The last year has seen testing times for the migrants’ rights sector. Still, campaign groups have actively and openly challenged Government policies, both those that have already been enacted, and those being proposed under ‘Brexit’ conditions.
If opportunities to engage policy makers and encourage more progressive immigration policies continue to remain scarce, we are likely to see many more legal challenges, as the courts become a key battleground in the fight against the erosion of migrant and refugee rights. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what we have to look forward to in 2018.
by FIZZA QURESHI
1) Immigration White Paper & Bill
We have been waiting – far too patiently, some might say – for the next Immigration White Paper and Bill, notwithstanding the drafts leaked back in September. While the publication dates and details of upcoming immigration policy are still hazy, the Bill is likely to focus on the issue of EU migration post-Brexit.
This relatively narrow scope will make it more complicated to add amendments on other migrants’ rights issues. Nonetheless, we will push to speak to our Parliamentarians once the White Paper and Bill are released. Keep an eye out for the campaigns and organisations that are sure to mobilise once these key policy documents are in the public domain.
2) At-risk groups and Brexit
EU nationals and their dependants continue to confront uncertainty over their future rights, once the UK leaves the EU. There are still many EU nationals unaware of the precarious situation they may be facing with the ‘settled status’ offer, if they don’t fit the profile the Home Office requires for its new registration system.
This new status will likely impact the more ‘at-risk’ groups such as the Roma, or disabled EU nationals and their carers. There will be many others who, due to precarious work and housing situations, will also find it difficult to prove their residency. It is unclear how precarious situations will measure against the UK’s definition of ‘lawful residency’.
There will need to be a fine-tuned examination of the impact of the proposal for registering EU nationals, and we should ensure their concerns and needs are expressed loudly.
3) A compliant environment? No, still a hostile one
Last year, it became apparent that the hostile environment was being created not just by the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, but also by back-door policies and agreements developed to make essential aspects of life difficult for undocumented migrants. It is clear that these policies have had knock-on effects on all migrants, as well as BME communities.
In January 2018, we will see bank accounts used as tools for immigration enforcement. The tragic trend of victims and witnesses of crime being treated as perpetrators will likely continue as well. The main concern will be knowing who is and has been affected, as not all individuals affected will seek legal advice or alert the media to their plight. We need a systematic method to collect the evidence of who, and how, people are being targeted, and the impact this has on their lives.
This will mean joining with unlikely allies, such as banks and building societies, and probably the police and their commissioners. Overall though, we need to continue to win the trust of migrant and BME communities, so they are willing to come forward when they are affected. MRN’s ‘Guide on the Hostile Environment’ for migrant and BME communities will be released in the next couple of months, to inform communities about the breadth of the policies, but more importantly about their rights, and who they can turn to for support.
Where victims of the hostile environment do come forward because of a new or enforced policy, we will need quick campaigns and legal actions, preventing these policies from becoming the ‘new normal’. We need to raise the consequences of the hostile environment on all public platforms, and whenever we engage with policy-makers and stakeholders.
4) Legal challenges and campaigns
Data-sharing agreements have popped out of the woodwork between the Home Office and the NHS, Department of Health (DoH), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and Department for Education (DfE), for immigration enforcement purposes. These agreements exemplify the nefarious ways that this Government is intending to pursue undocumented migrants.
Campaigns and legal advocacy have not allowed these agreements to go unchallenged. The first challenge to tackle the hostile environment was led by NELMA and the Lambeth Public Law Centre Unit against the policy to deport rough-sleeping EU citizens. Their success ended 2017 on a positive note, as the Home Office backed down on any appeals to the court’s decision. This victory reminds us that, sometimes, the courts are a valuable option.
MRN is also pursuing its own legal challenge against the data-sharing agreement between the NHS, DoH and Home Office. The request for permission to have the agreement judicially reviewed was submitted in November, but we now await the Home Office’s agreement on a cost-capping order for the case to be taken forward. Preventing cost caps is one of the tools the Home Office routinely deploys to deter organisations and campaigners from taking legal challenges forward. As it currently stands, MRN could be liable for the full £50,000 in court costs.
5) New labels for migrants?
In November 2017, we titled our annual summit ‘Beyond the Good Immigrant’. We chose this provocative title to address discussions about migrant groups being pitted against each other, or made to compete in an artificial hierarchy of ‘worthiness’.
For example, during the process of the UK leaving the EU, and the discussions that have ensued, we have observed a significant focus on the ‘contribution’ that migrants brought – largely centred on their financial and fiscal contributions. As a result, many have forgotten that migrants offer more than just tax money: everyone’s lives and society has been enriched through their presence.
One group that is casually – sometimes purposefully – overlooked in these worthiness measures are those classed as ‘undocumented’, or migrants with irregular status. They are vilified more than any other group in the media, who have no qualms about labelling people ‘illegals’ – thereby denying any consideration of their human rights. Alongside People and Planet, MRN launched a petition entitled ‘Not Illegal- HUMAN’, encouraging everyone to refute the term, and to remind the media that we will not accept such dehumanisation. As 2018 progresses, we will be further engaging our media colleagues with an ethical reporting charter, offering what we hope will be a helpful tool to guide their reporting on migrant issues.
Central to our activities in 2018 will be migrants themselves. Following the Outsider Project, which involved migrant communities in different localities listening to each other and and taking their own initiatives (the project report is coming soon), it is clear to us that more projects of this kind are necessary. They will centre migrants within the public debate, and empower them to decide what their priorities and needs are.
One occasion to involve migrants and encourage them to make their presence heard will be the One Day Without Us festivities on 17 February 2018. MRN, along with others, will be supporting the initiative, as well as any migrant community that wants to create their own local actions on the day.
Last but certainly not least, MRN wishes you all a great start to 2018. May we all remain steadfast in fighting for the rights of all migrants!
MRN looks forward to working with you on all these issues, and much more besides.