We often hear complaints about asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in general, about their ‘unwillingness’ to integrate and contribute to society. They are frequently portrayed as ‘aliens’ who are ‘invading’ our shores to take advantage of what this country has to offer.
In the same mindset, there is a notion of the deservingness and worthiness of who we welcome and support. Perhaps the concept of ‘the good migrant’ sounds familiar. The rhetoric of ‘the good migrant’ revolves around the perceptions and expectations of immigrants in which some migrants and refugees are deemed more acceptable or deserving based on their contribution and level of education; their knowledge of the language, culture and customs of the host country.
And it goes further, we see selective acceptance based on stereotypical factors such as nationality, ethnicity and religion. Certain groups of refugees may be accepted as ‘good migrants’ based on prejudices or political narratives, while others are viewed as undesirable or unworthy, and as a result they face hostility. Those migrants are portrayed as ‘undeserving’ and are criminalised, stigmatised and discriminated against.
The government, political figures and media fuel and perpetuate the rhetoric. They emphasise the distinction between ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ migrants, which consequently shapes immigration policies and influences public views of migrants. Such a narrative leads to the implementation of a selective attitude that prioritises certain categories of migrants deemed as ‘good’.
The set of policies that make up the UK’s hostile environment are products of this rhetoric that creates barriers and hardships for vulnerable people, particularly for people seeking safety in this country.
The hostile environment, recently rebranded as ‘the compliant environment’, was introduced by the UK government under Theresa May in 2012. The policy aimed to implement measures that make it difficult for individuals without certain kinds of immigration status to live and work in the UK.
Those measures include requiring landlords, employers, banks, and healthcare providers to check individuals’ immigration status before providing services and implementing stricter immigration enforcement measures.
The impacts of the hostile environment on refugees and people seeking asylum have been significant. Almost everyone who flees persecution, violence, and conflict in their home country does not have the luxury of applying for a visa, instead they face a tall brick wall in the absence of legal routes. The policy erects barriers that prevent them from starting a new life in the UK.
Hostility creates fear and contributes to insecurity and vulnerability. Many refugees live in constant fear of being detained, deported, or facing other punitive measures due to their immigration status.
Limited access to legal aid makes it so difficult to navigate the UK’s complex asylum and immigration systems. People seeking asylum are banned from looking for employment. It is a fact that having a job and financial stability can provide a sense of security, purpose, and satisfaction, which are important factors impacting mental wellbeing. The ban is just another aspect of hostility.
The hostile environment exacerbates existing trauma from refugees’ experiences in their home countries. The social exclusion makes it challenging for people seeking asylum to integrate into their communities and build meaningful connections that can extend after they receive refugee status.
In response to hostility and the barriers it creates, Refugee Action is fighting to remove those barriers for people with lived experience of the asylum system, so that they can regain confidence and lead the movement against hostility.
Removing barriers to power
Refugee rights groups and organisations like Refugee Action are fighting hostile immigration policies through campaigning and advocacy to convince the government to adopt a compassionate and human-rights-focused approach to immigration policies, which can help build trust and cooperation.
Another step toward removing barriers is creating a more welcoming environment, building a bridge between refugees and the host communities, and promoting understanding and empathy, which is essential to dismantling existing stereotypes and prejudices.
Access to education, employment and stable housing are fundamental requirements for refugees to rebuild their lives and establish themselves in a new country. Various actors within the sector are running initiatives that facilitate language learning, skill development, and vocational training.
Organisations are collaborating to create pathways for refugees to contribute to the workforce and society. They promote social inclusion that goes beyond basic services. Encouraging cultural exchange programs, community events, and mentorship initiatives help refugees feel welcomed and valued. Building a sense of belonging is key to overcoming the isolation that many refugees experience upon arrival.