September 2020

Hostile environment policy has failed, causing poverty and racism amongst migrants instead of achieving its goals by Charlotte Rubin

A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found that the hostile environment policy, introduced by Therese May in 2012 in an effort to deter irregular migrants from staying to the UK, has fostered racism and discrimination, contributed to pushing many people into destitution, and erroneously affected people with the legal right to live and work in the UK.

The hostile environment’s key objective has always been to make life for those living in the UK without immigration status so difficult that they ultimately decide to leave. In order to achieve this, measures under the hostile environment make it harder for individuals without status to rent a house, find a job, get driving licences or even simply open a bank account, in the hope that by making these basic services harder to access, they would voluntarily leave and irregular migration numbers would decline.

As voluntary returns/departures from the UK have dropped since 2014 (after the hostile environment came into force), the IPPR’s report found that the policy not only fails to meet that goal, but it also has endangered and complicated the lives of migrants in the UK in various ways.

Firstly, for those without immigration status with little to no financial support from the state, finding work is essential to ensuring some financial security and to avoid destitution. By forcing employers to check employees’ “right to work” and criminalising work without immigration status, the hostile environment pushes migrants without a status into the shadow economy and cash-in-hand jobs (especially if they are not allowed to open a bank account). This makes them vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery if they manage to find work, and destitution if they don’t. The risk of destitution and impoverishment is exacerbated by the restrictions on access to benefits and healthcare. The report specifically mentions malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds.

The problems do not stop there. The hostile environment, it turns out, not only impacts its target population, namely individuals without immigration status, but also many individuals with legal immigration status.

As such, the report shows that the policy fosters ethnic and racial bias, as home and work raids are often targeted at specific nationalities on the basis that they are “believed to be removable.” Unsurprisingly, these people are often people of colour and ethnic minority background. Similarly, the right to rent checks have been ruled discriminatory and biased against people of ethnic minority backgrounds, because they make landlords more suspicious of “removable-looking” people, whatever that may mean, and therefore disadvantage tenants of ethnic minority backgrounds who might very well be British nationals or people with leave to remain.

Recently, the hostile environment has been under heavy scrutiny. In March, the Wendy Williams Windrush review was laid before Parliament. The report overtly criticised the workings of the Home Office’s hostile environment, exposing how thousands of legal UK residents were classified as illegal immigrants and denied the right to work, rent property, access healthcare and benefits during the Windrush Scandal. In April, the Court of Appeal affirmed that immigration checks required by landlords to ensure that tenants have the right to rent are discriminatory, but fell short from ruling that the discrimination was severe enough to render it unlawful. The case is currently being appealed.

The IPPR report warns that a significant proportion of EU citizens will miss the EUSS application deadline of 30 June 2021, barring them from accessing benefits and many public services and losing their immigration status altogether. Despite the mounting warnings and criticism, the Home Secretary confirmed in May that EU citizens who fail to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme in time will be unlawful residents and fall subject to all hostile environment policies currently in place.

For all these reasons and many more, the report is unequivocal in its condemnation of the policy, stating that “restrictions on access to benefits can force people without immigration status into destitution. There is evidence of malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds … The hostile environment does not appear to be working for anyone: for migrants, for the Home Office, or for the wider public.”

EU migration policy fails yet again as Moria refugee camp fire leaves thousands homeless by Charlotte Rubin

Thousands of refugees and migrants were forced to flee the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos after multiple fires erupted on Tuesday night. Due to the flammable nature of refugee housing at the camp, the fire spread rapidly and by Wednesday morning, most of the containers and tents as well as other facilities had been burned to the ground.

Charity and activist groups on the grounds have confirmed that returning to Moria is not an option, since the camp was effectively destroyed by the fire. Those who were living in Moria are now left with nothing; already traumatized by their experience traveling to Europe, they have now lost the few belongings they still had, with no idea of where they will end up next.

Greek authorities were quick to accuse migrants of deliberately starting the fire as a reaction to COVID-19 related lockdown measures which had just been implemented after 35 people at the camp tested positive for the virus. But the real culprits are not the refugees living at the camp – it is the EU policies that enabled circumstances under which such a blaze or other catastrophe seemed unavoidable.

There have been concerns about poor conditions and overcrowding at Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, for years. In theory, it has the capacity to house about 3000 migrants. In reality, it was sheltering over 25000 people at its busiest time. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, that number was halved to about 12000, of which at least 4000 were children and young adults. A number of young unaccompanied migrants were relocated to other EU member states, including the UK (https://www.seraphus.co.uk/news/files/9ceb468e732f0163c7ddd1f8de1d7596-30.php). Even so, the camp was still housing more than four times the number of people it was designed for in abysmal conditions, with many of them sleeping in self-made tents or even in the open air.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, conditions worsened, as it quickly became clear that social distance and good hygiene are impossible to maintain in the overcrowded camps. Doctors Without Borders accused the Greek government and EU leaders of using the pandemic as an excuse to exert control over migrants and refugees. The Doctors without Borders spokesmen went so far to state that the conditions that allowed for this fire to happen were not accidental, but rather a deliberate policy put in place by the EU to deter migrants from coming to the island, which is located just 10 kilometres from the Turkish coast.

This policy failure goes back to the 2015 migration “crisis,” when Germany emerged as one of the only EU countries taking action on the issue by accepting over one million refugees into Germany instead of looking the other way or fighting with other Member States. After the Moria fire, Germany rose to the occasion again, as Armin Laschet, the governor of a region in western Germany, said he was willing to admit up to 1000 refugees from the camp as part of a wider European resettlement programme that has yet to be developed.

That programme is long overdue. Earlier this year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised a new migration pact proposal "right after Easter." It never materialised, because the same disagreements from 2015 persist and grow deeper as time goes on. Greece, Italy and other Southern countries have long sought a mandatory system to redistribute asylum seekers across the EU (which could help empty overcrowded camps like Moria) while Central and Eastern countries like Hungary and Poland are implacably opposed to such compulsory relocations. Now, the proposal is expected to be presented at the end of September, to be discussed by EU ministers during the fall, and be implemented in 2021. Previous delays have come at a great humanitarian cost – and there is no guarantee that this time, the proposals will fare any better.

Ironically, Brussels now said it would help with the immediate relief effort for the Moria camp. European Council President Charles Michel said his "thoughts go out to all those who have been put in danger" while Commission Vice President Margaritas Schinas is due to travel to Greece on Thursday for an emergency meeting.

These empty words are not enough. The EU may not be responsible for all the conflicts that force people from their homes, but there is no doubt about who is to blame for the 12000 displaced people who are homeless following the fire. The EU, with its lack of coherent policy on migration, is fully responsible for the erosion of key humanitarian protection systems, the heightened border security regime, the criminalisation of rescue ships, and for making life in reception camps unbearable for vulnerable people.



EUSS quarterly statistics: paper applications, Zambrano carers and a worrying rise in refusals by Charlotte Rubin

Since July 2020, the Home Office EU Settlement Scheme monthly statistics no longer include breakdowns by nationality, age group, or local authority details. The new reporting style lacks detailed information about EUSS applications overall. This information is now only released with more in-depth analysis as part of the quarterly statistics. At the end of August, the first set of quarterly statistics since this change in reporting style were published, with all the detail analysts had been missing. Here, we break the numbers down for you.

In total, the number of applications received by the end of July surpassed 3.8 million, of which over 3.4 million have been concluded. In July alone, 92,000 applications were received, just below the June figure of 100,800. Of concluded applications, 57% were granted settled status and 41% pre-settled. 76,000 or 2.1% had other outcomes. For July alone these figures were 62,600 (47%) settled status, 52,000 (39%) pre-settled stats and 18,500 (14%) other outcomes.

The trend of rising other outcomes (including refused, invalid, withdrawn and void applications) continued over the last quarter. Notably, the combined amount of refusals in June and July (3,700) account for over 80% of the total amount of refusals since the Scheme’s launch in 2018. Concerning invalid applications, 11,800 applications were found invalid in July and 9,000 in June, thus accounting for 60% of invalid applications so far. Additionally, 4,400 applications were withdrawn in July, the second highest monthly total ever recorded.

This is the first release of statistics that includes reporting on paper applications, of which there have been about 10,000 so far. Paper applications are often some of the most complex applications under the scheme, as they are for example what people without valid ID or relying on derivative instead of direct rights of residence rely on to obtain their status. This could partly explain the steady uptick in refusals and other outcomes; the less straightforward the applications, the more reasons to refuse the Home Office can find.

Paper applications concluded under the Chen, Ibrahim & Teixeira and Zambrano routes and as a family member of a British Citizen totalled 2,870, so over a quarter of all paper applications up to June 2020. These were mostly Family member applications (1,530), and Zambrano applications (1,260). Whilst all Family members applications concluded had a settled or pre-settled outcome, 61% of Zambrano applications concluded so far have been refused. More specifically, applications under derivative rights account for only 1.6% (830) of all other outcomes, yet 92% of these (770) were refusals under the Zambrano route.

Zambrano carers are non-EU citizens who are primary carers of a British citizen, and have a right to reside in the UK under EU law, relying on the judgment an EU law case Zambrano. As Luke Piper of campaign group the3million puts it, Zambrano carers are “usually single mothers with small British children fleeing domestic violence”, in other words some of the poorest and most vulnerable applicants under the Scheme. Before the EU Settlement Scheme, Zambrano carers used to qualify for a right to reside under certain circumstances, but had no path to settlement. In theory, under the Scheme, they can now rely on residual rights to apply for pre-settled or settled status. However, the statistics show that in practice, it is much harder for Zambrano carers to obtain status under the EUSS than for other eligible applicants. In fact, crunching the number shows that Zambrano refusals account for 25% of all refusals made to the scheme so far.

Breaking other outcomes down by nationality, three nationalities and non-EEA nationals account for over half of “other outcomes” in the UK: Romanian applicants represent 20% of other outcomes, Polish nationals 17% (8,710), Portuguese nationals 9% (4,820) and non-EEA nationals relying on derivative rights 8% (4,370). Comparing these numbers to the number of applicants from each of these nationalities, puts things into perspective, as it becomes apparent that although Romania account for only 16% of the total number of applicants, Portugal for 9% and Non- EEA nationals only 4%, their percentages of other outcomes are much higher, meaning they are disproportionately represented in other outcomes. Especially non-EEA nationals, who constitute only a fraction of all applicants (4%), but get twice as much refusals (8%), are much less likely to succeed in their application. Polish nationals are the only ones in the top three EEA nationalities that are not disproportionately represented in their share of other outcomes, as they account for 20% of all concluded applications.

Finally, if we zoom in on London, where majority of EUSS applications are made, we can see that the total number of applications up to June were 1,323,200. The applications concluded were 1,236,000, of which 109,200 were concluded since the last quarterly statistics in March. The proportion of other outcomes in London is roughly comparative with the total percentage of concluded applications in the area.

The Home Office has these figures all along, but only showing it publicly now. This leaves certain groups of people with higher refusal percentages with a short period to re-apply or appeal their outcome before the deadline of 30 June 2021 passes.

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