What is the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’?
The United Kingdom has traditionally been a welcoming country, relishing the influx of other cultures, languages and cuisines. More recently however, spurred on by the widely held misconception that too many immigrants are placing the system under strain, the currently ruling Conservatives have introduced their so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy to discourage people who have immigrated illegally from staying.
What does ‘illegal immigration’ mean?
Illegal immigration refers to those people who have entered the country on temporary permits and visas, including holiday or student visas, but then stayed on after their expiry. The term can also include those who have been smuggled into the country, fleeing war, severe economic hardship, or other issues that make the move to an entirely foreign place a desirable one; and can include those who have failed to prove a claim for asylum or refugee status. The children of people living in the country illegally are also considered to be non-citizens, even if they were born in the UK.
How is the ‘hostile environment’ policy manifesting itself?
The enforcement of the hostile environment has resulted in a slew of letters being sent to those suspected of remaining in the country beyond the terms of their visa or otherwise without authority, telling them to leave the country as soon as possible or risk forced removal. Some people have been put into detention centres which are little better than prisons – and in fact, which lack many of the rights and freedoms afforded to prisoners.
But the policy goes so much further than this, working to prevent targeted persons from being able to seek medical treatment (even charities who use NHS services are required to check the immigration status of their beneficiaries), rent homes, and find even the most menial work.
Has the ‘hostile environment’ policy worked?
Unfortunately, Mrs May’s ‘hostile environment’ has not been a great success. Not only are many people without valid immigration status still living in the country, they are now cut off from access to funding, education or (aided rather than forced) repatriation, and are at risk from those who would exploit them, using them for cheap labour or sex work.
And, besides this, there are news reports almost daily about offences committed against immigrants with valid visas and settlement rights – those who have come to the country honestly, who have worked hard and paid taxes, invested their time, money and dedication to building the communities in which they live.