Karishma Dharni

Time’s Up: No Collusion with Immigration Deportations

It has come to light that the UK’s immigration compliance and enforcement (ICE) teams have been soliciting the assistance of NGOs and religious organisations in the UK to help identify and deport so-called illegal immigrants. Immigration enforcement teams have organised a series of clandestine meetings in and around Southall in hotels and religious institutions – Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras – who are paid to set up ‘advice and information’ surgeries to help identify suspect immigrants for so-called ‘voluntary’ returns to countries of origins.

Today (Tuesday 13 March 2018), between 6-8pm the Home Office – in partnership with the British High Commission in Delhi and an Indian NGO called Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI) – has organised one such meeting at the Hyatt Place Hotel on the outskirts of Southall, West London. Billed as an ’immigration seminar‘, this meeting is by invite only and is aimed at those who work with ‘migrant communities’. There is no publicity or information available about this very private meeting. It appears that the only aim is to help the Home Office gain access to vulnerable people identified as potentially ‘illegal’. It appears to be nothing more than an exercise that seeks to fish for and prey on the most vulnerable in our society.

Creating a Hostile Environment

We have been here before. Back in the summer of 2013, we protested against immigration enforcement officers raiding workplaces and harassing men and women at transport hubs in Southall and elsewhere. The raids occurred against the backdrop of the notorious ‘Go Home’ vans campaign which was condemned for being unlawful and racist because it spread intolerance and hatred towards migrants and minorities. These initiatives continue to form a major plank of the government’s attempts to create a “hostile environment” for all migrants, drawing statutory and civil society organisations into its operations. We are already concerned about the ways in which the police and Home Office are prioritising checks on women’s immigration status when responding to domestic violence calls. This only serves to instil fear and prevents already marginalised women from coming forward and seeking help.

Many migrants are in fact made destitute and homeless by the harsh immigration rules, and increasing controls in the housing, education, health and welfare sectors. They do not have any option for support and so turn to religious and charitable institutions as a last resort, only to find that these bodies are also colluding with the Home Office in return for funds.

The meeting at the Hyatt Place Hotel and its implications

The immigration meeting planned in the Hyatt Place Hotel near Southall is deeply disturbing for the following reasons:

  • The meeting takes no account of the law or due process. It lacks transparency and openness, and it has the potential to be unlawful. It is billed as an ‘immigration seminar’, but we have seen no evidence of any intention to ensure that legal advice will be made available to those identified as potential ‘illegals’. Instead, the whole exercise appears designed to exploit the vulnerability and lack of knowledge of the people that come to be targeted.
  • Our concern is that it is the elderly, homeless, poor and ill – those least able to defend themselves – who will be targeted. Many have been living in the UK for years and have a right to stay. We have even heard of an elderly Asian woman being picked up from a nursing home. Such cases echo other recent shocking cases of black and minority elderly men and women in similar circumstances being detained and traumatised after many years and decades of living in the UK. Some having arrived as small children. See ‘I can’t eat or sleep’: the woman threatened with deportation after 50 years in Britain.
  • We are also alarmed by the ways in which religious bodies and NGOs are being co-opted into the police functions of the state. This is not a new development. It seems to be a deliberate strategy deployed by a government desperate to maintain its vote base by showing that it is ‘tough’ on immigration. It is a deliberate attempt to shrink those parts of civil society that question and challenge its motives and agendas. We know that gurdwaras in East London and charities such as St Mungo’s have already opened their doors to immigration enforcement officers so that they can target the most vulnerable and desperate. See homeless charity helped target rough sleepers to deport. It would also seem that a close nexus exists between local authorities, the Home Office and charities whereby the commissioning of local services are dependent on charities carrying out immigration control functions.
  • The Home Office is partnering with NGOs abroad, even those that are supposedly working on issues of development and justice, to help with its deportations programme. For example, the Home Office is paying around £104k per year to DAJI to ‘reintegrate’ deportees. DAJI states on its website that it works to help returned migrants to resettle in India by providing them with information and linking them up with government agencies and business or job opportunities. It also professes to work within the parameters of the Indian constitution and international human rights law on migration and refugees. But there is a lack of transparency as to exactly how its partnership with the UK immigration authorities works. It is not clear if DAJI is even aware of the dubious nature of the UK’s anti-immigration operations and their potential unlawfulness. Nor does it appear to be aware that, by partnering with the UK’s immigration enforcement team, it may itself be colluding in in a breach of international human rights law on refugees and migrant detention, torture and ill-treatment. Moreover, there is no information on its website of exactly how the money received from the UK for the purposes of ‘re-integration’ has actually been spent on supporting returnees to resettle in any meaningful way. It is a worrying example of how this UK government’s subversion of democratic processes within civil society is extended through partnerships with civil society organisations in other countries.

Mobilise and Resist

We are witnessing an unprecedented assault on migrants throughout the UK; an assault that depends on the state’s co-option of welfare services and civil society organisations in order to appear ‘tough’ on immigration. We need to be alert to such co-option: if we don’t, we will be contributing to our own demise as human rights monitors and defenders, in the face of an authoritarian and clandestine society based on fear, suspicion and hatred. It is our responsibility to resist and mobilise against the collusion of civil society and welfare services with oppressive anti-immigration goals.

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