Thursday, December 26, 2013

Workers of the World Unite

In a highly critical document, the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, raised concerns that the immigration bill will damage communities and lead to the marginalisation of refugees and asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency condemned David Cameron's proposed immigration laws over fears they could stigmatise foreigners, deny housing to people in need and create a "climate of ethnic profiling".

Cameron has proposed the immigration bill in order to crack down on illegal immigrants, restricting access to bank accounts and private housing, as well as forcing temporary migrants to pay for public services such as the NHS. However, the commissioner is worried that legal refugees and asylum-seekers will be caught up in the new restrictions, as landlords, GPs and banks will find it difficult to interpret their immigration status. The commissioner said these protected groups would suffer discrimination if the legislation went ahead.

"The provisions of the bill appear likely to result in asylum-seekers, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection being stigmatised in the public mind and in their being denied access to housing or bank accounts," the UNHCR said. “The UN high commissioner for refugees is concerned that if introduced, such measures could contribute towards a climate of misunderstanding and ethnic profiling that could undermine the longer-term prospects for integration of such persons and prove detrimental to social cohesion. Additionally, the UN high commissioner for refugees is concerned that the types of documentation carried by asylum-seekers, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and stateless people can be varied and complex, and landlords and other service providers are likely to misinterpret the legality of their status. It will also impose an additional administrative burden on them. These challenges may have unintended consequences such as the denial of housing and other services to asylum-seekers, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection that result in their marginalisation and inhibit their integration in the United Kingdom."

The Home Office has been forced to defend the immigration bill against accusations it will turn GPs, banks and landlords into the equivalent of border guards by forcing them to carry out immigration status checks. Earlier this month, the home affairs committee warned that millions of landlords may be unwilling to rent properties to immigrants if coalition proposals requiring them to carry out immigration checks were put into practice. The cross-party group said the measures were designed to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants and could discriminate against all immigrants, regardless of their status.

In another move, British government ministers have decided not to join 16 nations, including the United States, France and Germany, which have pledged to allow a total of more than 10,000 refugees from the bloody three-year civil war in Syria to move to their countries. The Refugee Council said only about 0.1 per cent of Syrians fleeing the violence had found safety in the UK. It is worth recalling that even if the UN wanted us to take in all 10,000 – which is not the case – this would still be only a fraction of the 2.4 million Syrians who are already refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.

There is also no doubt that the popularity of calls to curb immigration weighs on their minds, especially as an election approaches and they are no doubt spooked by the prospect of adverse headlines about another foreign “influx” at a time when debate rages over how many Romanians and Bulgarians may arrive in 2014.

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