The Refugee Council is concerned that recent and well publicised Home Office immigration control initiatives are undermining the Home Secretary’s welcome commitment, expressed to Parliament in March this year, to change the ‘closed, secretive and defensive’ culture of the UK’s immigration services.
Not only do the immigration status checks carried out at selected London Underground stations last week appear to be rooted in this culture, their blunt edged imprecision will damage the integrity and credibility of the UK’s immigration system far more than the abuses they purport to address. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the interests of effective and credible immigration controls are advanced by crude attempts like this to link immigration and criminality.
In defending the checks, the Immigration Minister Mark Harper denied that people were targeted as a result of racial profiling, arguing instead that people were only stopped ‘if… when seeing an immigration officer, (they) behaved in a very suspicious way, that might give us reasonable suspicion to question them’.
Many of the people granted refugee protection in the UK have fled persecution in their home countries, often at the hands of Government officials operating with impunity. They are therefore likely to feel deeply unsettled if and when confronted here by uniformed officers assertively demanding identity papers or handcuffing and detaining those they deem to be ‘immigration offenders’. Understandably, some may react by behaving in ways that are deemed suspicious by those uniformed officials.
People seeking asylum or granted refugee protection in the UK must be treated with dignity and respect if the system is to command their confidence and, critically, their compliance. That no-one in the Home Office thought the risks of undermining public support for an immigration system that is both robust and humane outweighed the perceived benefits of this initiative speaks volumes about the scale of the job ahead of the Home Secretary in achieving culture change she seeks in her Department.