Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BBC's story on immigration billboards misses the point

Like many Liberal Democrats - actually make that virtually all Liberal Democrats who have commented - I am absolutely fuming about the Government's plans, announced by immigration minister Mark Harper, to send billboards around 6 London boroughs with a message on them urging illegal immigrants to submit themselves for deportation - by text message, it's oh so simple.

This is the sort of thing that could lead to anyone who looks or sounds a little bit foreign, regardless of their immigration status, being harassed, or feeling uncomfortable.

The BBC reported on this today, quoting a Labour Councillor's condemnation of the plan. They didn't include our own Sarah Teather's comments that this amounted to straightforward intimidation which I reported on Liberal Democrat Voice last night.

She was every bit as livid as I am:
This is the latest in a string of Home Office announcements that are designed to make the Government look tough on immigration. But I fear that the only impact this deeply divisive form of politics will have will be to create tension and mistrust towards anyone who looks and sounds foreign.
Instead of trying to grab cheap headlines, the Government would be much better advised to tackle the real issues that undermine confidence in the immigration system. Home Office statistics show that decision making by officials is extremely poor and leads to a quarter of initial decisions to refuse asylum being overturned on appeal. And many of those people who the Government are targeting with these policies are either those whose case has been mishandled by the Home Office, or who Ministers acknowledge cannot be sent home because they wouldn’t be safe.
Vulnerable individuals who are fleeing persecution and violence are treated with disbelief and a complete lack of compassion in a rigid and inhumane system. But rather than tackling these problems head on, Ministers are choosing to once more crank up the anti-migrant rhetoric.These adverts are nothing less than straightforward intimidation and can only have bad consequences for communities like those I represent in Brent, where people from all faiths and races have mixed for decades. We will all be much poorer for it.
I am annoyed that the BBC have quoted only a Labour Councillor. That party has only shame in its record on immigration. Let's remind ourselves:

  • Record backlogs of cases, leaving people in limbo for years;
  • Locking up children for long periods of time in horrible places like Yarl's Wood and Dungavel;
  • Telling gay people that they could just keep quiet about their sexuality;
  • Cruel and degrading treatment of young asylum seekers like Janipher Maseko
At least the coalition has ended child detention but there is a huge way to go to building a fair, humane immigration system. In many ways, such as the almost impossible income requirements for many British citizens to meet if they marry someone from outside the EU, it's got even worse than it was under Labour.

I think that we need to think of some imaginative way of protesting against these billboards. On the Lib Dem Voice comment thread, Duncan Stott mentioned an idea he'd seen on Twitter - that there be a mass text in to the number at some unspecified time. 

Then we need to think about what we can do at Conference.An emergency motion seems like a good idea. There will be an immigration paper and probable row at Spring Conference, but there's no reason why we can't put forward a motion against this specific abomination now. 

Any other ideas?

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