I was a witness at an Immigration tribunal hearing earlier this year for a friend. Let’s call her Little Red. She came to the UK from China as a masters student and worked for the NHS on graduation. But following a painful divorce she found she no longer had the right to work and live in the UK. Little Red has appealed the Home Office’s decision but is still waiting for an answer. Hers is merely one case in half a million back log of cases currently with the Home Office or in the appeals system.
At a packed meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration at the House of Commons on 9th July, I met a Welsh lady who had responded to their enquiry. She recently became a grandmother and her new grandson was only two weeks old at the time. But as her daughter did not earn more than £18,600 per year, she could not sponsor her non-EU spouse under the Family Migration Rules that came in a year ago. It was heart breaking to see a young family torn apart.
Whether someone is a legal or illegal migrant is a product of UK law and dependent on the policy and attitude of the Home Office.
The Coalition Government’s position on immigration was stated in the Coalition Agreement Paragraph 17: Although the Government believes that “immigration has enriched our culture and strengthened our economy,” immigration has to “be controlled so that people have confidence in the system.”
We clearly need confidence in the system but the Home Office’s recent pilot poster van campaign is not the way to bolster that confidence. Boldly emblazoned on each of the six vans “In the UK illegally? Go Home or Face Arrest,” the target audience was probably not the unregulated migrants, but rather so-called Daily Mail readers and prospective UKIP voters.
It was gratifying that a number of Lib Dem ministers and politicians have spoken out against the poster van campaign. Nick Clegg has assured us that no Liberal Democrats – including Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne – knew about the pilot scheme in advance. And Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP had been widely quoted as having called the campaign “stupid and offensive”. The campaign has certainly done nothing to improve community relations and integration in the relevant boroughs.
However to ensure that as a Party we are clear on our own policies, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (working in consultation with Liberal Democrats Seekers Of Sanctuary) have submitted an Emergency Motion condemning the campaign and asking that it not be rolled out more widely.
We also recommend in our motion that the Home Office works with local authorities, community groups and NGOs to encourage voluntary returns in a more effective, liberal, and humane manner. Instead of merely targeting individuals, we should channel resources into taking immediate and decisive action against those encouraging people to come to the UK illegally.
We were pleased to have heard from the FCC that our motion has been shortlisted for the ballot at the Autumn Conference. Please support our emergency motion in the ballot. Thank you.
* Merlene is Vice-Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and Chinese Liberal Democrats. She was London Assembly Candidate in 2012 and Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in 2010.