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UK/ The costs of bashing immigration

With the Immigration Bill going through the House of Commons in 2014, SARAH TEATHER MP discusses the costs of anti-immigration policies in the UK and across Europe

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Immigration has been a major political topic in the UK during 2013. Yet despite all the evidence which shows that immigration has a positive impact on the British economy and the lip service that politicians from all parties pay to the benefits of diversity in our society, most of the debate has been about how we can prevent people from coming here or how we can force people to return home.

The Immigration Bill – which is due for its next stage of debate in the House of Commons in the new year – will, amongst other things, make it much harder for people to challenge wrong decisions by the Home Office (despite successful appeal rates being exceptionally high) and make it much harder for anyone who looks or sounds a bit foreign to rent a house.

It’s not just in the UK that policies such as these are being introduced. Right across Europe, and further afield, hostility to “outsiders” is growing, with new barriers to migration being erected. But what is frequently ignored is the human costs of making it harder for individuals to cross borders.

One of the consequences of taking away legitimate routes to migration is that individuals are forced to taking bigger risks and 2013 is considered to be the worst year on record in terms of lives lost of migrants seeking to cross international borders clandestinely. At least 2,360 migrants have died in this way during this year, including more than 360 men, women and children who died in October when the fishing boat they were on boat sank off of the coast of Lampedusa.

Yet the political reaction following such tragedies, after saying how awful it is, tends to be focused on how to stop people ever starting their journeys in the first place, rather than how governments can work together to make journeys safer.

This reaction has also been evident in the UK’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The UN say the conflict in Syria has created the world’s worst refugee crisis in 20 years, with at least 2.2 million people having fled the country and millions more displaced internally. The British government has, in fairness, provided substantial financial support with bordering countries to help ease the burden of providing support to so many people, most of whom have left their homes with next to nothing.

Yet the UK has refused to take part in the UNHCR’s call for the most vulnerable 30,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled by the end of 2014. To date, 16 countries have answered this call, with Germany offering to take an extra 5,000 refugees.

The UK’s response to both the Lampedusa tragedy and the Syrian crisis has been to support calls for action to be taken, so long as that action is many miles away. The problem with this approach is that, when coupled with steps to make it harder to legitimately gain access to the UK, people are forced to take ever more dangerous risks.

Part of this reaction is based on the thought that, when migrants make the decision to leave their homes and cross borders, they are exercising choice. But in many instances, this is far from the reality.