Welcome to 2023, as the government renews its attacks on the rights of migrants

StatusNow4All: Welcome to 2023, as the government renews its attacks on the rights of migrants

The New Year was underway before the prime minister offered up his ‘five pledges’ to the nation, one of which being to stop “small boats” crossing the Channel.  The use of phrase is intended to put a benign gloss on a political programme which aims at a final end to the right to seek asylum in the UK.

The right wing of Mr Sunak’s party sees a renewed attack on the rights of migrants as the only chance the Conservative party has of digging itself out of the deep hole of its current unpopularity and winning a general election sometime in 2024. They are prepared to throw everything they have got at the task of ending all vestiges of migrant and refugee rights and returning to the hostile environment policies which produced the ‘Windrush generation’ scandal of 2017. 

Asylum rights

For some commentators the way has been cleared by the ruling of the High Court at the tail end of last year to uphold the basic premise of the Rwanda deportation plan.  Disappointing as this was to supporters of refugee rights, the judgement also did damage to the government’s plan to make deportation to the African country automatic for all asylum applicants who arrive without a visa.  Refugee solidarity movements will face the challenging task of ensuring that people threatened by the Rwanda plan are able to exercise the appeal rights that the court has ruled will have to be made available to anyone with a human right claim.

The government knows that it will have a fight on its hands if it is going to move its ‘stop the small boats’ pledge from rhetoric to reality and its extremist wing has signalled its intention to do whatever is necessary to accomplish this end.  We can expect that a push to take the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights will be renewed as the culture wars waged to resist anything that suggests ‘Europe’ continues. We can be sure that the large segment of the UK public that supports the protection of human rights will be ready to resist any move in this direction.

Overturning Windrush ‘lessons learnt’

The Tory right wing has at least one formidable obstacle to overcome if it succeeds rolling back the rights of migrants. This exists in the form of the lessons learnt by public opinion with regard to harm done by draconian immigration enforcement, which extends far beyond the groups of people who the authorities seek to stigmatise as ‘illegals’.  These came about through the revelations about the consequences of the hostile environment and its impact on groups like the Windrush generation, which came to public attention in 2017.

The exposure of Home Office enforcement practices under hostile environment policies led to a strong reaction, with ministers being forced to resign and the government pledging to implement the recommendations of a ‘learning the lessons’ review of the debacle published in the summer of 2018.  But it is a measure of the extreme determination of the right wing to renege on any commitment to justice for migrants that an explicit renouncement of efforts to undo the damage done to immigrant communities is now being contemplated.

The plan to ditch lessons learnt from the Windrush scandal has emerged from Home Office leaks to the Guardian in the early days of the New Year.  They say that in order to clear the way for “fast track detention” and the deportation of migrants the government will abandon plans to appoint a migrants’ commissioner who would be responsible for speaking up for the rights of people being threatened by the control system.  The plan to grant additional powers to the Independent Chief Inspector of border and immigration is also being dropped. All in all, some 28 of the 30 recommendations that came out of the learnt lessons review are being marked as closed, even though many have not been implemented.

All of this means that the migrant rights solidarity movements will have to move up the intensity of their campaigns even further in the coming year if the extreme right wing movement is to be defeated.  We cannot afford to think that just because a fresh scandal has been exposed in a newspaper headline, or raised by a backbench MP in Parliament, that the job has been done and a victory secured.  The end goal of our campaigning is a safe, legally enforceable Status Now for All!  The diverse movements for migrant justice across the country will need to come together in 2023 to win this outcome for all people threatened by the immigration control system.