We are seeing an increase in attacks on human rights in the UK. If we want to maintain some positive outlook, we need to recognise that we have to fight for them. We can make a difference in 2021, but we need to push for it.
First published in December 2020.
I was asked a really good question last night and it has been running through my mind every since, “What positive changes can I see happening in immigration/asylum in 2021?”
My initial gut reaction was none if I am honest. If anything, I would argue that we are backsliding, and have been for some years now. That is not an entirely fair answer though, and based more on my own jaded cynicism than fact.
Attitudes towards immigration are softening and becoming more positive. Not at a fast enough rate to make any difference on their own in 2021, but with a push and focused campaigning? Yes, maybe.
In an outstanding display of irony, all things considered, leaving the Dublin III Regulations would potentially help improve the chances of asylum seekers to have their cases heard and not be removed to other countries. That could be it on a direct note, but drawing some, possibly overly optimistic, lines between cause and effect, we do have chances, but they are chances which we need to maximise and not let slip through our fingers.
The immigration bill coming into law brings into focus for many people something which has been known for non-EU migrants for years. Immigration policies rip families apart, leave people destitute and generally destroy countless lives. It also further decreases rights of migrants though. I don’t like presenting migrants as an economic resource, but right now... sue me... I’ll use any argument that I can.
With the country facing serious economic decline, the impact of the immigration bill will hit hard. Migrants help create jobs. They fill necessary roles. They are, to put it simply, essential for the well-being of the economy. As the combined economic impacts of Covid and Brexit hit, that case will be important and could shift the balance.
Migrants aren’t an economic resource though. They are our families, friends, colleagues. The person you talk to when walking the dog, or catching the train. Why do you think areas with lower immigration tend to have higher anti-immigration sentiments?
Parliament Square, 7 Oct 2020. | Twitter - @ElspethElspeth
If Government ministers point at refugees in dinghies, call EU citizens “queue jumpers”, brand “activist” lawyers as “do-gooders” and talk of wave machines in the English channel... this is what you get.
What was one of the reasons that the government had to make a U-turn on free school meals? Because there was serious public pressure on them. That pressure came in part because people could see it affecting them or people they know. We can, I hope, use that in migration rights.
It needs a push though and it needs us to do something which even advocates like myself don’t do half as much as we should do, amplify the voices of migrants. Let them be heard.
It’s easy to blow most of the arguments made by the Home Office and groups like Migration Watch out of the water with facts and evidence. They like to use ‘big numbers, no context’ too much for those arguments not to be proven demonstrably false. They know that though, and they are ready for it. Why do you think the Home Office attacks experts by calling them “do-gooders”, or “leftie activist lawyers”? It undermines the factual arguments and lets them argue from a perspective of opinion and emotion.
There are so many groups out there, such as Reunite Families UK, who can tell their stories though. Who can level the playing field with everyone’s help by taking the emotional narrative away from the anti-immigration groups.
We can also use the Home Office’s own communications against them. They need to show they are “controlling borders”. That means they have to keep their policies in the news, which in turn means that we get a better chance to shine a light on them. Take deportations and channel crossings. How much coverage have these two topics had this year compared to others? It means that they can be held to account. They want to keep it in the news, fine. We can use that to rebut and challenge them.
I don’t know about you though, but I am tired of playing defence. I am tired of celebrating one win only to lose two more the next day. Even as I write this I realise it sounds a bit like my gran when she used to say, “Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
The UK is about to undergo its largest political shift in about 40 years. Climate change, and yes it has an impact, but please don’t use migration as an argument for countries to change their ways, shifting public attitudes, etc. Give us a chance to argue for greater rights.
Nothing is happening without a concerted pro-active effort, and not just from campaigners. We need to shift already softening public attitudes. We need to show that these are people’s lives that are being affected. That rights are universal.
It is easy to think that any light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming the other way right now, but we can shift things for the better.
It will take a godawful amount of work and energy though, but if we stay positive and make a stand we have a shot. I hope.🔷
Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.