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Islamophobia + migration

Islamophobia is embedded in immigration systems. In the post-9/11 Global North, Islamophobic perceptions of race and religion have intersected with Western immigration policies to create hostile, and even violent, treatment of migrants, including refugees, from predominantly Muslim countries. There is resistance to discussing or even acknowledging the existence of systemic Islamophobia in the UK, in addition to a lack of knowledge about what Islamophobia is or how it manifests in systems, structures and institutions, and in our daily lives.

Islamophobia is a form of racism

Islamophobia is a form of racism that constructs Muslims as dangerous suspects, expressed through dehumanisation of Muslims both abroad and in the UK. Muslims have long been one of the targets of British racism, which was particularly visible through Orientalist writings and policies during the colonial era. In short, Islamophobia conceives of Muslim men as irrational, violent and oppressive – they are portrayed as not understanding democracy, being innately hostile and oppressive of women and minorities. For Muslim women, then, they are seen as uniquely oppressed, but also dangerous through the way that many choose to veil. This is why a core part of Islamophobia in Europe has surrounded unveiling and compelling Muslims to perform acts deemed against their religion in the name of ‘liberalism’ and ‘liberation’. This perception of fundamentalism and repression, then, has formed the foundation of the British state’s approach to British Muslims through the lens of control through counter-terrorism, including policies like Prevent.

As British politicians continue to whip-up Islamophobia around areas with large Muslim populations, which often also have large migrant populations, it is more important than ever to ensure that we recognise Islamophobia as a form of racism and challenge it as such. It is racist to say there are areas of Tower Hamlets that are ‘no-go zones’, just as it is to invent ‘Trojan horse’ narratives around alleged religious extremist infiltration in schools with large numbers of Muslim students. 

The UK immigration and asylum system is Islamophobic

Muslims are positioned outside the realm of Britishness, as the opposite of a vague and poorly defined set of ‘British values’, which has increased as a hostile immigration system and counter-terror apparatus continue to intersect. This has been particularly visible with deprivation of citizenship laws, a rapidly expanded policy that British Muslims bear the brunt of. 

The subjects of citizenship deprivation in Britain on ‘public good’ grounds have almost exclusively been Muslim and largely from a South Asian, Middle Eastern or North African background. Deprivation of citizenship is also linked to counter-terror laws: most cases of deprivation on ‘public good’ grounds have been justified using counter-terror legislation. The disproportionate impact of citizenship deprivation on Muslims and People of Colour is amplified by the UK’s counter-terror measures that contribute to heightened Islamophobia. Together, citizenship deprivation and counter-terror powers intensify the idea that Muslims and migratised groups are ‘anti-British’.

As War on Terror-era Islamophobia constructs Muslims as a foreign threat, Muslim migrants face an added burden of suspicion in an environment where politicians and commentators have been increasingly keen to describe migrants as ‘invaders’. Within this context, migrants, particularly those without access to safe routes, are treated with an inherent mistrust, regardless of their reason for migrating – As demonstrations outside hotels accommodating refugees are increasing, we must also remember that the majority of people in Home Office accommodation are from majority Muslim countries and are People of Colour, often from South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. This leaves Muslim asylum seekers in a disadvantaged position, where the ‘burden of proof’ policy often amplifies the prejudice of an Islamophobic, anti-migrant system.

PREVENT, surveillance and the immigration system

Following the Independent Review of Prevent, it has been recommended that the Prevent Duty be expanded into the immigration system. Prevent is a form of state surveillance that disproportionately impacts racialised people, specifically Muslim communities. This is a fundamentally flawed and discriminatory mechanism that leads to thousands of people (mainly Muslims) being treated with suspicion on the basis they are assumed to be more likely to commit or support  an act of terrorism. This could result in greater surveillance of Muslims, migrant and migratised Muslims in particular, and more removals of citizenship and/or visa status from Muslims in Britain. For Muslim people seeking asylum specifically, this could increase the already high degree of suspicion and distrust from Home Office assessors. Given the Islamophobic assumption that positions Muslims in inherent proximity to terrorism, the expansion of the Prevent Duty into the UK immigration system would undeniably further embed racism and Islamophobia in borders. 

It is important to highlight the experiences of people faced at the intersection of another or multiple systems of oppression and the immigration system, where structural prejudice like Islamophobia can increase the precarity of certain groups of migrants. Ignoring the impact of other systems of oppression does a disservice to people like Muslim people seeking asylum who are subjected to both Islamophobia and the hostile immigration system in the UK. By acknowledging these intersections, we can better effectively challenge the ideologies and structures that ‘Other’ people and make them feel less welcome.

We will continue to research and campaign on issues affecting all migrants, especially where anti-migrant policy intersects with other forms of oppression, like Islamophobia. 

Our work on Islamophobia so far

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