Karishma Dharni

No More: Civil Society Must End Its Complicity in the Hostile Environment

Once again, it has come to light that religious bodies and charitable organisations are being co-opted as arms of the state: working in partnership with the Home Office to capture vulnerable migrants seeking care. This collaboration is unacceptable and forms part of the government’s wider ‘hostile environment’ towards migrants, which continues to foster fear, hostility and discrimination; even in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

The Guardian has reported that organisations including Sikh gurdwaras, the Salvation Army and a Chinese community support centre have all colluded with the Home Office to deliver “immigration surgeries” in their facilities. This includes three Sikh gurdwaras in East London: Karamsar gurdwara in Ilford, Singh Sabha London East in Barking and Singh Sabha in Seven Kings. The Chinese Information and Advice Centre in Soho also lists Home Office advice surgeries on its website.

Attendees at these organisations, many of whom are homeless, are encouraged to participate in advice surgeries and told that their attendance will help them receive financial support. They are reassured that the sessions are not associated with immigration enforcement – only later to find out that they have shared information with an enforcement official. Vulnerable people are coerced into consenting to their voluntary removal from the country, and their refusal puts them at risk of detention and deportation. The practice assists the Home Office in reaching people they would otherwise not be able to locate. We know from experience that it is the elderly, the homeless, the destitute and the ill – those least able to defend themselves – who are targeted.

Recent history

We have been here before. In the Summer of 2013, Southall Black Sisters protested against immigration enforcement officers raiding workplaces and harassing men and women at transport hubs in Southall and elsewhere. In 2018, homeless charity St. Mungo’s were found aiding Home Office patrols for migrant rough sleepers; targeted even at those with permanent right of residence in the UK – a practice later found to be unlawful and discriminatory. We also protested against a partnership between the Home Office, the British High Commission in Delhi and an Indian NGO called Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI) in 2018; who hosted a joint private ‘immigration seminar’ with the aim of gaining access to vulnerable people without documented status.

The hostile environment and its victims

The government’s hostile environment policy means borders and surveillance have infiltrated public and essential services; including healthcare, schools, housing and emergency services. Even victims fleeing domestic abuse risk their data being shared with immigration authorities when they report violence to the police; an abhorrent and inhumane practice which discriminates against migrant victims of abuse. This is currently the subject of a joint super-complaint with Liberty and a judicial review by Southall Black Sisters. The consequences of such policies are disastrous; women are forced back into the hands and homes of violent partners and family members, tenants are subjected to racial profiling and pregnant women are deterred from accessing essential healthcare; (practice that is also the subject of legal action by Maternity Action). Just last month, an Ethiopian woman by the name of Kelemua Mulat died at only 39 years old after her cancer treatment was stalled for six weeks due to disagreements about her eligibility for care. And beyond these tragic individual cases, the policy feeds into a broader racist narrative which questions the legitimacy of not only migrants’ rights to be here – but the rights of all of us racialized as non-white, as evidenced by the Windrush scandal and playing out in the Brexit debate.

It is in this climate that many of the organisations collaborating with the Home Office represent a hope for a safe haven and a last resort for the most vulnerable. Charities and religious bodies must end this practice and their complicity in this form of racist and state violence. We are here because you were there.

Maternity Action is challenging the government’s policy of charging vulnerable migrant women for their maternity care. You can give your support here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stopmaternitycarecharging/

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