The Illegal Migration Bill and the politics of fear
This week the House of Commons passed a new law that is terrifying in its potential.
The Illegal Migration bill will allow this Government to detain and forcibly deport thousands of refugees, simply for having the temerity to ask for asylum in the UK. Its restrictions on people’s rights are truly chilling.
The consequences will be appalling, but we must first understand how it came to pass in the first place.
Its roots lie in the Brexit campaign’s politics of fear. In 2016, Leave campaigners instilled a terror of migration with billboards showing 1,000s of refugees supposedly marching supposedly towards the UK. And since then Conservative Governments have stoked that terror, by telling us that refugees are “illegal migrants”.
“Illegal” in this context implies the people in question are criminals, and therefore undeserving of human rights. It is a form of propaganda and discrimination now acknowledged as stage in genocides.
This week Robert Jenrick, the Minister of State for Immigration, said the alien values of people crossing the Channel in small boats threatened the UK’s social cohesion. It is surely impossible to hear that and not be reminded of Gary Linker’s comment about the political language of 1930s Germany.
This seven-year-long deployment of the politics of fear explains how and why we have the Bill. It represents nothing less than using the most vulnerable people in society – they don’t have status or papers, so they can’t defend themselves – to scare us into voting how the powerful want us to. It is bullying on a grand, industrial scale.
Of course the policies themselves are pointless. Even Rishi Sunak has admitted that he doesn’t know if this bill will “stop the boats”. But that is not their purpose.
The pressing question is: what will happen when the Bill comes in?
First, let’s look at the detention aspect.
We currently have a huge asylum accommodation issue. We have over 50,000 people living in long-term hotel accommodation, and nearly 100,000 in asylum housing. Provision of that asylum accommodation costs us billions each year, and the cost has at least doubled with the backlog. That is a big increase in profits for some people.
The Illegal Migration Bill will mean that refugees will be housed in detention facilities. The psychological impact on those detained will be immense, but there is a little-noticed financial aspect to this too.
The detention facilities currently proposed will be cheaper, and generate more profit than the current accommodation. Moreover, they will be out of the public eye and not accessible to NGOs and journalists who might expose poor treatment of asylum seekers or advocate for their rights.
It is hard to resist the suspicion that for some, there is a serious financial motive for NOT reducing the backlog.
Finally, will people be deported? Well, the Rwanda scheme is still going through the courts and there are no agreements with any other country to take our unwanted refugees, so it is questionable that anyone will ever actually be deported to a third country.
We must pray, that they are not. And we must fight every day for the humane treatment of those who have, after all, come to us asking only help and safety.