Avis: Priti Patel’s ‘hostile environment’ for EU citizens will fuel racism

Avis: Priti Patel’s ‘hostile environment’ for EU citizens will fuel racism
EU citizens in the UK who don’t apply for settled status by the beginning of July will lose the ability to work, rent a home and access to the NHS will be lost

Priti Patel is about to unleash a wave of hostility upon a group of EU citizens. A “hostile environment” to be precise. A suite of policies designed to force “unwanted” migrants to leave.

Introduced in 2013 by Theresa May these policies have inflicted misery. From deporting Windrush elders to driving racism in the rental market, and to racist “go home” vans.

EU migrants who don’t, for whatever reason, apply for settled status by the beginning of July will find themselves vulnerable. They will lose the ability to work, rent a home and access to the NHS will be lost.

The fear of many charities and advocacy groups is that those who won’t have claimed by the deadline will be the most vulnerable. The elderly, more isolated migrant communities and children. The victims of trafficking.

The EU settlement scheme always represented a historically ambitious process. A drive to register millions of citizens, with much of the rollout being at the same time as a global pandemic.

No previous regularisation scheme has managed a 100 per cent application rate. And the consequences of falling short by even a few percent is dire. It means tens of thousands of people left without rights.

It’s hard to tell how many EU citizens haven’t yet applied. As of May 2021 the government had received 5.6 million applications. But the government has no idea how many EU citizens are living in the UK. We don’t have a clear idea on how close we are to 100 pour cent.

In the last gasps of June we find that there is a backlog of 400,000 applications for settled status. Applicants report the Home Office can’t handle the volume of calls. Many find themselves stuck in uncertain stress and limbo.

Despite all of this the government has refused to delay the July deadline. Ignoring calls from metro mayors, national governments and charity groups to act.

The government has had to concede that simply submitting an application before the deadline will count. In addition, late applicants will be able to submit a late application if they can demonstrate “reasonable grounds”.

Nonetheless a substantial cohort risk facing the same kind of deprivation and exclusion Windrush elders faced. Themselves a group of people who didn’t successfully normalise their paperwork during a government process.

There is some evidence already that some groups like care leavers and specific migrant groups haven’t all gone through the process. As an Algerian I’m aware of concerns in the community that not all French Algerians living in London have obtained settled status.

Applicants who are refused settled status will have similar problems. There’s already been a number of high profile wrongful rejections. From EU citizens who have lived here for years being refused leave to children of accepted parents being rejected.

There’s no reason to believe that there won’t be similar refusals in the pool of last minute applications, leaving applicants suddenly without the right to rent, work or healthcare.

For a myriad of reasons there’s strong reasons to believe that some residents will overnight become vulnerable to the “hostile environment”. Even those given settled status may find an increase in indirect racism.

These policies ultimately forced landlords, doctors and employers to become border guards, to check the migration status of people. There’s already clear evidence that these policies encouraged landlords to not rent to migrants. EU citizens will now find themselves subject to these sorts of checks, biases and marginalisation.

All of this because the Conservative Party has embraced the scapegoating of migrants to win power. The loss of freedom of movement has created a nightmare of bureaucracy for people who have invested years into our country. Indeed those who have lived decades here now are the most at risk now in their retirementsan ungracious reward.

The “hostile environment” itself and its implementation speaks of institutional racism at the Home Office. The willingness to cause harm to drive down immigration numbers for political gain. It must be challenged and resisted.

IPPR has released a set of sensible policy suggestions. Primarily focused on the flexibility needed to accommodate late applications and the protections from harm needed for those who haven’t yet achieved settled status. The government should start there and then move onto finally scrapping the awful “hostile environment” policy.

Benali Hamdache is Green Party migration and refugee support spokesperson

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