A more effective and compassionate approach to immigration and asylum

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary held a joint fringe meeting at Lib Dem Conference in York with Social and Liberal Forum, addressing the Immigration Bill currently being debated in Parliament.

Ed Davey MP spoke of some of the impact that Brexit would have on immigration issues, and how he was using some of the new Lib Dem policies in the debates around the Bill.

Only some amendments would be allowed, those that fit in with the “Long title” of the Bill, which ties it to European issues. Success on many of the amendments to the Bill will depend on full support from Labour though.

There is the big problem of those without settled status from the EU who are living here. If they haven’t applied and gone through system there will be huge problems by 2020 for them. It is outrageous to take existing rights away. A declaratory system would be a much better way. Talking of the proposal of the ending of free movement of labour, he spoke of how this was going to impact on those from the UK who worked in the EU.

Interestingly, whilst talking about the benefits of immigration, he also talked about how people’s attitude to immigration is beginning to change as the impact of Brexit is becoming more apparent. People are realising there is a real benefit to immigration as the impact on loss of health care staff is going to affect them and their friends.

There is the possibility of an end to indefinite detention for immigration purposes, something Lib Dems have been at the forefront of campaigning on till taken up by other parties. There are amendments to the Immigration Bill that might be taken, and have support from at least some MPs from all parties, and there is finally a chance of success. Whatever others may say, Ed emphasised that Lib Dems would stick to our line, that indefinite detention should end for all, including Foreign National Offenders.

Some of the positives around include a success in the fight against the hostile environment with the successful court case taken by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants against the Government’s “Right to Rent” policy. The High Court ruled that the policy not only causes institutional racism, but cannot be reformed.

The Right to Work campaign that Lib Dems have long campaigned for has now got wide support and there is the “Lift the Ban” campaign, to give asylum seekers the right to use their skills, and earn money.

He ended with saying how he had seen a big difference in how the Home Office was working after his two year “sabbatical”, and how much worse they were. They should be required to do the job properly, albeit that the Home Office is not fit for purpose, and should be completely reformed, as in our Lib Dem proposals.

Suzanne Fletcher, from LD4SOS spoke of the positive policies that had been developed for the party, to tackle the issues around such as detention, right to work, decision making, and forced bedroom sharing. The positive proposals are about refugees and unaccompanied children, and overall having a safe and welcoming environment for asylum seekers and refugees.

Holly Matthies from Lib Dem Immigrants explained how they were founded to fill in the gap left by LD4SOS’s sterling work on asylum and refugees. She said they existed to represent those who’ve chosen to come to live in the UK from elsewhere, and to highlight issues that disproportionately affect immigrants. She said how she was glad to hear Ed say that people are starting to understand the usefulness of immigrants post-referendum, but wanted to emphasize that people have value beyond economic value. Such rhetoric can have unintended consequences on disabled people who, if they are immigrants, may not be able to work and, if married to an immigrant, might not be able to bring their spouse to the UK. This is why they currently have a campaign to “scrap the spousal income test,” which currently is set high enough that over half of Brits wouldn’t be able to live here with foreign spouses. “As Lib Dems we believe in marriage equality, and we aren’t quite there yet for mixed-nationality couples.”

Lord Roger Roberts, LD4SOS President, talked about his work in the House of Lords, campaigning on the rights on those who came to the UK as unaccompanied children and are coming up to eighteen years of age. He is preparing a Bill to come before the House, and asked us to spread the word that, on November 30th, he is planning a festival of celebration. There is a website “Action for Humanity” that is updated each week.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • John Marriott 25th Mar '19 - 9:07am

    I don’t know about asylum; but immigration is something I’ve thought about, having been an ‘immigrant’ myself back in 1970, when my wife and I went to work in Canada. There is no doubt that, although many will deny it, it was the reaction to seemingly uncontrolled immigration, aided and abetted by Blair’s failure to install transitional arrangements in the early noughties, when Poland and the Baltic States joined the EU, which greatly influenced the result of the 2016 Referendum.

    We are not alone in being ‘concerned’ by an influx of ‘foreigners’. Other EU countries have similar ‘concerns’. To address this issue I would change the concept of ‘Free Movement of People’ to ‘Free Movement of LABOUR’. I would make the prerequisite of any application from anywhere in the world, that the applicant had either a job or a confirmed study/training place to go to. That’s the criterion used when I went to Canada. If, after arrival, a worker, in particular, were to lose their job, they would, as in countries like Belgium, be given a statutory period of time to find a new one, or be made to return to their country of origin. How could this be monitored? How about ID cards (gnashing of teeth from ‘true Liberals’)?

    OK, it’s not perfect and will probably be condemned by some as ‘illiberal’; but it might just dampen down the concerns that many people secretly and increasingly not so secretly have that immigrants are taking ‘British jobs’. The question of asylum seekers and dependents is another matter, which is far above my pay grade to address.

  • Allowing free movement of LABOUR would not quell concern that immigrants are taking “British Jobs” at all!!

  • William Fowler 25th Mar '19 - 10:04am

    Why not balance this immigration policy with increased (tax free) state pensions for older people who move permanently abroad, this would free up (often large) housing and give the NHS a breather, whilst toning down the population increase which sees many areas bursting at the seams?

  • John Marriott 25th Mar '19 - 10:16am

    @ Chris Moore
    OK, what do YOU suggest? Perhaps we could ‘do a Belgium’ on existing rules. Or is it time for the customer to pay more for the product, particularly in groceries, and for employers to pay fair wages, or for some of our fellow citizens to step up to the plate and do a few ‘immigrant jobs’?

  • I think that the people who are “concerned” about immigration are most bothered about stocks, not flows. So, when they see someone as an “immigrant”, they don’t mean “someone who moved to the UK in the last year”. Addressing their “concerns” by reducing the number of people arriving doesn’t work, because their problem is not the number of people arriving, but the number of people here – and by “immigrants”, they don’t mean people who came here recently, but people who seem different – non-white people (even if born here), people who speak foreign languages (ie not English), people with radically different customs (celebrating non-Christian religious holidays). I’ve heard people complain about “immigrants putting up string” (by which they mean the boundary marker for the eruv in Prestwich, which was created by Orthodox Jews, who are overwhelmingly people whose ancestors go back several generations in Greater Manchester).

    It really does quickly become apparent that a brown Muslim woman in a hijab is very much included in their concept of an “immigrant”, even though she was born in the UK, is a UK citizen, and has never lived anywhere else.

    There is not, cannot be, a compromise that will satisfy people who don’t want to see someone different from themselves that a party that is committed to “freedom from conformity” could ever accept.

    Treating new arrivals badly to discourage them from arriving is not going to persuade people. Lots of Lib Dems seem to think that most people are coming from a decent, liberal place and when they mention specific problems, they would be tolerant if those specific problems were addressed. Of course, there are a few people like that, but the vast majority of the people who raise problems with immigration really have a problem with non-conformity. And we are a party founded, fundamentally, on the principle of non-conformity. People who think like that are our opponents. They are the people we are trying to defeat. Compromising with them is pointless; they will never be convinced or satisfied.

  • Holly Matthies 25th Mar '19 - 11:13am

    People who are genuinely concerned about other people’s genuine immigration concerns need to catch up. This article itself says, as Ed told us at the fringe, immigration is more favorably thought of now by a greater majority of the population. Chasing xenophobic votes is not only illiberal but increasingly ineffective, as there are fewer of them now.

  • Without immigration the UK would have been like Germany and have a birth rate below replacement. It would be helpful if we would stop adjusting unemployment statistics and recognise that many people who are registered as employed are not being paid in reality a living wage. We need a more realistic look at the world.

  • John Marriott 25th Mar '19 - 5:32pm

    @Tom Harney
    In the 1970s the (then) West German weekly, Der Spiegel, ran the headline; “Sterben die Deutschen aus?” (Are the Germans dying out?) so it’s not a recent phenomenon over there. I’ve got two sons, now 40 and 37, who have just starting having a family ( a boy and a girl each all under seven) as have many of their friends. When my wife and I visit places like National Trust properties, we notice how many young children are there with their parents and , wash my mouth out, most of them appear to be WASP.

    Some people complain about being ‘overrun’ by immigrants and, while that may no longer refer to people ‘of colour’; but possibly rather people, whose mother tongue is not English, it’s clear to me that our own people of whatever ethnicity are in fact holding their own, despite what some would have us believe.

  • I think that by immigrants the people who complain usually are referring to people who look different than they do. In the area I live in there is a low percentage of people defining themselves as other than white British. We do however see many foreigners. They are tourists. I have tried to explain this a number of times, but have been met with denial. One time I was told that the supermarket was full of foreign papers. I looked and there was one Polish paper.
    When I was a Board member of a housing association we were concerned that the proportion of tenants who were not white British was even lower than the local population but the problem was that few f those defined as being other than white British qualified for our houses as their incomes were too high. Also they did not want to live in one of our houses.
    I have to say that I have no idea what the solution is, except dealing with some of the stories in the media.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Mar '19 - 5:50pm

    @ chris moore,
    Are you sure about that?

    My concern with the current system, is that it allows unscrupulous employees to exploit the neediness of jobless immigrants who have arrived here, have the work ethic, and desire to work to better themselves, and are therefore prepared to accept what are exploitative terms of employment.

    I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time saying to people who think that ‘immigrants take our jobs’, that actually, you should feel sympathy for them not resentment, because like you, they are victims of unscrupulous employers.

  • @Jayne – “I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time saying to people who think that ‘immigrants take our jobs’”
    The trouble is that at times they do, but with our complicity.

    A local print company, runs their night-shift entirely with Polish speaking workers. It started mixed, but very quickly two problems arose. Firstly, getting local staff (ie. UK residents/nationals) to reliably turn up and deliver work of suitable quality proved problematic, secondly, once the Polish contingent reached ‘critical mass’ [I think the problem came to a head when the native English speaking shift manager retired and with all the supervisors first language being Polish…] it became clear having two languages being used in the print shop was causing misunderstandings etc. Hence now they run a fully Polish speaking nightshift, with workers being directly recruited via work-of-mouth from Poland.

    Haven’t visited recently, so am uncertain as to what preparations they are now making with respect to Brexit. Whilst the employer is firm and direct, I would not call them ‘unscrupulous ‘; we exchange strong views about the cost/price of a work package, but when the package has been delivered, there has been no procrastination with paying the previously agreed amount. Additionally, they had a relatively low turnover of staff.

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