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Responsibilities of the Home Office: Words aren’t enough
Brexit is three months away and the importance of the Home Office and its systematic integrity has never been more important to the stability of the UK and its people. Britain, and the Home Office which governs its immigration and security, has unresolved matters, highlighted by the issues which have been ongoing since the end of ‘The Hostile Environment Policy’ era.
This policy, introduced in October 2010, marked the beginning of a Byzantine era defined by an incapacity to provide accountability and reparations for mistakes made by the Home Office.
This was most evident when the Windrush scandal came to public attention, involving the unlawful detainment and deportation of the hundreds of members of the Windrush generation. The scandal bought to light hundreds of cases in which legal citizens were treated as illegal immigrants with little available recourse.
Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman MP, evaluated the Home Office as an institution that “regularly results in successive poor decisions and successive gross errors of judgement”. However, the Home Office has provided “no evidence of a systemic problem” according to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the same person who quashed the hostile environment and introduced the “compliant environment” as a replacement.
Even with the change of face and supposed attitude toward immigration policy, there has yet to be an introduction of any review of the accountability of the Home Office or the recourse options in place for those who are unlawfully detained or deported. This is especially worrying when glaring problems arise concerning how many Home Office decisions are appealed and overturned each year.
Between April 2017 and March 2018, 4,332 cases involving the Home Office’s decisions were overturned and 1,235 of those were referred to the upper tribunal for further appeal. This is a court proceeding in which appeals are presented and reassessed by an independent judge. This proceeding usually takes place when the Home Office re-appeal a case after an individual has successfully appealed their initial denial. 900 of the appeals taken to the upper tribunal by the Home Office during this period were denied, making up 73% of them.
These appeals lead to an incredibly trying experience for asylum seekers due to long arduous waiting times. This process results in periods of confusion and anxiety for such individuals which are only worsened by being treated with ‘hostility’, especially while having to endure encumbering legal processes.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian that “there are obvious parallels between the Windrush generation and EU citizens already living in the UK,” but only the Windrush generation has received compensation for their hardships due to Home Office blunders. This is an ideal response, but the compensation solution itself has faced significant issues regarding the classification of many legally approved applicants as “criminal case types”. In response to this many people have feared that the 164 Windrush individuals who were identified as being wrongly detained or deported by the Home Office could be far greater given that the victims were excluded from the original review.
This failure has led Harriet Harman MP to state that the Home Office is “struggling to grasp even the fundamentals of tackling such a serious injustice”. Even with this frank commentary it must be mentioned that earlier this month the Director General of Immigration Enforcement Tyson Hepple stated that the Home Office has “changed to allow much better-quality contact” over the last six months.
While these efforts should be commended, it does not quell the concerns about the Home Office’s capacity to maintain stable and successful procedures throughout the leadup to, and fallout of, Brexit. Guy Verhoftstadt, Chief Brexit Negotiator for the European Parliament, told The Daily Telegraph that the Windrush scandal “could be worrying for millions of EU citizens in the UK who may fear that they could face similar treatment after Brexit”.
The issues that can potentially arise regarding EU citizens residing in the UK and their transition through Brexit have already shown themselves throughout many cases this past year.
According to the Migration Observatory, tens if not hundreds of thousands may be vulnerable to misclassification after Brexit. This includes 239,00 UK-born children of EU-national parents, a group which includes thousands who may not have accurate reports providing information on their parents’ or their own citizenships. This will lead to a post-Brexit world in which many children are incorrectly defined as stateless immigrants. This is largely because many of these children’s parents and the children themselves will not apply for ‘settled status’ before the set due date of 31 December 2020.
As it stands, many EU citizens already living in the UK are either attempting to apply for British citizenship to secure their positions in the UK or are leaving their lives behind. According to figures from ONS, EU net migration has dropped by 33% since the referendum result.
For those who are not eligible for citizenship and want to remain in the UK after Brexit, the issues involving the transition to ‘settled status’ are only inflamed by the EU settlement app. Several glaring issues have been made apparent from the first trials of the app which risks individuals losing their benefits, jobs and UK citizenship due to technical fails, trivial application mistakes and simple glitches.
Not all the UK’s 3.7 million European citizens will find issues with the Brexit transition but if just 1% of the applications face any form of error, there will be a minimum of at least 37,000 people who have to confront wrongful detainment and deportation. It is unfair to expect that the UK create a system without any potential for error, but after the Windrush scandal it is apparent that there must be better options for recourse. Opportunities for justice need to be in place for the minority that will have to face an obvious reality: the Home Office can and will make mistakes.
This is why accountability and recourse are issues that must be dealt with as soon as possible, in an effort to ensure that the UK acknowledges the trials awaiting its citizens in a post-Brexit future. Aiming to ensure that wrongly classified citizens have an opportunity to protect their legally built livelihoods from something as small as a glitch is a duty of the UK government. The instability of the Home Office cannot be ignored, systematic or not. Changes must be made to ensure that innocent UK residents are not defenceless to faults of the Home Office, because even in our new compliant environment, what many legal immigrants still face is nothing short of hostile.
Nicholas Marin is a specialist content writer and political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.