Guide to challenging the government's 'hostile environment' policies published

By agency reporter
April 9, 2018

Human rights groups have published a report laying bare the extent to which the Government’s “hostile environment” policies have infiltrated all areas of UK life – and giving the public, parliamentarians and civil servants advice on how to bring them down.

A Guide to the Hostile Environment: the border controls dividing our communities – and how we can bring them down details the extent of the sprawling web of immigration controls now embedded at the heart of the UK’s public services and communities, reveals the shattering impact on vulnerable families, public servants and the wider public – and explains how people can take positive action to challenge them.

Edited by Liberty, the guide contains contributions from nine leading campaigning organisations, including the National Union of Students, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Doctors of the World.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “The Government’s war on migrants’ rights has made the UK a place where parents fear sending their children to school, people with life-threatening illnesses avoid seeking medical care, people sleeping rough hide from services that should exist to support them and undocumented families face a choice between homelessness or having their children taken into care.

“These toxic policies depend on willing participation from people across society – but that will also be their downfall. Civil servants, doctors, teachers and the wider public are already refusing to be complicit in the Government’s attempt to turn us all into border guards. If more of us do so, we can fight for a country that guarantees people’s fundamental rights, wherever they come from.”

About the hostile environment

This approach of government-sponsored hostility to migrants, whatever the human cost or impact on wider communities, was spearheaded by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary and largely enforced through the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts – although it is built on years of policies designed to limit migrants’ rights and deter them from accessing basic services.

The Government now requires employers, landlords, private sector workers, NHS staff and other public servants – often unwillingly – to check a person’s status before they can offer them a job, housing, healthcare or other support.

In the name of aiding immigration enforcement, ministers have also drawn up a series of secret data-sharing arrangements – without parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation – allowing the Home Office to dip into personal information held by NHS Digital, the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and others.

As today’s report highlights, these policies and practices:

  • encourage discrimination against BAME and visibly ‘foreign’ people
  • disproportionately affect young people, homeless people and those on lower incomes, who are less likely to have a passport or other form of ID
  • shatter the carefully cultivated relationships of trust between public servants and those they serve
  • prevent frontline workers from supporting people they know are in dire need, while burdening them with complex immigration-related tasks.

The report details how these discriminatory policies have invaded all areas of UK life, including banking, driving, education, employment, housing, healthcare, rough sleeping, social support and street stops. It highlights that:

  • When faced with undocumented families in desperate need, local authorities are often only offering accommodation to children – effectively threatening to take them into care if an undocumented parent asks social services for support.
  • Since 2015, the Home Office and Department for Education have shared the school records of up to 1,500 children a month for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Undocumented migrants are charged for medical treatment at an exorbitant 150 per cent of the cost to the NHS.
  • Many international students are now required to register with police and apply for a biometric residence permit. Some higher education institutions are performing discriminatory attendance monitoring – forcing international students to sign into class or fingerprint themselves into lectures in front of their classmates.
  • Even if someone can prove he or she has wrongly been prevented from opening a bank account, the Home Office says updating the records should only be done “in exceptional circumstances”, and “the default position should be to refuse”. Ten per cent of refusals are made in error.
  • Fifty-one per cent of landlords have said the “Right to Rent” scheme would make them less likely to consider letting properties to foreign nationals.
  • The Home Office – assisted by local authorities, the Greater London Authority and some charities has confiscated identification documents from rough-sleeping EU nationals so they could no longer work to get themselves back on their feet. Others have been unlawfully detained in prison-like immigration removal centres.

Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes for Doctors of the World UK, said: “The government’s measures to build borders in the NHS have already caused great harm. Members of our communities, including pregnant women and cancer patients, are afraid to see their doctor. When they do, many are turned away from life-saving treatment because they don’t have the right documents or the money to pay. Doctors of the World sees this in our London clinic every day and we’re fighting to ensure that the founding principles of our NHS are protected from the government’s hostile agenda.”

Alan Monroe, teacher and Against Borders for Children campaign member, said: “As a teacher, I've been dismayed by the Government's xenophobic attempts to bring border controls into our classrooms. But they've been met with massive public outcry and a boycott by millions of parents and children. The "hostile environment" for migrants relies on everyone's cooperation and complicity. This guide is vital in explaining how together, we can resist and make our schools and communities safe for everyone, whatever their immigration status.”

Jilna Shah, London Projects Manager for Migrants’ Rights Network, said: “It's a welcome addition for practitioners in the sector working to challenge the hostile environment.”

* Read A Guide to the Hostile Environment: the border controls dividing our communities – and how we can bring them down  here

* Liberty https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/

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