As Suella Braverman refers to an “invasion” of migrants landing on the south coast, and Nigel Farage claims “floods” of Albanian men are illegally entering the UK “to join criminal gangs”, we need to examine the rhetoric of politicians, and how their language is stoking the fire of racism in the UK.
Speaking in the House of Commons about conditions at the Manston migrant processing site in Kent, Braverman described Channel crossings as an “invasion on our south coast”.
She said: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast and which party is not.
“Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress”.
Braverman’s rhetoric is reinforced by commentators such as Farage, who appeared on Radio 4’s The World at One to spout unfounded allegations on origin, age and circumstances of people seeking refuge in the UK.
Farage’s comments included advising that authorities should “use the longest runway in the country to fly every single person who comes from Albania straight back there”, and saying the government needs to “stop the flood” of migrants heading to UK shores.
He suggested “the majority” of asylum seekers were economic migrants, or coming as recruits for organised crime.
Language such as this is divisive, but it seems that the rhetoric is having an impact on public perception, with recent YouGov polling showing that more Britons now support sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Having seen the impact on women who are caught in the UK immigration system in my role as chair of the board at Hibiscus, a charity that supports female refugees caught up in the UK immigration system, the reality for those arriving in the UK is not as Braverman or Farage would have you believe.
First, people arriving on boats are not illegal migrants. It is not illegal to seek asylum in another country. It is the Government’s current system of holding people in the Dover facility for more than 24 hours that could be open to legal challenge.
Secondly, Farage would have the public believe that all people on boats are from Albania. Furthermore, he went on to assert that those who are from Albania, by virtue of their nationality are here illegally and from gangs.
That is not only untrue but risks inciting further race-based hate. The accusation of illegal actions by virtue of nationality is a very dangerous road to go down.
People do not leave their country solely due to war and the truth is that other nationalities are arriving including women and children. Numbers are growing from Afghanistan but that does not fit the rhetoric.
Our evidence shows that 85 per cent of the women we support have survived gender-based violence and many have been trafficked. Men are also trafficked. The actions of criminal gangs who profit from bringing people to the UK don’t stop at Dover. The system prevents asylum seekers from seeking employment, so they are vulnerable to exploitation.
The problem that needs addressing can only be solved by a complete overhaul to implement a long-term fair and humanitarian system. It requires proper and prompt processing, supported by better resources and systems, as well as cutting off the unsafe routes that are exploited by the criminal trafficking gangs and opening up legal, safe routes.
Instead, we are in a situation where political rhetoric and ill-informed commentators are deflecting away from the inaction of the Government.
They have fuelled the problem we are now facing by ignoring it in favour of rhetoric.
Conditions at Dover
Many organisations have been calling for months for change to conditions at the Dover immigration holding centre where people are sleeping on floors and disease is spreading. Yet the chaos has continued, with a backlog that must now clear growing numbers.
The Home Secretary has ignored the experts. Instead, she and her predecessor have focussed on vote-winning partnership deals with Rwanda. A partnership which is not only amoral but was always destined to be kept in legal challenges. The irony is not lost that at the time the Ukraine Home scheme was introduced earlier this year so the deal with Rwanda was still on the table. Sadly, distinctions are too often based on race, ethnicity and gender. Determining who is worthy and who is not.
What we mustn’t do is say that human rights are for those who look a certain way or come from a particular ethic group, but not for others. Once that starts, you move swiftly to asylum apartheid that ignores the circumstances of the individual.
How we deal with asylum seekers sets the distinction between a progressive modern society and one that says it’s ok to widen inequality. The political rhetoric has set a path where it becomes acceptable to make decisions simply based on nationality. That misleads the public, the vulnerable are left to become more vulnerable and at risk of serious harm and the system remains broken.
We urge the Home Secretary to work with organisations like ours, so she no longer pushes the UK to a breaking point and a human catastrophe.
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