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The ‘Hostile Environment Working Group’

The ‘Hostile Environment Working Group’

This last weekend saw Sarah Teather reveal the mindset of Government towards migration, explaining her frustration at the lack of alternative voices on migration.

I have previously written about the need for responsible journalism, but in hindsight this was probably unfair on the media. While their tone can be abhorrent, they are only following the example set by Government, who see little wrong in attempting to establish a ‘Hostile Environment Working Group’ to make life difficult for ‘unwanted’ migrants. While seemingly from a deleted scene from The Thick of It or Doctor Strangelove, in reality this group reflects the public attitude of the nation’s leaders. I stress public, because I don’t believe that Cameron, Milliband and Clegg genuinely believe their public rhetoric. Unfortunately they aren’t part of a reasoned debate, and instead find themselves having to respond to news like the weekend’s report that the backlog of unresolved immigration applications has now reached over 500,000 people.

Artist’s Impression of the Hostile Environment Working Group

The Home Affairs Committee published its report ‘The work of the UK Border Agency (October–December 2012)’ on 13 July 2013, which explains that at the current rate it will take 37 years to clear the backlog. This is of course a meaningless statistic, which will be trotted out until the next meaningless statistic, probably around the time of the next Home Affairs Select Committee report. This isn’t intended as a slight on the HASC, I agree with a lot of their output. The problem is that it doesn’t have much of an impact.

Keith Vaz, Chair of the Committee released a statement, which is worth reprinting in its (almost) entirety:

“The backlog of cases has now hit a staggering half a million people. This could fill Wembley Stadium to capacity six times over. It has risen by 56% in just three months. At the current rate it will take 37 years to clear and the Home Office cannot confirm that this is the last of the backlogs.

Theresa May described the UK Border Agency as ‘closed, secretive and defensive’, however, despite abolition nothing appears to have changed apart from the name. If people at the top are not replaced this will only be an exercise in rebranding as has happened in previous reincarnations…

In evidence the Committee were told the immigration service would never be fixed. This is astonishing since reducing immigration is a priority of this Government. What the immigration service needs desperately is stability, the resources necessary to clear the backlogs and a wholesale change in culture.”

One line stands out. Earlier this year, the current Home Secretary Theresa May described the UKBA as ‘not good enough’ and ‘closed, secretive and defensive’. Unfortunately, she’s not the first Home Secretary to make these noises.

In 2009, her predecessor, the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson talked about “the historic political and operation problems associated with immigration”.

In 2005, the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke recognised “a lack of confidence in our systems of control.”

Perhaps most famously, sandwiched between the two alongside Jacqui Smith (apologies for that image), in 2006 the then Home Secretary John Reid declared the immigration system as “not fit for purpose” with “inadequate” leadership and management systems. He gave himself 100 days to fix it.

There have been 2609 days between his comments and this latest report.

The Right Honourable Keith recognises the need for wholesale change in the culture of the Home Office, which is quite right, but it isn’t just this organisation that needs to change, it’s the Home Office, the government, the media, the general population. Most readers of this site could do more to contribute to the debate needed, this author included, but will we?

The proposals from the erstwhile ‘Hostile Environment Working Group’ would, amongst other things, make accessing housing and healthcare more difficult for migrants and those who look like they could be migrants, and barring undocumented children from our schools. This will cause inconveniences for many, solutions for few, and will probably lead to an increase in exploitation. It comes at the same time that anti-immigration parties are gaining in airspace and popularity. Now more than ever a conversation is needed, but most of the politicians have shown themselves to be incapable of leading it, proving themselves to be completely lacking in tact and diplomacy. It is time for some alternative voices to start making themselves heard.

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