|DECEMBER 2022 NEWSLETTER|
Welcome to this edition of SNN newsletter where we are covering a number of items that will be of interest to everyone involved in migrant and refugee solidarity work.
The first article analyses the change of tone in the public debate about immigration and invites to work together to make 2023 a year marked by the progression toward a progressive, rights-based immigration policy.
The second reports a conference on housing justice and highlights the challenges faced by migrant women.
Finally we update on the Status Now Network’s strategy weekend, now definitely planned on 27th -29th January 2023.
We wish you a restful winter holiday and a happy new year.
|2022: The year when the public conversation changed?|
The past year might well come to be marked as a period when the tone of the public conversation about immigration underwent a subtle change. The belief that it functioned as a dog whistle issue which would get citizens back into line and casting votes for right wing politicians began to shatter as opinion polls started to show other responses to headlines about migrant and refugee people.
In November the progressive policy research group, IPPR, published a major report on public attitudes to immigration which argued that a ‘new consensus’ was emerging in which more people were ‘warming’ to the idea that it played a positive role in the life of the country.
The IPPR researchers felt that this opened the way to policies based on ‘rules-based openness ‘and a greater degree of compassion towards refugees. In its summary the report states:
In 2022, around half of the public express positive views about the economic and cultural impacts of immigration, compared with around one-third in 2014. Attitudes have warmed across a broad spectrum of demographic groups. The share of the public now supportive of either increasing immigration or maintaining it at current levels has grown sharply, and a large majority now believe that immigration supports rather than hinders economic recovery – a reversal of the balance of opinion 10 years ago.–
The fact that this shift in the public mood is underway is no surprise to the organisations which have been working in support of the rights of migrant and refugee people over the years. Support for their campaigns began to increase over the period after the coalition government of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties declared its ‘hostile environment’ back in 2012. Since then, tens of thousands of people have committed themselves to action in support of a wide range of causes, from solidarity with refugees stranded in Calais and the islands of Greece from 2015 onwards, through to justice for victims of the Windrush scandal in 2017 and beyond.
The learning curve about immigration continued through the unsettling days of the Covid-19 pandemic when the news media reported on the vital role they played as ‘key workers’ in areas like health and social care and the supply chains that were keeping vulnerable people fed and cared for.
The hard-line flounders
As the reality of the situation became more apparent the hard-line on refugees taken by the government became less plausible. Home secretary Priti Patel crashed and burned out of top government jobs because of her signal failure to win the public argument that the total militarisation of the English Channel was needed to prevent the arrival of refugees.
Her successor, Suella Braverman, is faring no better. Her ‘dream’ of being able to deport asylum seekers to pliant third countries like Rwanda is still being held up by court challenges which have the backing of the trade unions representing the civil servants who are supposed to be carrying out her orders.
As 2022 sees itself out the immigration policies of the Conservative government are in total disarray. The pledge given way back in the Tory manifesto in 2010 to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands was remembered an ironic comment on the release of immigration statistics back in November which showed that it had actually risen under the current to a record net positive 500,000 incoming migrants. Among this number are the tens of thousands of nurses who make up 34% of the total recruitment of staff to these NHS posts during the past year.
But still the government struggles to find a negative narrative around immigration which it can use to badge its policies. The right thing thinktank, Centre for Policy Studies, launched a report at the beginning of December with a foreword written by Braverman, which urges a doubling-down on refugees who enter by irregular routes, calling for their imprisonment and a lifetime ban on ever settling in the UK. The severity of the report’s tone, and its error in describing people seeking protection as refugees at UK borders as ‘illegal asylum seekers’ has been criticised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees whose spokesperson was reported as saying ““There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’. The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 refugee convention.”
The proper response
Mired in deepening controversy and seen by larger numbers of people as being unjust as well as unworkable, we can be confident that the dog whistle approach to immigration policy will not work anything like so effectively for the right wing cause in 2023 and beyond. As public attention focuses on the cost-of-living crisis and opposition to a further round of austerity the resort to blaming migrants is seen by more and more people as a diversion from the real issues that face a country that is spiralling into an ever more alarming state of crisis.
What is the proper response to continuing right wing efforts to generate an issue which will get people back into line and voting Conservative? Sir Keir Starmer sketched out a response from his Labour Party which falls far short of what is needed. His speech in November to the conference of the CBI business lobby continued the timidity of his Parliamentary opposition.
With all the hallmark of classic triangulation, he offered a few straws in the wind to businesspeople concerned with the severe supply chain shortages which have been disrupting their profits with a promise to be more “pragmatic” on skills and labour shortages felt by firms and to improve on the existing points-based immigration system. But with an ear still attuned to focus group negativity which lags behind real changes in the public mood, Starmer insists on using arguments about ‘over dependence’ on migration as a way to signal to voters that he would not depart entirely from the right wing narrative on the issue.
Need for bold initiatives
With so little coming from the political mainstream in the way of bold initiatives it is clear that migrant and refugee rights campaigners will have to rely on their own resources to generate a vision for progressive policy that works with the new moods of the public. Foremost among this is the increased awareness of the sheer injustice that lies at the heart of a system which uses byzantine bureaucratic control mechanisms to management the movement of migrants, and in doing so makes criminals out of people who are simply following the only options available to them to attain a better and safer life for themselves.
The plain fact of the matter is that an immigration policy led by strictly enforced inflexibly interpreted rules, whether backed by the ‘take back control’ version of the Conservatives or the supposedly enlightened technocratic hopes of Labour, will not be fit for purpose in a twenty-first century world that is struggling to address the historic injustices of neocolonial impoverishment as well as the added dimension of potentially catastrophic climate change. A progressive, rights-based immigration policy will be an essential part of the move to redress injustice in the years that come. We should make 2023 the year in which a serious conversation as to what will be required to make this shift get properly underway.
Housing Justice: Migrant women and homelessness
More than 200 women attended the conference on ‘ Housing Justice and Homelessness: Current challenges faced by minoritised and migrant women’ organised by Disrupt. The conference took place in the North (Sheffield, on 7th -8th November) and in the South of England (Sussex, on 16th-17th November) to enable maximum participation. It aimed to develop networking between BME grassroots organisations, legal experts and potential funders.
The discussion focused on the current challenges faced by migrant women due to the intersection of racism, gender-based abuse, discrimination, economic inequality, and migration exclusion.
Legal experts from Housing Rights (the website jointly published by the Chartered Institute of Housing and BME National), Law for Life, ILPA (Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association), Public Interest Law Centre and DPG provided information on housing rights and various forms of legal collaboration offered to grassroots groups and front-line organisations, while many women shared their stories and described the work of their organisations highlighting how asylum seekers and other people without a legal status in the UK have no access to most housing rights and are the most vulnerable.
Women seeking asylum shared their experience of destitution and precariousness, denounced how the cost of living crisis impacts harder on asylum seekers who are denied the right to work and any form of support. Many of them experience homelessness or suffer domestic violence or exploitation only to have a place to sleep. The main support for these people often comes from their own community organisations like WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together), a signatory of Status Now Network that attended the conference.
Mariam Yusuf, who is a member of the core group of Status Now Network, explained :
Some WAST women have been to detention and later released back into the community. They come back more traumatised, having lost confidence and trust as well as their accommodation and support; they became detained for seeking protection and now are homeless , destitute and suffer from mental health problems.
Some of us who have lost their support because of detention and refused asylum claims, end up homeless and vulnerable. WAST supports the women by making referrals to Charities that offer night shelter for temporary emergency accommodation. This is not guaranteed as the demand is high. Some of us are forced into relationships that result in domestic and sexual abuse all in the name of getting a place to sleep, we end up with unwanted pregnancies. Some of us get exploited into working in exchange for a place to sleep.
WAST gives support to women with children from abusive relationships, by signposting them to where they can get additional support for their needs. WAST makes referrals to Boaz Trust, a charity that provides accommodation for men and women who have become homeless after claiming asylum and having it refused. This support enables the men/women to get their lives back together and after gathering evidence to apply for fresh claims. WAST continues to support destitute women, by providing little support which enables the women to get basic essentials like toiletries.
A Migrant Destitution Fund run by Manchester Community Central gives some money to migrant people who have been defined by the state as having no recourse to public funds. In practice, the fund is substituting what the state should be providing, but, right now, it stops people having to put themselves in unsafe situations to get money, making a real difference to their lives. Destitute women from WAST benefit from this scheme.
A few of WAST women who have been destitute have moved away from Manchester to where they could find accommodation. When the network of friends and support they had established is no longer available, they face new challenges, loneliness, and isolation.
Solidarity, reciprocal help and empowerment, as well as practical forms of support to destitute women with precarious immigration status in the UK are also at the basis of the work done by other organisations.
Similarly to Mariam, many other women showed the richness of activities developed by their organisations and the importance of these women’s networks, while denouncing how the lack of a settlement status terribly impacts on every aspect of life, biting even harder on women, and contributes to increase the number of homeless people in the country.
Status Now Network away strategy weekend event
SNN is currently planning to hold a weekend discussion on its campaigning strategy for the period ahead. The core of the discussion will be consideration of where migrant rights movements have got with their fight against hostile environment policies and how the standpoint of people who have lived experience of these repressive measures can be placed at the forefront.
The event will take place on 27th – 29th January 2023 in Solihull (Birmingham). Spaces for attendance will be limited but anyone representing an organisation which has registered its support for SNN’s principles is eligible to attend.If you would like to offer your ideas on what needs to go into the discussion, or wish to register an interest in attending, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Status Now NetworkWe are looking for volunteers to help develop our work on social media
Fight the anti-refugee laws and stop deportation to RwandaSign and publicise the pledge to defend the rights of asylum seekers to find sanctuary in the UK. Hundreds of organisations (including Status Now) and numerous MPs have already signed it but we need to be more!
27th – 29th January 2023, Solihull (Birmingham): Status Now Network Away Strategy Weekend
18th March 2023 – UN Anti Racism Day National demonstration March against racism
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