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Statement in Support of Migrants Organise

by Legal Sector Workers United Immigration Group
October 7, 2020

A statement of solidarity from legal workers specialising in immigration law. 1091 words / 5 min read

LSWU Immigration Group stands in solidarity with Migrants Organise and all people resisting, organising and campaigning against the violence of the British border, during the ‘Solidarity Knows No Borders’ weekend and beyond. We raise our concerns on three counts.

1. We believe that the government’s rhetoric around the channel boat ‘crisis’ is a distraction tactic

There is no such crisis. Indeed, in 2020, the overall number of asylum claims has fallen, and, although channel crossings have increased, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has emphasised that the volume should be “manageable for an advanced democracy”.

But pretending that there is a crisis serves two purposes for the government. First, it lessens scrutiny of their ongoing failures to mitigate against the genuine COVID-19 crisis by transferring political attention onto a fabricated, apparently ‘dangerous’ ‘other’. Second, it shifts the window of ‘acceptable immigration policy’, coercing migrants rights groups and organisers into debates over the cruelty of forcing people who have fled persecution and torture onto prison camps on remote islands or boats, and making our current immigration policy seem comparably moderate.

We simply cannot allow these tactics to succeed. As workers who specialise in immigration law, we are confronted every day with the ways in which migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are abused right now by the British border regime. In recent weeks, our members have reported asylum-seeking clients being forcibly taken from their accommodation in the middle of the night and unable to access legal aid; these experiences are readily corroborated by widespread reports of hundreds being relocated to disused army barracks in Kent and Pembrokshire.

As workers who specialise in immigration law, we are confronted every day with the ways in which migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are abused right now by the British border regime.

2. We reject the framing of ‘activist lawyers’.

Legal workers who challenge the unlawful removal and deportation of their clients on charter flights are simply doing their jobs. Characterising this work as ‘political activism’ undermines the rule of law and, as noted by the Law Society, exposes us to a risk of violence. It also becomes yet another avenue for the government to level its ‘culture war’. We will not allow them to centre us. None of this is really about lawyers; it is, and must always be, about the sheer cruelty of removing people from the place they call home, to face the prospect of destitution or death, and the immense strength our clients show in the face of Home Office attacks.

None of this is about lawyers; it is, about the cruelty of removing people from the place they call home, to face the prospect of destitution or death, and the immense strength our clients show in the face of Home Office attacks.

In August 2020, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report on the first charter since COVID-19 found that handcuffs were used with the purpose of inflicting pain, and that four individuals were either unresponsive, cut themselves, or attempted to do so. Although this kind of mistreatment is nothing new, it is particularly alarming in the context of the Home Office’s stated intention to deport 900 individuals in 2-3 charter flights per week before 31 December 2020. This plan, dubbed “Operation Silloth”, appears to be a naked attempt to remove and deport as many people to the EU as possible before ‘Brexit day’ - after which it may be impossible to do so.

The specific use of the notorious charter flights are also of great concern. These flights always operate on the edge of illegality, with removal targets, short notice windows, and shielding from oversight, taking off in the middle of the night from undisclosed airports and exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. When those deportations are rushed in order to satisfy short-term political interests, unlawfulness is close to inevitable, and it is vital that we are able to bring legal challenges. We will not stop doing so, irrespective of the numerous government attacks on us and our clients.

3. We are deeply concerned by the government’s continued transition towards a privatised immigration sector

Privatisation has been an ever-encroaching force within the immigration sector. The scandals and abuses in the detention estate, run by companies such as G4S and Serco, are already well-documented. Privatised asylum accommodation is similarly chaotic, with 1,000s of asylum seekers living in overcrowded and non-Covid safe ‘temporary’ hotels for months on end. Our members, and medical practitioners known to us, have identified significant failings in these hotels. Asylum-seeking clients have faced evictions due to administrative error, and have been required to share rooms with clear disregard for social distancing rules, denied face coverings, and provided with food that fails to meet even the most basic nutritional standards.

The loss of democratic oversight and public accountability that inevitably arises when services are transferred into private hands has therefore not been accompanied by any improvement in ‘efficiency’ or ‘service’ whatsoever. Notwithstanding these huge, systemic failings, the government now proposes to privatise the asylum interview process, claiming that doing so will “increase output”, thereby providing their “customers” with an “improved experience”. Yet, when private firms fail to ensure asylum-seekers are provided with something as elementary as an adequate diet, why should we have any faith in their being equipped to navigate the complexities of asylum law or appreciate the sensitivities of individual asylum-seeking clients?

When private firms fail to ensure asylum-seekers are provided with something as elementary as an adequate diet, why should we have any faith in their being equipped to navigate the complexities of asylum law?

The logic of privatisation is entirely inappropriate and counterintuitive to the asylum context. Asylum seekers are not “customers”: they are people, fleeing persecution, war and torture. The interview requires them to recount those experiences in vivid detail, meaning it is often the single most important piece of evidence in deciding a claim. If conducted insensitively, it can also exacerbate pre-existing symptoms of trauma. The state cannot be permitted to simply outsource decisions as central as whether a person is entitled to remain in safety in the UK.

LSWU Immigration Group stands with Migrants Organise, in joining a movement to call for an end to border violence, and makes the following demands:
1. The closure of all detention centres (as previously called for by LSWU here - and an end to housing asylum seekers in unsafe, unsuitable accommodation;
2. An end to the use of brutal charter flights; and
3. No privatisation of any services relevant to the determination of asylum claims.


Author:

Legal Sector Workers United Immigration Group (@LSWUnited)

Legal sector workers specialising in immigration law organised in United Voices of the World.