For many years now, we’ve seen the strengthening of borders used as a popular political tool worldwide, both in discourse and practice. Within this discourse, immigration is constructed as a problem to be solved, an issue to urgently address in order to protect those who are citizens, those “who belong”. Politicians around the world have justified the curtailment of migrants’ rights and entitlements with narratives such as ‘migrant crisis’ or ‘migrants exploiting the welfare system’.
This has even been done at the expense of international obligations in the case of people seeking asylum or who are entitled to support as victims of trafficking and exploitation, with countries coming up with absurd and inhumane policies to limit the access to these rights, and creating a false dichotomy of the deserving and undeserving migrant.
In the UK, the situation is not different but, to a certain extent, more explicit. Ten years ago, in 2012, Theresa May, as Home Secretary, declared the intention to create a ‘really hostile environment’ for migrants without status. Since then, a set of policies and legislation have enshrined restrictions to access basic public services, such as healthcare and welfare support, as well as everyday needs like working, opening a bank account or renting suitable accommodation. It has also meant that many have not been able to report crime to the police safely, access life-saving support such as refuge accommodation for victims of gender-based abuse, or access justice. These policies have affected not only migrants but people from marginalised communities exposed to intersecting inequalities.
For migrant women, embedding immigration controls at the heart of their everyday lives has meant an increased risk of destitution, abuse and exploitation with a significant impact on their mental and physical health. Over these ten years, we have witnessed how the hostile environment made migrants, particularly those of colour and with insecure legal status, more vulnerable to becoming victims of crime, susceptible to being over-surveilled, prone to becoming victims of racist attacks and to being discriminated against when in urgent need of support. We often see how state violence in the form of overspread immigration controls forces them to the margins with no options or alternatives to be safe.
There is a wealth of evidence showing that these restrictive policies had not only broken equalities law and breached the UK’s legal duties to safeguard children, but they did not even accomplish their objective to reduce irregular migration. In contrast, during these years, LAWRS have witnessed the devastating human cost of the hostile environment and its dehumanising effects on women who are seen as undeserving of rights because of their immigration status.
Ten years on, organisations such as LAWRS continue to resist and fight the hostile environment, envisioning a future in which migrants and marginalised communities will no longer be targeted and excluded, but able to have their human rights fulfilled.
Photo by: Ana Veintimilla