I was an Immigration Officer for 20 years, for the latter 10 years working mainly in Enforcement in the South of England before I retired in late 2009. I spent countless hours in police stations interviewing illegal entrants – they came in the backs of lorries then – before ordering up the taxi to take them off to whatever accommodation was arranged for them.
I wasn’t allowed to detain them, even the most blatant liars – the likes of those self-proclaimed ‘Palestinians’ who didn’t have a clue about Palestine. Many was the time I wondered whether I was releasing another potential criminal into the community. Since retirement I have found the ongoing saga of immigration horror stories, and the inept responses of politicians, utterly depressing.
I was therefore agreeably surprised to read the SDP statement of immigration policy, which pretty much accords with the conclusions I have reached in the last few years: the Human Rights Act has been a disaster for the administration of immigration policy, so now may be the time to get rid of it.
When I worked at Heathrow in the early 1990s, what I have come to think of as the Great Asylum Scam was already under way, and the Home Office was unprepared for it. The complacency throughout the organisation was well illustrated by the Chief Immigration Officer, who, when I expressed concern at the growing number of cases, leaned back on this chair and told me that “it’s just the latest ploy – we’ve had MP’s representations, we’ve had Judicial Review. We’ve seen them off, we’ll see this off as well”. Meanwhile the piles of files in the back office grew daily, at that time mainly Zaireans (now Democratic Republic of Congo), proffering the flimsiest of stories for seeking asylum, supported by immigration advisors on whose probity and competence I perhaps should not comment.
Year after year the cases mounted up, defying all attempts to resolve them, each bout of new legislation serving only to enrich those immigration lawyers. Now “seeking asylum” appears to have become synonymous with “seeking a better life”, and most politicians and the mainstream media seem unwilling to challenge any hard-luck story or the notion that claims of hardship are sufficient reason to migrate to whichever country you choose.
Therefore it is, I feel, now entirely justified for the United Kingdom (or any Western country) to abolutely remove the illusion that gaining entry by whatever means and gaming the asylum system is going to be successful. Harsh that may be, but ultimately it would be much fairer to dissuade people from making the journey in the first place.
There are, after all, millions of refugees in the world, and while we should certainly help some, we can’t help all. What right have those who force their way in illegally to claim priority? The UK can fulfill its humanitarian obligations by accepting a quota of people whose identity and nationality is not in doubt (a very important requirement), and who are certified by the United Nations as being in need of international protection – and priority to be given to families, father mother and children, rather than the single young males who comprise the bulk of those who claim to need the UK’s help.
No need to consider asylum claims, no backlog, no appeals, no lawyers’ gravy train – all that would be gone, as those who come would already be accepted as refugees. They could be welcomed with every assistance, found jobs, housing and schools. Of course, there would always be arguments about the quota, which of necessity could only be small while the backlog is cleared, either by removing those unqualified to stay, or by an amnesty. However, no amnesty should even be considered unless the border is strictly enforced.
I’m sorry to say this, but the boats will continue to come until a rigorous regime of detention and swift removal is in place. Cries of “just send them back” ignore the logistical and legal obstacles to doing that. Simply forcing small boats in mid-channel to turn back is dangerous and arguably illegal, and long-standing International Conventions don’t oblige the French to accept the return of any travellers who left their shores unless they did so by scheduled services. Once they arrive on UK shores or are picked up in UK waters they are the UK’s problem.
Anyone refused entry to the UK at a port or airport can be removed either to the country of which they are a national or to the place where they embarked on a scheduled service. In the latter case, if they have no valid travel document, that is a problem for the authorities where they embarked. Overstayers or illegal entrants can be removed to their own country if they have a passport or one can be obtained for them.
The problem arises where the offender has no document and there is no easy means of verifying their identity, which I suspect is the case with most of the rubber dinghy arrivals – it certainly was with those who came in the backs of lorries in my day. There are many countries who decline to take their nationals back without a travel document and then refuse to issue one because they say the individual can not be identified.
The Home Office, as I discovered, has for a long time been utterly supine in accepting this from far too many countries. For example, Vietnamese is a unique language, spoken by no other nationality – so why, I ask, is it acceptable for the authorities there to insist on an exact identity for one of theirs? They could sort that out when he/she is back on native soil.
Remember the Morecambe Bay tragedy? I remember grinding my teeth as I watched the Immigration Minister on television offering mealy-mouthed excuses for the failure of police and immigration officers to follow up on the many reports of those illegal Chinese cockle-pickers. Of course they weren’t arrested. It would only have piled up another two dozen asylum cases for Mr. Blair, and they would have been back at work in a couple of days. What he should have said is that all those poor souls who drowned would still be alive if the Chinese Government took responsibility for its own citizens. They might be back in China, but they’d be alive.
I appreciate that it’s not always possible to ascertain someone’s nationality, and there may be problems about removing people to a war zone. In that case, there must be somewhere they can be sent – the essential point is that in no circumstances should anyone attempting illegal entry be released into the UK.
In that case, I believe that current government proposals to settle offenders in Rwanda are worth supporting, if they survive examination by the courts. Only when would-be illegal migrants are in no doubt that they have no prospect of a life in the UK will they stop coming. That is what I feel needs to be done in the short term, as longer-term policies – the SDP’s ideally – are put in place.