Interior Ministry employees worry they are being asked to act illegally in a ‘culture of fear’ | Immigration and Asylum

Frontline Home Office employees have warned of a “culture of fear” in which they will be put in dangerous situations and possibly asked to act illegally, on the 10th anniversary of the hostile environment’s launch.

On 25 May 2012, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, gave an interview to the Telegraph saying: “The aim is to create a really hostile environment for illegal migration here in Britain.”

The phrase became an abbreviation for a series of strict policies aimed at forcing people over their length of stay, making it more difficult for them to work illegally in the UK and access housing and bank accounts.

Ten years later, the hostile environment has evolved tremendously, but politicians and others from across the political spectrum question whether it has achieved its stated goals. Critics point to the devastating human cost.

When May launched her policy, there was rarely a disagreement from her own staff. Since then it has become more and more common and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents many employees of the Ministry of the Interior, is one of the organizations addressing two legal challenges to the Ministry of the Interior’s flagship policy: pushing back of small boats used by asylum seekers in the Channel and offshoring of some of these asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “It seems that this administration has learned nothing from the Windrush scandal, among other things. PCS is not prepared to tolerate our members being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations where they can be asked to act illegally and may be prosecuted.”

Arrival by small boat in the UK – chart

Lucy Moreton, a professional officer with the immigration services union that represents border guards, said: “The culture of fear has not changed in any way. As a professional body, this union has had frequent and extensive contact with officials who are unable to voice their concerns.”

May’s first notable move in a hostile environment was a controversial pilot project run in six London boroughs in July and August 2013, when two vans with billboards on their sides carried slogans that read: “Illegal in the UK? Go home or be arrested.”

Only dozens are reported to have left the UK voluntarily, but the failure of this plan didn’t stop May, nor subsequent home ministers, from taking a hardline on migration to ensure the hostile environment flame is alive. was held.

Number of returns from UK – chart

A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in November 2020 found that the Department of the Interior violated the Equal Treatment Act by introducing hostile environmental measures.

The Guardian exposed the Windrush scandal in which large numbers of people known as the Windrush generation, who had the right to live in the UK but had no documentation, were adversely affected by this policy.

In December 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that the hostile environmental policies that led to the Windrush scandal were not delivering value for money for taxpayers.

In April 2019, the NAO launched an investigation into a decision by the Ministry of the Interior to accuse 34,000 international students of fraud in English language tests. The report found that the Interior Ministry failed to ensure that innocent people were not unduly deported.

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2020 concluded that hostile environmental policies had fostered racism, driven people into poverty, falsely attacked people living legally in the UK and “seriously damaged the reputation of the Home Office ”.

In the wake of the Windrush scandal, the Home Office pledged to undertake a total transformation of the department, including a review of hostile environmental policies that had caused serious problems for thousands of people.

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In her March 2022 progress review, independent inspector Wendy Williams said: “Given its central significance to the Windrush scandal and the department’s operation, failure to complete the compliant environmental policy review will reduce the department’s efforts to learn lessons. fundamentally impede traits and move forward constructively.”

The Home Office’s own data does not suggest that the hostile environmental policy has been successful. The number of forced evictions has fallen year on year since 2012, the asylum backlog is at an all-time high, the department has doubled the time it takes to process visas and asylum applications have increased.

Number of asylum applications awaiting a decision – graph

Nazek Ramdan, the director of the charity Migrant Voice, said: “The hostile environmental policies have changed the fabric of our society. Perhaps no other policy since time immemorial has left such an evil mark, a stain like an oil slick. It is racist, xenophobic, immoral, illegal, unfair, punitive, divisive, mean, discriminatory and counterproductive.”

Shami Chakrabarti, a former shadow attorney general, said: “Ten years of the hostile environment have been a disaster for race relations, community cohesion and national pride. Using hunger and poverty as a means of control led directly to the Windrush scandal. Rather than draw lessons from this blemish on our recent history, current ministers have adopted an even more populist far-right approach with Channel ‘pushbacks’ and ‘offshoring’ desperate people to Rwanda.”

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