Roger Roberts writes…Massive changes needed at the Home Office

I quote from one not of my own party, David Lammy, who, in a speech last week in the House of Commons, stated:

“Your Department’s treatment of the Windrush generation has been nothing less than a national scandal. In November, we learned that at least 164 Windrush citizens were wrongly removed, detained or stopped at the border by our own Government. Eleven of those who were wrongly deported have died. You have announced three more today. Every single one of those cases is a shocking indictment of your Government’s pandering to far right racism, sham immigration targets and the dog whistle of the right-wing press”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/2/18; cols. 170-71.]

In addition, I received a letter earlier this week from one who said:

“I am a Portuguese citizen from Lisbon, came here in 1993 on a full scholarship paid for by the Royal Academy of Music to study, when I was just 19 years old. I stayed and have been working as a performer and teacher ever since.

I came here legally, settled with no issues and have had a national insurance number since 1993. I have paid tax since 1997 … When I applied for settled status I wasn’t given a reason for being refused”.

Nor was she asked to provide evidence. She continues:

“It made me both frightened and angry. I’ve been here continuously for nearly 26 years and couldn’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t be immediately put through … I was promised and reassured by this government that the ridiculous process of having to apply for a status I already have (!) was simple, easy and that bar criminal conviction everyone would get through straight away.

I was lied to.

The app doesn’t work for the self-employed.

The app doesn’t come with a helpline number or email to write to, it also doesn’t tell you that if you’re self-employed you’re not likely to get through.

It doesn’t offer help in any way.

What I want to know is why on earth the Home Office cannot just look at my 25 continuous years of NI and understand it is me!

I have lost sleep, been hugely stressed over this, and none of this is of my choice and making.

17.5% of all EU citizens here are self-employed and they are all having the same issue. Half a million people! To me this is a human rights issue, we’re being lied to, the app system is immature, bugged and biased against the self-employed … Every time an EU citizen gets rejected and is asked to submit evidence of their lives here, it creates a huge amount of confusion and stress.

It seems that this whole sorry process is unethical, biased, and unlawful. The government is scrambling to put together anything that may be seen to make sense but has no actual substance.

People’s lives matter, and they are playing with our future!

I worked very hard all my life, this government is happy to take my money and work but won’t give me a voice or a choice in my future”.

She concludes:

“I have a British husband and two small children”.

This instance and many others clearly show that the whole situation is not fit for purpose. Nothing proves that better than the results of appeals against Home Office immigration decisions and how those appeals have increased in number over the years. In 2005, 17% of appeals were approved by the tribunal or the higher court. In 2009 that was up to 29%; in 2014, it was 28%; in 2015, 35%; and in 2016, 40%. We are assured that the Government are attempting to improve the situation, but nothing changes.

This results in a destruction of confidence in the whole system. When people cannot trust government decisions, we are in grave danger. When people feel, as David Lammy asserted, that one section of the community is discriminated against, that danger is even more threatening. I do not lay the blame on the officers or decision-makers; they try to fulfil this part of their Home Office responsibility. But there must be great stress in the job they are undertaking. I can immediately suggest two changes. First, every interview should be audio recorded so that there is no uncertainty over responses or the ability of those interviewed to understand a language foreign to them. Secondly, I suggest we should have not one decision-maker in every interview, but two.

I refer to a film directed by Professor Sue Clayton of Goldsmiths university. The main character of her film is ZS—let us call him that. He is a vulnerable Afghan boy with bullet wounds from the Taliban and a record of repeated suicide attempts in France. The Home Office refused to accept him and the other 36 children in the film, who, Sue suggests, were eligible under the Dubs amendment.

Professor Clayton continues “we became increasingly concerned that the procedures they had in place for assessing our kids and others were flawed and profoundly inadequate; that the criteria for acceptance were being constantly changed; and these changes not relayed to the applicants, so that many were not able to apply, or their applications discounted. It was also clear that the Home Office were not meeting the Dubs quota of 480 lone children from Europe. In February 2018, the Home Office were sued in the High Court on behalf of our client ZS and the others, for their failure to lawfully implement the Dubs Amendment”.

The result was, Professor Clayton continued, first, that the Home Office was judged not to have provided,

“the Calais children with written decisions or any reason for their refusal. This meant they were unable to appeal (and cases such as this are generally won on appeal)”.

Secondly, she says, the result was:

“That the Home Office acted unlawfully by failing in its ‘duty of candour’ by not making its policy and procedures available to those who needed to know”.

She says that her film shows that the Home Office,

“changed its policy no less than 8 times in 18 months, so that the young people, their lawyers, carers and even the French government were all unaware of the procedures for applying to Dubs. Latterly it’s only through the French government that kids in France can apply”.

Professor Sue Clayton also says:

“So we did succeed in getting condemnation for the unlawful practices of the Home Office—one small further step on the way to dismantling the Hostile Environment”— what a terrible word “hostile” is. She ends:

“Shockingly, after nearly 3 years, only … half of the 480 Dubs places have been filled, even though the Amendment stressed the agreed number shall be brought ‘as soon as possible’. So, the fight goes on”.

It could well be that immigration matters should no longer be a Home Office responsibility but in a department of their own. There are so many other changes that we want. We want no indefinite detention, the right to work much sooner than after the present 12 months and far better legal advice and protection for young refugees when they reach 18 years of age. I have a Bill that I hope will reach the statute book this year. All these measures would give hope and huge self-respect to those who have had the most devastating experiences. I do not want to be part of a society that dehumanises people. We should not treat them as citizens of nowhere; I prefer Socrates’ claim:

“I’m not a citizen of Athens or a citizen of Greece, but a citizen of the world”.

The last private rescue ship, the “Aquarius”, was forced to halt its operations in December. More than 29,000 people are estimated to have been rescued by the ship, which was not allowed to dock in Italy last June. But how can we criticise such moves when we ourselves have a questionable record on immigration? We can be a country that restores and builds, or we can be otherwise. In the 17th century, the Dutch of Amsterdam welcomed immigrants and said:

“We are seekers after truth and are richer in having you among us”.

Are we also not richer because of others who have contributed and are contributing to our lives? Remember: we were all immigrants once.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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  • David Becket 17th Feb '19 - 10:12am

    This is all down to a common english trait, a dislike of foreigners. It is rife throughout the Home Office, but that is not surprising as Theresa May was in charge there for many years.
    Moving the responsibility to a different department will not solve the problem, unless you change the culture. That is unlikely to happen with the Tories in charge and, as the anti- semitic issue has shown, just as unlikely from Labour under the current leadership.

  • nigel hunter 17th Feb '19 - 10:55am

    Did not Cameron say that we can take 3000 young refugees into the country? We have only taken 300.
    This APP could have been done on purpose to exclude the self employed and then when it is noticed that a ‘fault’ has ocurred then alter it. A subtle ‘hostile environment.
    Equally the Labour Party under Corbyn is a VERY ineffectual lot on acting as an opposition, result the Tories romp ahead in the opinion polls.]
    Also ,yes the Tories pander to the right wing racism etc which fuels the right wing papers and those who loyally read them that exascerbates the situation and make the ‘hostile environment’ look valid.

  • We have become an inward looking frightened society. Only dreams of a glorious past hold any appeal to many people. They fear change, they fear the furrien, hell they even fear the furriener in the next village. The sad thing is their chant of “Turn back time” won’t work, time marches on and they are destined to be seen as “Sad frightened, halfwits”, useful only as figures of fun. Now you may say that is a harsh representation of them, but it is how they will be remembered.

  • In 2006 / 7 John Reid declared the Home Office not fit for purpose, and embarked on considerable change and reform. 12 years or so later we are confronted with the same or similar problem. Why is no-one calling this out louder now? After all the issues surrounding the Metropolitan Police being declared institutionally racist, why is no-one loudly calling for the Home Office to be similarly declared. The evidence is all there. Its actions need to be understood in that way, condemned, and subject to real and fundamental reform.

    Another reason to withdraw / greatly extend Article 50 right now. Some of the attitudes that led to the Leave vote can be directly traced to the activities of the Home Office, and in most extreme form under Theresa May.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '19 - 12:40pm

    The article is excellent, bar the letting off the staff, allowing all blame to the current party in power, none for the paid workforce who often both device as well as carry out the procedures, and often can and should utilise their own judgement.

    TheUS is not a police state. Where police have shot people it is not because of Trump. Thus here, we must blame those who work in senior or frontline Home Office decisionmaking and not merely a government minister.

    This does not let them off, no, it means blame goes to all who are to be blamed.

    Which brings us to the Labour party too.

    None of this happened under Thatcher and Major. 2007, act, a others, post 9/11 security measures too, a change in fear , and a realisation they had allowed too many Europeans in too quickly.

    This is not about Brexit. Brexit is the result of an immigration ;policy gone mad, both too inconsistent and too harsh.

    We should remember how much better our society was until the early noughties.

  • Great article Roger. And I agree with Lorenzo Cherin about the Home Office staff. Where do they find these people who constantly make cruel and callous decisions and who put people through hell faith futile appeals that are a waste of tax payers’ money? How many officials have been disciplined or sacked for bad decision-making that has brought the Home Office into disrepute. This would be a good question to ask ministers.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 18th Feb '19 - 11:25am

    It was a very good debate, well done Roger for getting it. Great speech from Roger raising many issues, and also Peers Sarah Ludford, Tony Greaves and John Shipley weighed in with important contributions.
    Much of the discussion here is about Home Office decision making, so can I refer you to our new policies from the Policy Paper agreed at our September Conference. There is an easy to read summary in our document here.

  • Peter Hirst 18th Feb '19 - 4:19pm

    If you’ve come here legally and not committed any significant offences then we should owe you a right of residence after say five years. This should be part of a constitution so it cannot be overturned on a whim and people know what to expect. That way we will entice those who can make a positive contribution to our economy and society.

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