EU Citizens Caught in Hostile EnvironmentAs Settlement Scheme Deadline Looms
The anti-immigration policies and nationalist feeling stirred up by Brexit are threatening people’s wellbeing – as well as the economy and the Union, argues Emma DeSouza
A resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment has been steadily rising in British society over the past decade. Exacerbated by the then Home Secretary Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment‘, it has settled in the hearts and minds of impressionable citizens across Britain.
The current Government falls further to the right than any of its recent predecessors and continues to use tried-and-tested populist tactics to stoke fear and division about foreign nationals as the perpetual bogeymen who can be blamed for the country’s domestic woes.
Following the Donald Trump playbook on cultivating hysteria around immigration, Boris Johnson’s Government has rallied susceptible citizens to “take back control” or shout “Britain First”. Trump was not successful in creating his wall. The UK, however, might just pull it off – an intangible wall around Brexit Britain which stands to impact not only those who seek entry to the UK, but its own citizens as well.
There have been a number of accounts of EU citizens encountering hostility and suspicion when seeking entry to the UK, with many being detained and deported.
These include that of 20-year-old Ana Silvestre, an Italian and Brazilian dual-national who was refused entry at Luton Airport. She said she had been handcuffed at the airport and left in a van overnight before being taken to Colnbrook immigration removal centre. There, she was detained for a further seven days before ultimately being forced to return to Italy.
A recently reported high-profile case saw Sotiris Konstantakos, a 26-year-old Greek man, detained for seven days at the same immigration detention centre in January.
Speaking to Greek newspaper Ta Nea, he said: “I didn’t know when I would leave. I was desperate. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was locked in a room which had no heating and had bars on the window from 9 pm to 8 am and again at noon for an hour. The rest of the time I was in a larger area with other detainees. They had taken my cell phone and my belongings.”
One-third of those held at an immigration removal centre near Gatwick are placed on constant suicide watch and the Independent Monitoring Board watchdog has reported a five-fold increase in immigration detainees being placed on a vulnerability register.
Flaws in EU Settlement Scheme
The people being detained, denied entry or deported range from tourists to those seeking work.
The case of a German national named Wolfgang (not their real name) raises particular concern for the millions of EU citizens in the UK who retained legal status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Wolfgang was detained at Heathrow Airport despite having proof of settled status, indefinite leave to remain in the UK, as well as a British passport en route.
Then there’s the case of a 10-year-old girl denied settled status despite the rest of her immediate family being approved. Her story will likely be resolved by the Home Office given the negative press. But that will not remedy the stress and upset experienced by the family.
Data up to 31 March shows that 17,530 children have been refused status under the EU Settlement Scheme. It remains unknown how many of these children have since obtained status upon reapplying.
But cases like these are not an anomaly. Many EU citizens had already been impacted since the 2016 EU Referendum. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 13,000 EU citizens were refused entry at UK ports and airports. By 2019, a quarter of all enforcement checks in UK cities were imposed on EU citizens.
In the first quarter of 2021, 3,294 EU citizens were denied entry to the UK at airports and ports – an increase from under 500 in the first quarter of 2020, despite a 94% reduction in air travel. The vast majority (64%) of all refusals since January were Romanian nationals, raising concerns over discrimination and further highlighting the classism of UK immigration control.
Further figures published last week show for the first time the number of repeat applications to the EU settlement scheme as well as their success rates – with half of repeat applications only approved upon a second submission.
These seemingly arbitrary application refusals are a source of anxiety for anyone pursuing settled status in the UK.
A Pressing Deadline
The application process for the EU Settlement Scheme closes next month, with some campaigners calling this a “completely arbitrary deadline”.
Campaigners have long been highlighting the vulnerable and marginalised groups of EU citizens who – due to mitigating circumstances such as domestic violence or inaccessibility – may lose rights and even access to healthcare when the scheme closes next month.
Along with the worrying backlog of hundreds of thousands of applications to the scheme, those individuals who are already woefully under-protected are the ones being allowed to slip under the net.
Historically, governments have relied upon immigration to rebuild economies and fill gaps in the labour market, with its economic benefits remaining evident today. Europeans, for instance, account for two-thirds of visitors to the UK, funnelling billions of pounds into the economy on an annual basis. The tourism industry has suffered substantial losses during the Coronavirus pandemic and visitors and immigration are an essential tool in economic recovery.
A Nationalist Threat
The Government’s hostile immigration rules continue to place it at odds with the devolved administration in Scotland.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have already exchanged strong words over the extension of ramped-up immigration raids and heavy-handed tactics in Scotland. One such contributing factor towards these tensions involved a group of 500 protestors who brought a recent Home Office immigration raid to a halt in Glasgow, which Sturgeon supported.
The crisis facing EU citizens in a hostile environment is the manifestation of an agenda in which ‘Global Britain’ is more closely resembles ‘Britain First’.