Last week the government announced plans in the upcoming immigration bill to enable landlords to evict illegal immigrants without a court order. In this latest crackdown on immigrants, rogue landlords who fail to check the immigration status of their tenants could face up to five years in jail. It is unclear whether the plans also include asylum-seekers.
There are some good ideas behind the proposals, including ending the renting of inadequate and overcrowded accommodation to immigrants, and ensuring that landlords do not profit from illegal immigration. While some may look at this issue and think that if you have applied for asylum and failed you should not be entitled to rent in the United Kingdom, this approach misses out some fundamental problems.
The first issue is that under current British law, tenants cannot be moved without a court order. There are naturally good reasons for this, namely to ensure that tenants are not evicted out of the spite of the landlord, and ensuring that they have a legitimate reason for evicting their tenant. The same rules should apply to immigrants.
Second, it is hard to miss the point that the these measures are the government’s latest way of using dehumanising language to describe immigrants and repeating the idea that they do not have the same rights as the rest of us. The continuous attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers (the government does seem rather inept at distinguishing between the two), can clearly be seen in its plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights where its proposals last year suggested human rights only apply to the most serious cases, i.e. potentially not for suspected criminals, terrorists or immigrants.
David Cameron’s comments of a ‘swarm’ of migrants coming from Calais and Philip Hammond’s view that ‘marauding migrants’ threaten our standard of living again shows the dehumanising language the government continues to use to describe people who are possibly fleeing terrible conditions in their own countries. This language reveals how the government seeks to create a narrative around immigrants and asylum-seekers that suggests they do not deserve the same rights as us. This naturally shatters the keystone of human rights as being universal and belonging to all humans.
There are also concerns that this legislation will fail to comply with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, the right to family and private life, and laws around the protection of children, especially in the case of parents whose children have been born in the UK.
Finally – there is of course the obvious question – of where are these illegal migrants meant to go while they are deported or perhaps appealing the Home Office’s decision. They may not be able to return to their country if they have fled persecution. In this case, even if they are evicted, they may end up on the streets or in terrible conditions in illegal housing. It is surely better if the Home Office is aware of where these people are living as they can only evict people if they know where they are residing in the first place. Added to the announcement that failed asylum-seeker families are to be stripped of their benefits, even though statistics show that 30 per cent of appeals are successful, this will make life very difficult for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Without the right to work, how are they meant to feed and house themselves without this money? Again, the lack of distinction between an immigrant who is able to return quickly to their country, and an asylum-seeker who may not, makes this policy problematic.
While it is understandable that the government needs to crack down on illegal immigration, these proposals are ill-thought-through and are the latest chapter in creating a negative narrative around immigrants to justify their needlessly harsh policies. The government seems desperate to limit the rights of immigrants as much as it can it is up to Labour to ensure that a robust immigration policy remains humane.
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