First published on Labour Outlook
“The demonisation of asylum seekers belittles the serious problems that need to be addressed and seeks to utilise the issue as a political tool… a smokescreen for the real problems that exist in the country”
By James Cox, PCS Left Unity
The Illegal Migration Bill isn’t just rightly causing alarm in wider society but is also causing significant concern within the Home Office.
My union, PCS, represents members working within the Home Office, the department responsible for Border Force, asylum consideration and the immigration system. We are receiving frequent concerns from members about the legality and implications of the Bill. The primary issue is clearly what appears to be the removal of the right to claim asylum from what are deemed to be ‘illegal’ entrants.
This potentially puts us on collision course with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Some believe that this is the point of the legislation, or that it is designed to fail. But the implication that these Human Rights should no longer be universal but apply only to those humans the government of the day decide, is ominously authoritarian.
The clear inference is that some humans are more deserving than others. Something the previous Nationality and Borders Act did to British Citizenship and its ability to be withdrawn. This authoritarianism isn’t just in the field of asylum; you only have to look at the proposed legislation which seeks to erode the fundamental right to strike to see that this government is intent on creating a human rights framework which is pick and mix to their own desire.
Members of PCS union are proud of the work they do securing the safety of thousands of individuals a year. But it isn’t straight forward and PCS members in the Home Office are no strangers to crises and there’s a feeling of lurching from one to another.
The Windrush Lessons Learnt Review rightly shone a light on departmental practices which gave rise to the shocking treatment of numerous members of the Windrush generation. But since that publication of the report, a couple of the recommendations have now been dropped, and instead of the rolling back of the hostile environment this new Bill seeks to supercharge it.
Our members also point to recommendations that seek to address the failure of staff to treat people as individuals and be more human and empathetic in their responses. Instead, the Prime Minister names as one of his five targets “stopping the boats”. The dehumanising language of referring to boats, rather than the desperate individuals on them, is telling. It seeks to divert attention from the fact many of these individuals are being trafficked, many are in poor health, and all are desperate enough to make the journey. It also takes no account of the fact that the majority are also granted asylum following consideration of applications.
The rising rhetoric of course has consequences, with the Home Secretary as one of the worst offenders in this regard. Her talk of an invasion is the kind of language that might see one of our members working in the department taken to task. Instead, it potentially fuels terrorist attacks in Dover and violent disturbances outside hotels. This puts some of the most vulnerable in society in greater danger and risks re-traumatising those fleeing persecution.
The demonisation of asylum seekers belittles the serious problems that need to be addressed and seeks to utilise the issue as a political tool. Of course, as others have pointed out, it is also a smokescreen for the real problems that exist in the country around inequality, housing, health provision and welfare. Of course, we all want to prevent refugees having to risk their lives making dangerous journeys across the channel but in the absence of legal routes they have little choice.
As Civil Servants we are tasked with implementing the policies of the government of the day. However, this does not prevent us from having opinions on the work we do and its through our union that we can argue for change and social justice.
We’ve done this in HMRC with work with the Tax Justice Network and in the DWP with proposals about the future of Welfare, we are also keen to set out an alternative approach around Immigration. That’s why PCS have produced a booklet around humanitarian visas to implement safe and legal routes to the UK. This counters the narrative that there are no alternatives in dealing with the issues around channel crossings.
We have also been part of collective legal action around the pushback policy and the Rwanda scheme. As a trade union PCS wants to connect the people who provide services with those who use or need those services. Its essential the false divisions, which the new Migration Bill seeks to entrench further are dispelled.
So, whilst there will be many who are hoping that the Illegal Migration legislation doesn’t pass through parliament or is challenged legally, there will also be numerous Civil Servants also hoping and campaigning for a similar outcome.
James is standing for re-election to the PCS NEC as part of the Democratic Alliance slate. Click here to see the full Democratic Alliance slate.
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