaining on UK soil or even think of coming here.
Those on the receiving end — whether failed asylum-seekers, victims of people smuggling, the Windrush generation, or others who (for any number of reasons) don’t have a complete set of documents — struggle to find jobs, access healthcare or rent homes. Others are sent to immigration removal centres. In the most serious cases, they are separated from their families and sent to countries where they have no ties.
It’s a cruel and inhumane system — and it’s about to be significantly expanded. After Brexit, some 3.7 million EU nationals living in the UK also look set to be exposed to the “hostile environment”.
Since the 2016 referendum campaign, EU nationals have had a taste of life in a “hostile” state. Having been used as bargaining chips in negotiations and left in the dark about their rights and freedoms, EU nationals in the UK already know what it feels like to be treated as second-class citizens in the country they call home.
After March 29th next year, this will only get worse. Under the new ‘settled status’ immigration regime, EU nationals will need to register with the Home Office if they want to remain in the UK. As with the Windrush generation, their rights will be questioned and they will be required to present evidence of their immigration status.
While the UK Government has said that the application process will be simple and effective, it could very easily collapse into chaos. There are some 3.7 million EU citizens in the UK who will need to register for ‘settled status’. In order for the Home Office to hit its targets, it will need to process around 5,000 people every day for two years. This would be a huge challenge for an efficient, smooth-running Government department. It will be near impossible for a gaffe-prone ministry that is already crumbling under pressure.
It seems inevitable that some EU nationals will slip through the net — unable to produce the necessary paperwork or access the legal support they need (as part of the “hostile environment” the Government has cut legal aid provision for almost all immigration work). Vulnerable groups are particularly at risk, including older people, disabled people and those who are not computer literate.
This looming crisis hasn’t been overlooked by the EU’s Brexit negotiators. In the wake of the Windrush scandal, Guy Verhofstadt has called for “full guarantees” that EU nationals in the UK will not face a “bureaucratic nightmare” after Brexit. Other MEPs, including me, are also watching closely as events unfold. We have a say on the final Brexit agreement, and will not hesitate to vote against any deal that threatens to significantly strip back citizens’ rights.
So far, the Government’s response to the Windrush fiasco has been sorely lacking. Theresa May’s apology for any “confusion or anxiety” caused will be hard to swallow for those whose lives have been turned upside down. Meanwhile, Amber Rudd’s plan to create a 20-strong Home Office team to deal with Windrush cases is little more than a PR exercise given that the underlying problem stems directly from continuing Home Office policy.
So long as the “hostile environment” dominates Government strategy, innocent people will continue to be hauled off to immigration detention at dawn. Families will unwittingly fall foul of the rules and find themselves living on the streets. Patients will be denied treatment, and lives will be ripped apart. As Brexit approaches, it’s more important than ever that we change this environment and create a positive, welcoming society.