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‘The UK’s Immigration System is Islamophobic and Racist. Expanding Prevent into it Will Re-traumatise Refugees’

The extension of the controversial counter-extremism program into immigration and asylum processes risks embedding racism at our borders

Photo: PA Images/Alamy

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Migration is not an isolated issue. It is intertwined with political party agendas, geopolitics, conflict or global labour demands, while systems of oppression like homophobia, racism or sexism form the basis of who is considered to be welcome in the West. The exclusionary and discriminatory nature of migration policies is often overlooked.

At the Migrants’ Rights Network, we believe border regimes and immigration systems have their roots in racism and Islamophobia. Now, as Prevent could be forcibly imposed into immigration and asylum processes, migration advocacy organisations and Muslim organisations must wake up to Islamophobia’s grip on UK border regimes.

Terrorist Narratives: The Biases in ‘Prevent’ Training Show How Counter-Extremism is Politicised

The 11 minute awareness course mandatory for many public service workers is in danger of turning into a propaganda tool

Prevent is used as a form of surveillance. At present, the Prevent Duty requires particular public-facing authorities such as education, health, local authorities, police and criminal justice agencies to ‘prevent’ people from being “drawn into terrorism.” It is a fundamentally flawed and discriminatory mechanism that leads to thousands of people (mainly Muslims) being treated with suspicion on the basis they are assumed to be more likely to commit a ‘crime’ such as terrorism. 

In December 2023, the Home Office published an Independent Review of Prevent’s report and the Government’s response by William Shawcross (Independent Reviewer of Prevent) in which he recommended the Government explore extending Prevent into the immigration and asylum system. The expansion of the Prevent Duty into the UK immigration system would further embed racism and Islamophobia in borders. 

This is based on the migration status of individuals who committed alleged terror attacks in the UK over the last few years. Specifically, he states that people who are fleeing conflict zones or “from parts of the world where extremist ideologies have a strong presence are more likely to be susceptible to radicalisation… especially if they are deeply disappointed by their reception in the UK”.

There is explicit emphasis on ‘Islamist’ extremism in the Review, and little to no reference of countries with high rates of White Supremacy or far-right activity, such as Ukraine. This highlights the increasing trend for migration to be viewed through the lens of national security, in particular, migration from Muslim-majority countries because Muslims are viewed through the Islamophobic assumption of their proximity to terrorism. It also seeks to effectively punish people for the barriers within the UK immigration system and how they are treated. 

The UK’s immigration measures already disproportionately impact racialised and Muslim communities. Muslims are most impacted by deprivation of citizenship powers, seven out of ten irregular arrivals to the UK are from Muslim-majority countries (and Eritrea) as a result of a lack of safe routes to seek protection in the UK, and Muslims bear the brunt of racist ‘integration’ narratives and internalised border controls, such as right to work checks. 

The Shawcross Review of Prevent: ‘Ideologically-Driven and Poorly Evidenced’

The People’s Review of Prevent refutes the recommendations made in a major Government report into the controversial counter-terrorism strategy

In the Review, Shawcross claims that Prevent is “not doing enough to counter non-violent Islamist extremism” and goes on to say it represents the primary terrorist threat to the UK. However, Muslims are arguably persistently perceived as a ‘threat’ and treated with suspicion around their loyalty to so-called ‘British values’.

Deprivation of citizenship powers has been used to strip British citizens of citizenship on the grounds of national security, after being accused of suspected terrorist activities. Evidence shows subjects of citizenship deprivation on national security grounds have been almost exclusively Muslim and from a Middle Eastern, South or West Asian or North African background. 

We also see this construction of Muslims as a ‘threat’ in the way ‘single male asylum seekers’ are presented in British media and political discourse. Orientalist stereotypes of men (specifically men of Colour and Muslim men) paint them as ‘violent, threatening and backward’, as well as oppressive towards women and girls. While an intersectional approach to migration advocacy is largely absent, how constructs of masculinity impact male migrants is completely non-existent.

At the Migrants’ Rights Network, we are unpacking how these stereotypes  (and other systems of oppression) intersect to shape immigration policies through our Who is Welcome campaign.

Former Conservative Party Chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to Argue ‘Muslims Don’t Matter’ to Politicians and Media in Damning Speech

Amid rising attacks on Muslims in the UK, the former Faith Minister launches a thinly-veiled broadside against Sunak’s Government, and calls for a new civil rights movement in Britain

The Prevent Review draws on ingrained stereotypes about people from Muslim communities.

One pervasive idea in the Review is that ‘Islamism’ is at odds with the West because it doesn’t believe in the separation of religion and state, liberal values or democracy. This is a well-established Islamophobic trope because Islam is characterised as the antithesis to British (i.e. ‘liberal’) values and feeds into the ‘clash of civilisations’ idea.

This draws on a long history of Orientalist stereotypes’ – an idea that was laid out in Louise Casey’s 2016 review on “opportunity and integration” which links Islam to those who “are keen to take religion backwards and away from 21st Century British values and laws on issues such as gender equality and sexual orientation; creating segregation and pulling communities apart.”

Shawcross goes on to claim the ‘Islamist endeavour is an imperialist one’. This is an unusual and bold claim, particularly given the West’s long interventionist and colonial history in Muslim-majority regions. Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan are just a few of the countries that continue to bear the brunt of continuous colonisation, imperialist exploits and Western intervention, and where many of the refugees arrive from. They are also some of those who face the sharpest end of the hostile environment in the UK.  

Numerous ideas set out in the Review all stem from the idea of Muslims as a ‘threat’. It seeks to use ingrained stereotypes to justify greater surveillance powers against them. Expanding Prevent into the immigration and asylum system will ultimately further embed hostile treatment towards racialised migrants. For those of us seeking to achieve liberation and justice for migrants, we must be vigilant to the threat that Prevent poses to migrant and migrated communities, especially those with Muslim backgrounds. 

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