Opinion: The hostile environment has gone too far

8 mins read

The rhetoric being spread across the United Kingdom in recent years has become prejudiced and unwelcoming to those arriving here to seek protection. 

The ‘hostile environment’ was created by Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary. Famously, she said “the aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”

There is no such thing as an illegal immigrant.

Yet what followed was a series of policies introduced by consecutive Conservative governments that would restrict the rights of those seeking asylum in the UK. 

Just over a year ago, Ukraine was invaded by Russia, which caused the displacement of over eight million Ukrainian refugees across Europe. Governments across the world condemned the war and implemented measures to welcome Ukrainian refugees or sent aid to neighbouring countries that saw the largest influx of Ukrainians seeking sanctuary, such as Poland. The world quickly reacted with a huge message of support, and it was incredible.

Westminster made provisions to allow Ukrainian refugees to stay in the UK for three years under a settlement scheme. So far, over 269,000 people have used this scheme to settle in the UK.

The media made an overwhelming impact on the treatment of the Ukrainian refugees settling across the UK, in comparison to the language employed by media outlets when they refer to any other asylum seekers seeking protection.

The asylum seekers crossing the channel from France are particularly targeted by the media and politicians. The current government is attempting to criminalise the crossing of the Channel via small boats, claiming it would break down the business model of people smugglers.

The United Nations has contradicted this claim and reiterated that the UK would be breaking international law if they begin to criminalise any means of entry by asylum seekers to the country. 

A man from the French Maritime Prefecture is looking out from his boat to another, much smaller, boat carrying asylum seekers.
Image credit: Twitter / @premarmanche

Despite this, the government and the media still ostracise those crossing the Channel hoping to flee the extreme safety risks within their current situations and find a better life — free from dangers unimaginable to most of us on this island. Proposals have been made to remove the asylum claiming rights for those who cross the Channel.

This is in spite of fewer refugees’ capabilities to arrive through safe routes, as the numbers made clear even pre-pandemic and the evidence in the Refugee Council’s The Truth about Channel Crossings report confirmed.

The document highlights that at least 60 per cent of those attempting the Channel journey would be recognised as refugees if the UK government processed their asylum application.

Instead, the media and politicians have spread a dishonest campaign for legislation which will leave tens of thousands of asylum seekers in an inhumane limbo, with risk of homelessness, poverty, and detention.

What these parties additionally fail to mention is that this legislation comes with a considerable financial implication which has an indicative cost of up to £980m per year for the UK taxpayer.

How can those in favour of such proposals justify fundamentally ensuring people will live in a state of non-existence as human beings through significant moral and monetary expense? In fact, how can they justify not allowing asylum seekers to live with dignity and opportunity here, when the Lift the Ban Campaign has estimated a potential £180 million generated by tax alone?

Unfortunately, the current government deems this impossible, with Rishi Sunak stating at the start of the year that “if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”, despite expressions of “sorrow” regarding the “tragic loss of human life” three weeks prior.

Braverman’s “dream”

Last year, the position of Home Secretary changed a few times during Cabinet reshuffles, but it was primarily held by Priti Patel and Suella Braverman (the current Home Secretary). The former spearheaded the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which has been criticised as one of the most inhumane pieces of legislation to pass through the House of Commons. Patel also introduced the Rwanda policy.

Braverman has continued to pursue the Rwanda policy, stating that it was her “dream” to see the deportation flights take off. The language used has been linked to the rise of right-wing anti-refugee sentiment that has led to serious attacks on the hotels and processing centres that house asylum seekers awaiting their claims. 

Suella Braverman is giving a speech in front of a Union Jack
Image credit: UK Home Office for Wikimedia Commons

The beginning of February saw a large attack on a hotel in Knowsley, Liverpool, where a police van was lit on fire and peaceful demonstrators trying to support the asylum seekers had been trapped until the area was cleared by the police.

This is not an isolated incident.

Right-wing group Britain First regularly organises protests outside hotels accommodating asylum seekers. In November 2022, a processing centre in Dover was bombed with a staff member being injured.

These attacks have been spurred on by the increased use of dangerous rhetoric. Misinformation and phrases like “invasion” create a tension between those who are vulnerable and those consuming these kinds of discourse. 

This is not the first time the politicalisation of asylum seekers has led to dangerous situations. In the early 2000s, the Labour government at the time had been using similar dangerous language.

An asylum seeker was then murdered on his way home from a night out in Glasgow, and a five-year-old on his way home from school was attacked with a baseball bat. These alarming attacks stemmed directly from the debate on migration escalated by the media targeting asylum policy. This often occurs in times of economic hardships. 

Currently, it is not an easy time for anyone and the issues we are facing in our communities are not the result of vulnerable people seeking sanctuary, it is the fault of our government. The drastic income inequalities and cost of living crisis are down to economic policies that this Conservative government has enacted.

The people who are being housed across Scotland, England, and Wales have no say in where they go and what they can do. Many wish they could work so they could support themselves.

What can we do? How can we as society stand up against this?

We must speak out about unfair policies, call on our MPs, and expect better. We must act together and stand in solidarity against racist rhetoric. We must call out casual racism and fight for fair and equal opportunities for all in our communities. 

Featured image credit: Twitter / @premarmanche

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4th Law and Politics student

Abi McLean
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