In 2012, Theresa May declared ‘The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration‘. Over the past few weeks the abhorrent reality of Theresa May’s hostile environment has come to surface- even my Mum was asking me about those Windrush folk and really how terrible it is.
‘Really terrible’ seems like the understatement of the year- the hostile environment is political and institutional racism. For the Windrush generation some have faced the most heartbreaking of abuse by the British Government. Many have worked all their lives, had children, have grandchildren and simply got on with their lives as British people, only to have this ripped from them- some even detained. At the core of this is their colour.
We must be reminded that ‘white privilege is a manipulative, suffocating blanket of power which envelopes everything we know like a snowy day. Its brutal and oppressive bullying you into not speaking up for fear of losing your loved ones, or job, or flat’ (R. Eddo-Lodge., Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People about Race, Bloomsbury).
Now the abhorrence of the British Government’s behaviour – for example destroying the landing cards of people they had invited to the UK- comes as no surprise for those of us who have supported people seeking sanctuary, where at the Home Office crucial, often original documents or entire files go missing. Where their own staff describe the asylum decision making system as a lottery, with no regard that a person’s life literally hangs in the balance.
As Amber Rudd put it this week, ‘The Home Office have become too concerned with policy and strategy and lost sight of the individual’.
The hostile environment for those seeking sanctuary has been cracking the whip for the last four years, slowly eroding people’s sense of humanity and hope. It has forced people into destitution with no entitlement to work or access mainstream benefits. The final blow being that for some people, they simply cannot return home and are left in limbo, in a place of control and power, a place where the “other” is bound by the chains of exclusion.
However, in our fight against hostility, we must be careful not to differentiate between different groups. Racism and the hostile environment is wrong whoever suffers at the hand of it. We must not default into the government’s position of definition, segregation and ultimately “divide and rule”.
The outrage that surrounds the Windrush generation is hugely reassuring. Let’s hope it sparks a national conversation about our institutions, and whether as a country we want to be one of hostility or one of fairness, openness and welcome. As May herself said at the 2016 Conservative Party Conference; ‘I want to explain what a country that works for everyone means… built on the values of fairness and opportunity… where everyone plays by the same rules and where every single person – regardless of their background, or that of their parents – is given the chance to be all they want to be.’
By Hazel Williams