Home Secretary Amber Rudd is the Cabinet’s latest casualty. Helen Byrne hopes she takes her Department’s ‘hostile environment’ policy with her:
Amber Rudd has resigned, her position untenable following the Windrush Scandal. The final straw was a leaked document which undermined her claim, made to Parliament, that she was unaware of Home Office deportation targets; this was at best negligent and at worst, a lie.
Rudd’s resignation is perhaps a small triumph for the generation so wronged by their country’s immigration policy and for civil society groups working to expose its inhumanity. They have been heard. The former Home Secretary has been replaced by a British person of Pakistani Muslim heritage whose first instinct upon hearing of the fiasco was to think ‘it could have been me’.
In her resignation letter, Mrs Rudd made a distinction between the Windrush generation and ‘those who do not have the right to be here’. Such a distinction is important. I spoke last week with an African-Caribbean friend who emphasised his Britishness, commenting that his community did not wish to be conflated with people who were in the country illegally.
But just as we cannot conflate the various categories of migrants, we cannot conflate legality with morality. In the name of “creating a really hostile environment for illegal immigration”, government policies have forced undocumented migrants and those refused asylum into homelessness, treated people as criminals to be indefinitely detained, denied people access to emergency NHS care and left people either to take the risk of exploitation in the shadow economy, or to eke out a meagre existence on asylum support of less than £6 a day.
They have done so legally.
Branding a person ‘illegal’ in order to justify visiting extreme suffering upon them undermines the legitimacy of the law. It undermines our reputation as a country that has a proud history of welcome and a tradition of liberty and respect for the individual. It undermines our very social fabric by effectively turning teachers, doctors, employers and landlords into border guards without our consent.
As our denominations build a campaign on the hostile environment, we are consulting with churches and members who are doing amazing work with refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented peoples in their communities. Some speak of the ‘incredible cruelty’, of the Home Office. Collecting the stories of the people affected by these policies has been a sobering exercise. Many only ‘survive through people’s kindness’.
Mr Javid’s stated commitment to righting the wrongs committed against the Windrush generation is reassuring. But simply distancing himself from the term ‘hostile environment’, while continuing to pursue the policies of his predecessors, would be an empty gesture. The ‘dignity and respect’ he promises must be extended to everyone who calls this country home – whether they are deemed to be ‘legal’ or not.
Do you have experience of the Hostile Environment? Let us know how it is affecting you or those in your community: