In 2013 Home Secretary, Theresa May, declared the creation of a “hostile environment” for those she termed illegal immigrants, who had lost the right to remain. (1) This was then made clear in the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016. Support for those deemed illegal would be withdrawn, in terms of housing, healthcare, what limited financial provision remained. Immigration detention can and would be used, though at least limited for pregnant women. (1,2) (3) (4)
To designate any fellow human beings illegal is insidious enough, worse for the many caught in a maze of bureaucracy after fleeing desperate circumstances in the countries they called home.
To use the term “hostile environment” ramps up the rhetoric and indeed the hostility. This is what Britain will be seen as: hostile, off-putting, dragging its feet on international commitments to protecting refugees, unsympathetic to outsiders. (5)
It is already affecting case after case. Irene Clennell, married for 27 years to a Briton has been summarily detained and deported to Sri Lanka away from her sick husband. (6) Robert Chilowa saved lives in a housefire but is at serious risk of deportation to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe at the time of writing (6th March 2017). (7) Deportations are happening and can cause devastating and irreparable harm, all part of “ … an incoherent and inhumane system.” (8)
Citizens of other EU countries have been affected too, summarily picked up and held in detention centres. (9) Others have had residence permit applications – now a pre-requisite for full citizenship applications – refused and receiving letters instructing them to be prepared to return to their country of origin, as with Dutch lady Jet Cooper, married and living in the UK for 30 years. (10) The UK Government still refuses to guarantee the rights of non-UK EU citizens in the UK following the EU referendum vote, a position temporarily challenged by the House of Lords. (11)
In 2015, the year when around a million refugees were accepted into Germany, the term “Willkommenskultur” was used: a culture of welcome for those fleeing the devastation of war and enduring great dangers to reach Europe. Even if times in Europe and Germany have changed, that sense of Welcome, the huge humanitarian achievement of taking and welcoming so many, has not entirely gone away. As a Financial Times piece noted: “public support for Ms Merkel’s Willkommenskultur has far from disappeared.” (12)
As Home Secretary, in a Britain taking a comparatively tiny number of refugees, Mrs May had already set the tone with her “hostile environment”. Under her Premiership, even children have been turned away, with the ending of the child refugee scheme “after 350 arrivals”. (13) More will be heard on this particular topic, however.
In Theresa May’s Britain, it seems, we have the opposite of Welcome.
(1) Refugee Council. The Immigration Bill – behind the headlines [internet]. 2016. Available at: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/blogs/4629_the_immigration_bill_behind_the_headlines. Accessed Mar 05, 2017.
(2) Lee, Sian. The Immigration Act 2016 In Plain English. 2016 [internet]. Available at: https://rightsinfo.org/immigration-act-2016-plain-english/. Accessed Mar 4, 2017.
(3) Immigration Act 2014 [internet]. 2014. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/22/contents/enacted . Accessed Mar 4, 2017.
(4) Immigration Act 2016 [internet]. 2016. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/19/contents . Accessed Mar 4, 2017.
(5) Crowther M. Will Theresa May’s “hostile environment” become our “hostile nation”? [internet]. 2016. Available at: http://www.cityam.com/245394/theresa-mays-hostile-environment-become-our-hostile-nation. Accessed Mar 4, 2017.
(6) Clennell I. I was forcibly deported from the UK like a terrorist, restrained and under guard [internet]. Guardian 2017 Mar 2. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/02/irene-clennell-deported-uk-terrorist? Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
(7) Rawlinson K. Man who saved two children from Manchester fire to be deported [internet]. The Guardian 2017 Mar 3. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/03/man-who-saved-two-children-from-house-fire-to-be-deported-from-uk? Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
(8) Abbott D. Has the UK used budget day to bury news of deportations? [internet] The Guardian 2017 Mar 8.. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/08/uk-budget-deportation-jamaica? Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
(9) Forster K. The number of EU citizens held in UK detention centres since the Tories took power has increased by five times. [internet] The Independent 2017 Jan 18. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-citizens-detention-centres-immigration-detained-five-times-theresa-may-brexit-hostile-environment-a7534231.html Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
(10) O’Carroll L. Dutch woman resident in UK for 30 years may have to leave after Brexit [internet]. The Guardian 2017 Jan 14. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/14/dutchwoman-resident-in-uk-for-30-years-may-have-to-leave-after-brexit? Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
(11) Lords inflict humiliating defeat on Theresa May over EU nationals’ right to stay in UK after Brexit [internet]. The Independent 2017. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-latest-eu-nationals-right-to-live-uk-house-of-lords-theresa-may-mps-a7606641.html. Accessed Mar 7, 2017.
(12) German politics enters an age of fragmentation: The latest regional election results point to a less stable future. Financial Times; London (UK) 2016 Mar 15 p8.
(13) Travis A, Mason R, Gentleman A. Archbishop and Tory MPs criticise closure of child refugee scheme [internet]. The Guardian 2017 Feb 10. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/09/tory-mps-join-criticism-of-amber-rudd-over-child-refugees? Accessed Mar 12, 2017.