This Christmas, don’t forget the injustice and cruelty of the immigration system

Apologies for the dearth of new posts. By way of an explanation, I am now working as a pupil barrister specialising in immigration and asylum, and my time and energy are consumed by fighting for those harmed by Britain’s unjust and cruel immigration laws.

This Christmas, please spare a thought for the people who will be spending the holiday season in immigration detention. And for those who face removal to places where their lives will be in danger – like Prossie, a Ugandan lesbian and survivor of abuse, removed to her home country at a time when the Ugandan authorities are cracking down on LGBT people. Of course I am not free to write about my own clients’ cases, but I have encountered horrors no less grave.

A few Christmases ago, immigration barrister Colin Yeo wryly imagined what would happen if Jesus were an asylum-seeker. It’s an illustration of how callous and arbitrary the decision-making process can be, something of which few who have not worked in this field have even an inkling. Most asylum claims, however meritorious, are refused. Home Office caseworkers and immigration judges often seize on minor discrepancies as excuses to reject the credibility of a person’s entire account – even where the person is vulnerable and suffering from diagnosed PTSD or another illness. The Home Office persistently misuses and misapplies its own country of origin information reports. Many asylum-seekers are put on the “Detained Fast Track” with only a matter of days between asylum interview and decision, leaving them no time to gather evidence. In some cases the Home Secretary exercises her power to “certify” an asylum claim as “clearly unfounded”, meaning that her decision cannot even be appealed. And once asylum has been refused, the law makes few concessions to the sick and vulnerable. To select just a few of the reported judicial decisions, the Home Office has fought in the courts to send critically ill patients back to their home countries in the certain knowledge that they will die within weeks without kidney dialysis, and to return mentally ill and traumatized young people to wartorn Kabul.

Think too of people who do not qualify for the protection of the Refugee Convention because they are fleeing destitution rather than persecution. As immigration lawyer Frances Webber puts it in her excellent book Borderline Justice:

“But among the undocumented, the ‘irregulars’, are also those who have migrated here over the past 30 years because increasingly there is no land, no work, no possibility of feeding, clothing and educating a family, no future at home and no legal routes to earning a livelihood anywhere else. They are the ‘economic migrants’, the ‘bogus asylum seekers’ of popular myth, hounded as ‘illegals’ and rounded up when they are discovered using false documents to secure sub-minmum wage work. But how valid is the distinction the law draws between economic and political desperation?… One way or another most of those who come to these shores without official permission are refugees from globalisation, from a poor world getting poorer as it is shaped to serve the interests, appetites and whims of the rich world…

“The entire system of immigration controls, not just in the UK but throughout Europe, the US and Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Gulf states, is built on the most massive global injustice. At the heart of globalisation is a ruthless social Darwinism, which immigration controls reflect and reinforce. For the global elite, it has never been easier to move about the globe… new immigration rules smooth the path of the wealthy, even as fees have increased steeply to reflect the commercial value of UK residence. As requirements for eligibility multiply, increasingly the biblical parable is reversed, and only the rich may traverse the needle’s eye to enter the kingdom.”

I sometimes wonder how the people who work for the Home Office – the immigration officers and security contractors and detention centre guards who inflict violence on their behalf, and the presenting officers and Treasury counsel who represent them in the courts – can live with themselves, how they can go home and hug their children after a day of inflicting senseless cruelties on someone else’s child. Terry Pratchett may well have been right: “There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath which cannot easily be duplicated by the ordinary family man who comes into work every day and has a job to do.”

This Christmas, remember that many people are suffering as a result of the deliberate policy of our government – a policy which is getting worse, not better. We are all responsible for this; as Desmond Tutu said, he who is neutral in situations of injustice has chosen the side of the oppressor. Let’s make 2014 a year of fighting for immigrants’ rights.

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