‘Reclaim Citizenship To Reclaim Our Human Rights’: Groups Call For End To Hostile Environment Policy

By Jenn Selby, Freelance News Editor 30 Apr 2019
Justice, Religion

Charities, human rights organisations and academics are calling on the British public to join the fight to restore dignity to migrants trying to access services in the UK.

Groups such as Medact, Migrants Organise, Docs Not Cops, Project 17 and Liberty have teamed up to criticise the failures of the current government’s “hostile environment policy” to ensure that the human rights of undocumented migrants remain protected.

The “hostile environment policy” was introduced when now-Prime Minister Theresa May was the Home Secretary in 2012.

It is the name given to a set of administrative and legislative measures designed to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible for people who do not have a leave to remain – and to force them to leave voluntarily.

As a result, many migrants and families struggle to access the rights set out by the European Convention on Human Rights – and ratified in UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Excluded From Accessing Support

“The government would say that these measures are targeted at undocumented migrants,” Gracie Bradley, Policy And Campaigns Manager at Liberty tells RightsInfo in the video below.

“It also ends up targeting people who have the right to be in the UK but are for whatever reason unable to prove it.”

“Essentially, this set of measures aims at excluding people from public services, outsourcing immigration enforcement to people who are not trained like teachers, police officers, front line health workers,” Madeleine Ellis-Petersen of Project 17 says.

“They are excluded from accessing support, like support with housing or tax credits or any other kind of benefits. And that means people are forced into destitution and homelessness simply because they are unable to access public funds.”

Locked Out Of Services

During the campaign video, Ikram Ullah describes having debt collectors visit his family home to demand money they said his family owed ahead of maternity care that was due to be given to a heavily pregnant wife.

The incident occurred because of the “hostile environment policy” of introducing the advanced charging of undocumented migrants for healthcare treatment in the UK. They were given just 14 days to come up with a large sum of money, or risk leaving the mother without medical care during her imminent delivery.

Image credit: Ikram Ullah and family/Screen still/ Rightsinfo

One witness describes the plight of migrant survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, who did not access the health or social care they desperately needed following the tragedy because they were afraid medical staff would turn their details over to the Home Office and they would be deported.

Meanwhile, Ms Bradley at Liberty revealed that parents had been contacting the human rights charity in their droves to complain that it was only non-white children who have been asked to provide their nationality and place of birth for school records. These records are then sent from the Department of Education and used by the Home Office for immigration control.

“Some schools were asking for passports,” Ms Bradley continued.

“What all of that did was create an environment in which children are being taught you have some people you treat this way, and some people you treat another way.”

Image credit: Stand Up To Racism demo/ Screen still/RightsInfo

Holding Authority To Account

The groups cite other ways in which migrants have routinely had their human rights violated, including being forced to stay in overcrowded and inadequate accommodation and “living with rats and cockroaches”. Many children, they said, would also be sharing beds with other family members.

Local authorities and the Home Office need to be accountable for their actions and we all need to be working to ensure that happens.

 Madeleine Ellis-Petersen, Training and Development Officer at Project 17

In a call to action for the UK public, they ask citizens to write to their MPs, go on demonstrations, voice their disapproval and volunteer for one of the many organisations that are pushed to the limits to provide the missing support undocumented migrants so desperately need.

“Local authorities and the Home Office need to be accountable for their actions and we all need to be working to ensure that happens,” the video concludes.

Main image credit: Gracey Bradley of Liberty/ Screen still/RightsInfo