DF – Josh, can you tell us something about yourself and why you became motived to do something about the £35k earnings threshold? JH- I’d known the threshold was coming since mid-2015, only because it affected my friend Shannon who was growing increasingly distressed and anxious. I was waiting for people more qualified or experienced than me to start doing something. I was googling it at the start of the year and realised with growing dread that barely anyone was even talking about it, let alone opposing it. I wondered how it was possible to quietly usher thousands of people out of the country without even a whisper of resistance. An hour later I’d started the petition.
Europe is a turbulent continent located in a turbulent region of the world. Throughout its history is has been a centre for large-scale movements of people, generated by warfare, political tension, the collapse of states, not to mention the mundane issue of the desire for better opportunities in times of economic hardship. And during the 20th century it has seen refugee or migration crises – call them what you will – occurring every 25 to 30 years. Examples include the mass movement of ethnic Greeks from Anatolia and the Black Sea following the defeat of the army of the Republic of Pontus in 1923 which brought one and a half million people into modern-day Greece.
The interior and home affairs ministers of the EU countries are gathering in Amsterdam today and tomorrow in in what is being described as an informal meeting to discuss the latest phase of the region’s migration crisis. The current Dutch presidency of the EU has set the context for their discussion with the dire warning that the Schengen agreement will fail within two months if a way is not fund to contain the movement of refugees now spilling out across the continent.
The latest news coverage on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is indicating that David Cameron expects to finish his efforts at renegotiation and that a vote might take place as early as June. MRN doesn’t expect to be getting involved in the big questions of whether the EU overall has been good or bad for Britain but we will be setting out our views on one issue that many think lie at the heart of this vexatious question: the right to freedom of movement.
In a few weeks, on 1 February, my best friend will be given a new responsibility by the UK government: guarding the UK border. Though this sounds like a daunting task, the way the government has set things up, he will not have to give up his current job as a digital editor to carry it out. He can do it as he goes about his day–to-day life. Nonetheless, being quite critical of the government’s immigration policy, immigration control is not a responsibility he would have assumed of his own accord. So how did he end up in this situation?
Pulled in opposite directions Immigration issues in the news during the first ten days of 2016 seem to be pulling liberal instincts in two opposite directions. On one hand we’ve seen the distressing images coming from the Syrian town of Madaya, where tens of thousands of people have been subjected to a blockade involving food supplies. Hundreds of distressing cases of malnutrition are being reported with children being particularly affected. These numbers are likely to grow much larger if the hardship confronting the town and its citizens are not quickly relieved.
Before the Christmas break I attended several discussions about the EU referendum on behalf of MRN as one question seemed to be particularly challenging for both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ camps: "What should we say about immigration?"
Getting the UK to pull its weight in Europe’s refugee crisis With major conflicts continuing to rage across the Middle East, added to by streams of people converging on the region from the war-torn areas of the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan, it is absolutely clear that this is an issue that will continue to dominate the news headline over the coming year.
To say 2015 has been a challenging year all those community organisations, campaign groups, faith movements, trade unions and others working to support the rights of migrants and refugees would be to understate all that happened during the past twelve months. MRN has worked hard to record all the issues that migrant community activists and human rights campaigners have had to face up to over this time. As you would expect, the drama of the refugee crisis on the south eastern border of Europe and the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais have been prominent in the news items and blogs we have posted. Closer to home, our virtually weekly commentary on all the fresh legislation being pushed through Parliament has tried to make sense of the conflicting impulses that produce the Modern Slavery Act on one hand and the ‘hostile environment’ of the Immigration Act and the current Immigration Bill on the other.
My provisional take is that it will come to be seen as the year in which the movement of people into and out of the country became finally and indissolubly Europeanised. There are circumstances in which we could easily imagine this to be a good thing, with progressive, forward-thinking governments working together to see how the movement of people is going to play its role in promoting sustainable growth and the welfare of populations, while at the same time cementing human rights and fairness right the way across the system.
For anyone following the debate on the Immigration Bill 2015-2016 since its introduction in September, the latest debate in the House of Commons provided few surprises and might even have felt repetitive both in content and outcome. Scottish Nationalist MP Stuart C. McDonald set the tone for the debate by declaring that the bill was 'ill-conceived and regressive'. Its main purpose, he said, is to make the Government look tough on immigration to supporters disappointed by it failure to hit the ‘tens of thousands’ target for net migration by 2015. The discussion then moved between considering amendments to specific provisions in the bill and questioning its general premise and purpose. Civil Society Arguments Most of the challenges to the Bill echoed the concerns raised by civil society groups about the impact of the bill on the rights of:
Critics of immigration strive to make the case that low pay and exploitation are increasingly rife because newcomers apparently degrade the wages and work conditions secured by home-grown workers. But their case stumbles over the fact that the point at which wages as a proportion of gross national income began to sharply decline was way back in the mid-1970s. Net migration was at a historically low point back then. According to the TUC figures, the high point in terms of the share of income that went to wage earners was 1975, when over 64% of the nation’s annual wealth went into the pay packets of workers. By 1996 this had declined to 52%.
The Friday 13th attacks in Paris are being interpreted by many commentators and politicians as a watershed moment in public attitudes towards refugee policies in Europe. But as recently as August and September this year hundreds and thousands of European citizens took a remarkable stand of declaring a welcome for refugees coming from the war-torn Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
State borders hold a place in the collective imagination of our times in which anxiety plays a central part. It is at borders that the mundane certainties of life dissolve and the simple business of existing becomes a matter of uncertainty. This is the place where a person is forced to confront with the sharpest of intensity the fact that the rights which usually seem as securely available as an intimate personal possession are in fact a by-product of their relationship with the authorities of a state. It is at the border that this relationship can be called into most fundamental question. "I see you are in possession of a British passport madam", says the immigration officer.
December’s changes to the electoral register represent a huge civil rights issue for everyone in this country, especially for migrant communities. In November, the UK government cut the transition period for the new electoral registration (IER) system. Many were hopeful that the government would listen to its own independent expert body and extend the date to December 2016. This would have allowed local authorities to properly inform people of the need to get themselves on the register. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was not accepted leaving at least 1.9 million people at risk of losing their right to vote if not registered by the 1 December 2015.