Written evidence from Faith Osifo (RHR0019)
* IMMIGRATION, AS HIGHLIGHTED BY THE WINDRUSH SCANDAL;
“The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.” These were the words spoken by Theresa May in 2012 as she introduced her Hostile Environment immigration Policy. To the Home Office, this group of ‘illegal immigrants’ necessarily included hundreds of thousands of Black Britons who had been living in the UK as British citizens – some for over 50 years.
Origins of ‘Hostile Environment’
The infamous hostile environment agenda was not birthed out of thin air. It is the result of decades of antagonism towards immigrants and ethnic minorities. One of the most explicit examples of this was Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1961. Here he accused immigrants of posing a threat to the way of life of people in Britain. He argued that they were contaminating the purity of British culture and using up resources such as the NHS, housing and schools. Such rhetoric has been echoed several times since this polemic speech albeit with more subtle undertones. Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy really encapsulated the societal attitudes towards all migrants and ethnic minorities in the UK, whether they were ‘illegal’ or not.
Implementation and Impact
There is no denying that the concept of ‘immigration’ has been racialised in the view of the British government. Immigrants from white Commonwealth countries (e.g. Australia and New Zealand) were deported at a considerably lesser rate than immigrants from other Commonwealth countries. When the NHS, landlords, banks and other organisations were carrying out ID checks under the Immigrations Acts of 2014 and 2016, they were always going to focus more on individuals who were not white and would be more likely to single them out for checks. The purported harm caused by immigration is the same regardless of the race of the immigrant. If the hostility towards illegal immigrants comes from their draining of resources then surely the anger and suspicions should apply consistently regardless of the immigrant’ s race. This, however, was not the case. For example, in the context of housing, “more than four in ten (44%) of those making letting decisions said the new law would make them less likely to let to people and families who ‘appear to be immigrants’.” This would mean that white immigrants would often be unsusceptible to such suspicions even if they were undocumented or were overstaying.
From the outset, the policies were based on a level of distrust. Theresa May promised to “deport first and hear appeal later.” What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? It seems as if this idea does not apply to people who are not white. Such rhetoric exactly mirrors the suspicion that the police treat black people with and this is seen in the disproportionate stop and search statistics. The divisive immigration policies demonstrated that in the eyes of the law, black people were guilty until proven innocent. What makes this worse is the fact that the Windrush generation came to help Britain rebuild its economy in a post-war era. These immigrants offered a helping hand during a time of need but were then betrayed once they were no longer needed as much. Many lost their jobs and homes. Many lost access to health care with some even being wrong denied urgent healthcare including cancer treatment.
Ignorance and racism
In her apology to the Windrush generation and their children who had been affected by the scandal, Theresa May said “These people are British. They are part of us. I want to be absolutely clear that we have no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here.”
The lack of intention does not do anything to undermine the fact this scandal highlighted the institutional racism uncovered by the Macpherson enquiry.
By failing to consider the circumstances of the Windrush Generation, the Home Secretary exposed the indifferent attitude that Black people in the UK have had to deal with for decades. The State claims that it will protect its citizens and fight for their justice – but the handling of Stephen Lawrence’s murder proved otherwise. The State claim that they will strive to look out for the health and wellbeing of all its citizens – yet the disparity in maternal mortality rates in black women proves otherwise. Time and time again, the State has failed to include black people in its promises to its citizens – the State continues to fail ethnic minorities.
When a policy will disproportionately affect a large group of people who can be identified and categorised by their race, the ‘ignorance’ begins to feel less accidental and more intentional. Even if it was unintentional, this demonstrates that the government have failed to consider how policies will affect black Britons – they were a mere afterthought. For years, black people in Britain have felt as if we are only an afterthought – in fact in some cases, we are given no thought at all.
The treatment of the Windrush generation even after the government had realised their shortcoming was also indicative of the ignorance towards black people and this is a manifestation of the UK’s institutionalised racism. The Windrush Compensation Scheme that was introduced in April 2019 is flawed in several different ways and seems as if it is rooted in a desire to salvage the government’s image as opposed to adequately compensating the victims of the Windrush scandal. In a normal context, sufferers of psychiatric damage are sometimes able to claim over £100,000 and those who have PTSD up to about £90,000 whereas, Windrush victims can claim only £10,000 for deportation which in some cases involved being snatched away from their family without any sufficient warning and has resulted in severe PTSD that has affected many lives. Not to mention the negligence and discrimination involved in the State’s administration. In other psychological damage cases, the aspect of an abuse of trust is relevant to awarding damages and that should be the case here too. There is a level of trust that these people had in the State and the State breached this through their negligence. The Windrush generation was betrayed and this should be adequately compensated. Fundamentally, the compensation limits are insultingly low and demonstrate an indifferent approach to the suffering of black people. Diane Abbott put it perfectly when she said that the government were “in effect, treating victims of its own policies, the Windrush cohort and their descendants, as less worthy than victims of crime by a third party. Clearly, the treatment of Windrush victims as second-class citizens continues.”
In addition, putting the onus on the victims is reflective of the scepticism they were treated with when trying to prove their status in the first place – the onus on them and even though they brought evidence, it wasn’t enough because the Home Office could find no trace of them. The Wendy Williams report shows that this suspicious attitude was a prominent feature of the scandal itself and to reproduce this in the compensation scheme indicates that not many lessons have been learnt.
Overall, the deep racial divisions caused by hateful and hostile immigration policies is clearly manifested in the unfolding of the Windrush scandal. These policies are fuelled by suspicions towards not just illegal immigrants but any immigrants and ethnic minorities. Under s26(1)(b)(ii) of the Equality Act 2010, harassment is defined as ‘creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offence environment’ for another person. It is quite astonishing that the same language adopted by Theresa May forms the legal definition of harassment. This is even more astonishing given the fact that we know what many who were victims of these harsh policies were actually legal citizens. The ‘Hostile Environment’ policy implemented by Theresa May is emblematic of a much deeper truth. In the world of politics and legislation, Theresa May was introducing something new but to black people around the UK, she was simply expressing a lived experience and reality. To black Britons, legal and illegal citizens alike, the UK can be a hostile environment. Institutionalised racism is insidious and it exists whether or not some people want to see it.
By Faith Osifo supervisor /editor Jennifer Obaseki
Affirm Human Rights ,
Black Women’s Health & Family Support
British Nigerian Law Forum
Wind rush Legal Angels
Affirm Human Rights
Bridging the Development Gaps
Contact:- Jennifer Obaseki
 Hill, Amelia (2017-11-28). "'Hostile environment': the hardline Home Office policy tearing families apart". The Guardian.
 Denis Campbell Health policy (2019-01-21). "'I thought they were killing me': NHS trust halted asylum seeker's cancer treatment". The Guardian