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Friday, May 14, 2021

Hostile environment or police state?

The more I read about the so-called 'hostile environment' being imposed by this conservative government, the more disturbed and uncomfortable I become. I do not want to be associated with these policies, which are more akin to a police state than the democratic country I grew up in.

In its latest incarnation the 'hostile environment' is now targeting European citizens arriving in the UK for job interviews and other legitimate business reasons. The Guardian reports that Europeans with job interviews are among those being denied entry and locked up, in some cases they are being sent to immigration removal centres and held in airport detention rooms.

Victims have spoken of being subjected to the traumatic and humiliating experience of expulsion, despite Home Office rules that explicitly allow non-visa holders to attend interviews. The paper says that confusion about whether EU citizens can explore the UK job market and then go home with an offer in order to apply for a work visa has added to the growing number of detentions. In other cases, visitors are clearly breaking rules, such as those now barring EU citizens from taking up unpaid internships:

At least a dozen European citizens – mostly young women – were detained and expelled at Gatwick airport alone over 48 hours last week, two female Spanish detainees told the Guardian. Some were sent two hours’ drive away to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, where a Covid scare meant they were confined to their rooms.

Other countries whose citizens have been held at a UK airport or detention centre include Italy, France, Bulgaria and Greece. It is understood one French man was held at Edinburgh airport for 48 hours recently, while the Bulgarian ambassador to the UK confirmed a number of his nationals had been held at immigration removal centres.

The two Spanish women were detained at Gatwick on 2 and 3 May after arriving on separate flights from Valencia and Bilbao.

María, 25, from Valencia, said that like many of those detained, she thought she was free to explore the job market at least until October, especially since she had lived and worked in the UK before. María said that when Border Force officials at Gatwick said they would expel her, she offered to pay for a flight home the same day. Instead, she was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she spent three anxious days. “I’m still in shock,” she said.

When the Guardian first spoke to María on Friday she was at Yarl’s Wood and scared that she had been exposed to Covid. Later that day she was released and ordered to quarantine at her sister’s home in Bexleyheath, in south-east London, until 17 May. Border Force officials kept her passport.

“So much time is being wasted,” she said. “The worst thing was that no one at Yarl’s Wood could tell me what was going to happen. My freedom had been taken away and I couldn’t get legal advice.”

Eugenia, a 24-year-old woman from the Basque region of northern Spain, reached Gatwick on Sunday 2 May on a flight from Bilbao. She planned to look for a job offer, go home to apply for a visa and then return to live with her Spanish boyfriend, an NHS worker who has been in the UK for four years. “I had a return ticket and had filled out an online travel form in which I explained all that,” she said.

At Gatwick, Eugenia had her mobile phone taken away and was locked in a holding room for 24 hours, sleeping on a fold-out bed with half a dozen others. Then she was put on a flight to Barcelona along with another Spanish woman who had arrived for a job interview.

Between them, María and Eugenia (who asked that their real names not be used) said they met a dozen other European citizens detained for similar reasons, accounting for half of the people in Gatwick’s detention rooms. They included two Spaniards with job interviews, a French woman with an internship and a Czech woman who had flown in from Mexico and was being sent back there.

“The Czech girl was desperate,” said Eugenia, who spent part of her 24 hours locked up in tears. “Like me, she knew we couldn’t start work immediately, but understood that you could look for jobs and come back to the UK later after obtaining a visa. When she offered to pay for a flight back to Prague, they said no – that they were expelling her to Mexico.”

Other travellers with Italian, Portuguese and eastern European passports were also being expelled.

Araniya Kogulathas, a barrister with the NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees, sums it up when she says EU citizens were experiencing Britain’s hostile environment for immigration:

“The Home Office need to explain why exploring the job market or attending an interview justifies refusing EEA nationals entry at the border when immigration rules specifically allow visitors to – among other things – attend meetings, conferences and interviews,” she said. “It seems to be detaining people despite being unclear of its own position. This is yet another illustration of the normalisation of immigration detention in the UK and the Home Office’s disdain for the right to liberty.”

Detainees complained that they were not informed of their right to seek legal assistance. María only learned about the Yarl’s Wood Covid scare from her sister, who was barred from visiting because of it. The Home Office denied there had been an “outbreak”.

There is some hope for the country though as the Guardian reports elsewhere that two men detained by UK Immigration Enforcement were released back into their community after a day of protest in Glasgow. This is not typical however. Maybe if Europe retaliates and treats UK citizens visiting the EU in the same way the Home Secretary will see the error of her ways. I am not holding my breath.
You start by imprisoning 'forinners'.Give them negative views of the country,it spreads, UK reputation is trashed.
You then start on your own people and police state is here.
The virus concentrates peoples attention (and it is dragged out for that purpose).
Hope is there with the actions in Scotland re the attention (BUT NOT IN THE BBC)on the immigrant issue.
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