Is Britain repeating a 50-year-old mistake?

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 14th March 2023 13:19 EDT

Britain has perhaps learned nothing from what it has provided to immigrants and how that paid off in the long run. It is inevitable to argue why this question arises every 50 years. 50 years ago, Ugandan Asians came to this country and asked for refuge. They had British passports or British subject passports, because at that time there was a point Uganda was a colony and therefore they came. They wanted refuge and out of hundreds and thousands that wanted refuge only a few got it. The then-British community was vehemently protesting. Not everyone was happy about the arrival of the Ugandan Asians. The Leicester Mercury and The National Front were against immigrants. They believed there were already too many Asians in Leicester. They were afraid of becoming overwhelmed and British culture being lost. Every time one reminisces about the Ugandan Asian expulsion, the infamous incident of Leicester City Council placing an advert in a Ugandan newspaper telling them not to come to the city still leaves many in tears. They stayed in the camps, or in asylums that were put up near airports. From there they got out and worked very hard, turning into one of the richest communities today. Out of that 1.7 million, approximately 800,000 were Gujarati is 500,000 were Punjabis, and many of them have come from East Africa. One must not forget that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s grandparents came from Kenya. British Indians and other immigrants from ethnic minorities have heavily contributed to this country's fabric of society, to its wealth, GDP and whatnot. Yet, this country turns around and says no to immigrants being workers, but they're immigrants who really need shelter, who have nothing but just clothes on their backs and nothing else. This is exactly the mistake Britain made 50 years ago and is perhaps making again. 


After much uproar, upon his reinstatement as the face of the show, Football hero and popular commentator Gary Lineker from Match of The Day at BBC, changed his Twitter profile photo with his image near the George Orwell quote by his statue outside the BBC: ‘if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. With this, he made a symbolic statement without speaking out loud. In a critical Op-Ed piece, Human rights barrister and author Geoffrey Robertson wrote, “There’s a statue of George Orwell outside the BBC. They should heed his advice.” Linekar returned to the channel after being suspended for his tweet condemning the government’s latest “stop the boats” policy, raising an important free speech issue. Lineker had tweeted that the government’s language – talking about an “invasion” by a “swarm” of immigrants – was akin to that used in Germany in the 1930s. This was reportedly against the BBC guidelines but the rules don’t apply to him because he is a freelancer.

Speaking Charan Sekhon MBE, Councillor Sharnbrook Council, Chairman SEVA Trust UK said, “I fully support the right to free speech. Gary Lineker was right to air his views and BBC was wrong trying to silence his voice. Any reforms must be undertaken carefully and the Govt must listen to all concerns instead of trying to rush or forcing the changes without considering all aspects but the current system needs a serious review.” However, critiquing the ongoing situation of Britain’s asylum crisis, Sekhon added, “We need to understand the difference between genuine asylum seekers and those who have been abusing the system. The UK has always supported those in genuine need of help who have been uprooted. On this point, I agree with the independent experts that our asylum system needs major reforms. Whilst our borders need to be more secure to prevent human trafficking gangs to bring more people illegally to this country, we must not close doors for genuine asylum seekers who need our help. We have so many success stories where the UK offered refuge to asylum seekers and those who worked very hard and contributed to our economy but there are many who abuse the systems and become a burden on hard-working taxpayers. This needs to be addressed.”


Former England and Liverpool footballer John Barnes told Sky News the BBC appears to 'pick and choose' when it wants to be impartial, and that the Lineker-BBC controversy is a 'distraction from the cost of living crisis' and other 'real issues'.

A new stricter and allegedly ‘racist’ policy


The UK government is proposing to adopt a new, stricter policy to deal with asylum seekers who arrive on the island via boat. This step is allegedly being taken to fulfil a promise made in January 2023 by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to “stop the boats”. This was on the list of the five key policy priorities he outlined at the time. The proposed plan to deport to the origin or remove asylum seekers arriving in the UK  by boat to a third country has been sharply criticised by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and leaders of the European Union. This is an attempt at protecting jobs or shifting the focus to skilled workers arriving through legal routes. However, through the recent years of the pandemic and the economic distress it has caused across developing countries, as well as the displacement of certain communities in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, ever greater numbers of asylum seekers have been arriving on the shores of the UK., prompting closer scrutiny of the policy.


It is being argued that the new policy is incompatible with international law, specifically the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). While the Illegal Migration Bill (IMB) is yet to be passed by the Parliament, once that happens it will have retrospective applicability from March 7, 2023. However, Labour’s attempt to block the illegal migration bill was defeated in Commons. 


Labour’s amendment seeking to block the Illegal Migration Bill was defeated by 249 votes to 312, a majority of 63. It will now pass to its second reading. The vote followed a debate in the House of Commons which lasted just over four hours. Earlier in the debate, home secretary Suella Braverman said: “Despite our reasonable concerns that we have raised on several occasions, like [Tory former home secretary Priti Patel] before me, I am subject to the most grotesque slurs for saying such simple truths about the impact of unlimited and illegal migration.


”The home secretary also said the duty to remove “will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”. She told MPs: “Given the mischaracterisation of the bill from members opposite, I would like to make a few things clear. The home secretary’s duty to remove will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.


”Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons there needs to be urgent action to “stop the dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk” and undermining border security. But she said: “This bill is a con that makes the chaos worse. It won’t do the things the prime minister and the home secretary have promised, it won’t stop the criminal gangs or dangerous crossings and, in fact, it makes it easier for those gangs as well.


Hundreds of people have gathered in Parliament Square to protest against the government’s controversial new asylum and migration law as MPs debated the measures in the Commons. The crowd, which first congregated around the Winston Churchill statue, chanted “What do we want? Safe passage. When do we want it? Now”, and “Who built the NHS? Migrants built the NHS.” Many held placards, which read “migrants and refugees welcome here: blame austerity, not migrants”.


Addressing the immigration bill, Former CEO, of Equality Trust, Dr Zubaida Haque told us, “This is the most draconian immigration bill ever introduced in this country. It is an assault on British values and an assault on British human rights. We have always had a proud and noble tradition of taking in vulnerable and desperate asylum seekers fleeing persecution from their country. It's important to be clear: we do not have a problem with "hundreds of thousands" of asylum seekers seeking sanctuary here. Most asylum seekers prefer to go to other countries - like Turkey, Germany, and Pakistan. 

“And of the few who do come to the UK through irregular means (because there are no safe routes for them to come), three-quarters have successful applications. For people from Afghanistan, it's well over 90% of successful applications. But right now under this bill if an Afghan woman – say a judge, a Professor, an engineer – who is fleeing persecution from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, arrives in the UK through an irregular route, she will not be allowed to apply for asylum in the UK. In fact, she will be detained. Under this Bill, if a vulnerable woman, young man or child is trafficked to the UK through an irregular route, they will not even be allowed to plead their case under Modern Slavery Act. This is a barbaric bill. It is a brutal attack on the most vulnerable migrants– and it will increase hate crimes against refugees and migrants in our country. I hope the Lords take it to pieces.

In alignment with the sentiment, Kanwar Singh, a volunteer aid worker told the newsweekly, “I have been working with people who have been displaced due to war, poverty and economic migrants for years who are just looking for a better life just as my grandparents did in 1947. First when they were forced to leave their land in west Panjab (now Pakistan) and then to the UK to look for better opportunities for my family. What disturbs me the most is that we have senior brown cabinet members who use hateful rhetoric to deny others the same opportunity.  We are living in a dangerous populist time where brown people are used to furthering the right-wing agenda by scapegoating refugees and distracting their failed national and economic policies. We have forgotten our history.”


The living crisis


The Yew Lodge Hotel in rural Leicestershire boasts a luxury spa, health club and a Marco Pierre White restaurant but it has become the latest of more than 200 hotels to be shut down with staff laid off to make way for 250 asylum seekers. It has pushed the number of migrants being housed in hotels past the 50,000 mark, a 20-fold increase in less than three years. It means that at least 42 of the 48 English counties now have hotels accommodating migrants, according to an analysis by The Telegraph.


The number has risen by more than 10,000 in less than three months after the Home Office emptied the Manston processing centre in Kent and dispersed thousands of Channel migrants to hotels across the country. By November last year, the Manston centre, on a former RAF base, had become dangerously overcrowded with 4,000 migrants, more than double its capacity, after a surge in crossings that saw 30,000 reach the UK in the last five months of 2022. It was compounded by warnings from Kent council leaders that services in the county were at “breaking point” because of the rise in local demand and the cost-of-living crisis. In face of threats of legal action and massive compensation claims from migrants illegally held longer than the law allowed, it prompted an emergency operation to disperse them from Manston to hotels, sometimes with little notice to councils or MPs.


From 37,142 held in hotels last September - a figure dwarfing the 2,577 in March 2020 - it grew to 40,000 in December before hitting the latest high of 51,000 costing the Home Office more than £6 million a day, according to official figures.


Speaking to us, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion consultant in Property and Real Estate, Priya Shah said, "It is an unfortunate situation when asylum seekers need to be housed in hotels, as this can result in cancelled bookings, not just for room and experiences, but conferences and events too, which many hotels offer as a service. Arguably, hotels aren't the right sort of accommodation for asylum seekers, many of whom will be traumatised and need medical support. Alternative and appropriate solutions need to be explored, and the real estate sector has always been instrumental with this - from providing homelessness support through multiple charities and stepping up when we had Ukranian refugees, there is an opportunity for the sector to help again." 


In the latest development, two-thirds of London’s councils have signed a letter to the home secretary calling for a major shake-up of the government’s hotels policy for asylum seekers. The unprecedented joint action follows the removal of 100 asylum seekers from a hotel in Greenwich against their will last month, a move that has generated concern across the capital’s councils. About 40 asylum seekers refused to move from the Greenwich hotel to one in Dunstable in Bedfordshire and are still there. Both hotels have been targeted by far-right protests. 


The letter, led by the Royal Borough of Greenwich, has been co-signed by 21 other London borough councils including Barnet, Lambeth and Westminster. It calls on the Home Office to treat asylum seekers with care and compassion and not to uproot them at short notice from communities where they are settled, have established support networks and may be studying or volunteering. It urges the government to improve communication with councils, ensure asylum seekers’ basic needs are met, and find longer-term housing solutions for asylum seekers rather than using hotels.


Meanwhile, a popular hotel in Birmingham quashed rumours of it closing to the public to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. There had been suggestions The Mount Hotel Country Manor in Tettenhall may be turned over to housing those seeking refuge - but the family-run business confirmed it had "no intention" of doing so. Speculation about the future of the hotel, which has a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, had been rife on social media. But it said that, while there were "big and exciting developments" afoot, none involved closing to the public.

Does the UK have more asylum-seekers than most countries?


No, it does not. In the year ending September 2022, the UK received 72,027 asylum applications from main applicants only. This is double the number of applications in 2019. This is likely linked in part to the easing of global travel restrictions that were in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to a sharp increase in small boat arrivals to the UK, of which almost all claim asylum. 


According to UNHCR statistics, as of November 2022, there were 231,597 refugees, 127,421 pending asylum cases and 5,483  stateless persons  in the UK. The war in Ukraine drove a large increase from the previous year. 1,391 people were granted protection through resettlement schemes in the year ending September 2022. This is 25% of the number of people resettled in 2019.  1,101 were resettled through the UK Resettlement scheme (UKRS), 4 arrivals under Pathway 2 of the ACRS, 6 under the Mandate Protection Programme and 280 under the Community Sponsorship Programme. (The Home Office does not provide figures for the ARAP and ACRS Pathway 1 and 3)

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