By Andy Irwin
Immigration is once again set to be a key theme in the run up to this year’s general election. Backbench Conservatives want a tougher line in order to combat UKIP and Labour is attempting to position itself bizarrely as the ‘natural’ party of resistance against mass immigration. Toxic political narratives and campaigns of misinformation have propped up a profoundly negative way of looking at immigration in this country, particularly outside of London. All the while, families are suffering the effects of this government’s arbitrary caps and checks on immigration.
Just before Christmas I caught up with a friend for a drink. His brother had spent seven years living in Peru with his wife and had moved back to the UK about 18 months ago along with their two children (aged 10 and 12). He told me that his brother is currently living and working in the south east, while the two children are living with their grandparents in Wales so that he can work and support them. I asked after his brother’s wife and my friend responded that the couple were indeed still together, but that his wife continued to live in Peru.
Knowing that it is not unusual for families to be separated in this way as a result of difficult choices – the need to earn more money, to keep children safe from conflict and harm or guarantee them a better education – I did not question the separation of the children from their mother. That was until my friend lamented that the separation was not by choice, and that the mother, a Peruvian national, has now made several attempts to join the family in Britain but has been denied residency by the Home Office. In the meantime, the brother cannot afford to create a home with his children because he is also supporting his wife in Peru (and as a resident of London, I can testify that one needs a very good income to ensure accommodation in something more comfortable than an outhouse on wheels).
What makes this story a particularly harsh indictment of the current Government’s flailing immigration policy is the fact that three out of four members of the family are British nationals. The mother in this story has lived and worked in Britain, where she gave birth to two of its citizens who are now living in their homeland without their mother. Her ill-fated attempts to re-enter the UK are even more bizarre because her father was a British diplomat in Peru before his death. For a Government that claims to be so focused on marriage and strong ‘hardworking families’, it seems to be making a very good fist of driving a wedge between partners and each other and parents and their children.
The family’s repeated attempts to be reunited have fallen foul of a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare. Initially, the mother was denied entry because a diplomat didn’t believe that the couple were married or that they had met before, which beggars belief. It costs over £1,000 every time the family challenge the decision not to allow the mother to enter the UK which, given their situation, is nigh on impossible to meet and make entreaties with any regularity.
Leaving aside all of the oddities and ironies of this particular case, as a liberal, compassionate nation we simply cannot sit back and ignore the families torn apart senselessly to fulfil an unreachable, arbitrary quota. I cannot imagine being a parent and not being able to see my children growing up every day. Many people work in jobs where they are unable see their children every day, but our government is the reason that these two kids can’t see either of their parents every day. The 10 year old wrote a Christmas list with “Mummy” written at the top.
When this happens: the system is truly broken. To be complicit in keeping families apart in this way lacks all compassion and evades common sense. Our government and its supportive right-wing press outlets do not want us to look at immigration in these terms. Immigration is to be seen through the lens of distrust and resentment of the ‘other’, a social construct perpetuated to maintain discord among groups within society and keep them in their place – at the service of big business and in deference to the landed elite. When you break down this Government’s policy on immigration, you get two children separated from their mother at Christmas. What good has that done for anyone?