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Avoiding healthcare, avoiding travel and keeping their heads down

PETER LAZENBY talks to Manchester lawyers about the upsurge in BAME people contacting them afraid of accessing services or having any government contact due to its hostile immigration policy

“ONE lady avoids going to see a doctor even though she is sick. She fears being charged for healthcare.

“One gentleman who planned to go to Jamaica to his father’s funeral was advised by the travel agent not to go in case he was refused entry on return. The travel agent was aware of other people who had faced these problems. The man didn’t travel.”

These are just two cases taken up in recent days at Greater Manchester Law Centre in Moss Side involving victims of the government’s “hostile environment” policy towards immigrants.

They are among hundreds of others involving frightened people, many of whom have lived and worked in Britain for decades, who are turning in desperation to law centres up and down Britain.

They have prompted a leading barrister specialising in immigration law to call for the abolition of the 1981 British Nationality Act and replace it with a non-discriminatory citizenship law.

Meanwhile, Norma Turner, a member of Greater Manchester Law Centre’s management committee, sees daily the fear created by government’s hostile environment towards immigrants, including the two cases above.

“Another lady, although well past retirement age, is taking cleaning jobs rather than ask if she can claim pension credits,” she said. 

“This is money which she is entitled to claim as she has paid her national insurance contributions all her working life.

“The hostile immigration environment has created a culture of fear within black communities. This, together with the lack of free legal advice services, means that people are not receiving the support they have worked for and is their right.

“People have been frightened for several years and prefer to keep under the radar of services in case they face problems that they have heard other people have faced,” Turner says. “Most of these people are elderly and working class.”

Law centre manager Sukhdeep Singh says: “The general line from virtually everyone who has contacted us has been that they have been afraid to travel abroad because they have been told by other people that if they travel they will not be allowed back in.

“Most of them have also said that they have been keeping their heads down as they all know people who have had problems with their status.”

One man returned to Britain from a holiday in Spain and was grilled by immigration officials. When his passport was eventually returned to him it was stamped “visitor.”

“He has not travelled since,” says Singh.

Barrister John Nicholson is chair of the Greater Manchester Law Centre and specialises in immigration law. He was one of the motivating forces that led to the opening of the centre in 2016, after dozens of others closed down due to the government’s attacks on legal aid funding.

He believes the situation in Manchester is almost certainly being repeated across the country.

That was confirmed by Julie Bishop of the national Law Centre Network, which brings together law centres across Britain.

They held a meeting on Friday. “At the meeting, a number of law centres said that it is more than Windrush but also younger family members who came later, Ugandans who came in the late ’70s for example,” Bishop says.

“Certainly the fear is what will happen if someone needs to access a service or even contact the helpline. They don’t trust what will happen.

“The helpline is not staffed by the Home Office but outsourced. They merely take your details and pass them on to the Home Office.

“They will not tell you anything without taking details and do not say how those details will be used. So the helpline is useless because people are scared to give details and will not do so.”

Nicholson says: “Racism has always been used to divide and rule. Half a century of immigration laws in this country have reinforced this — Indian against West Indian, African against Australian, ‘good’ — often white — migrants against ‘bad’ migrants.

“The scandal that has come to light affecting the Windrush generation is appalling. We should support all those both directly and indirectly affected. 

“Unusually on immigration, the public is on our side. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of poor Home Office decisions — there are ‘foreign national prisoners’ facing double punishment of prison and deportation, and even ‘deport first, appeal later.’

“Children who have been born here with elderly dependent relatives were described by one Home Office representative as ‘low-hanging fruit’ — in other words easy to round up and remove.

“And now the Home Office is saying it cannot deal with other cases on time because it is too busy clearing up its own mess over Windrush.”

Nicholson says the government’s victims deserve justice, legal aid and compensation.

“We want clear information for all those worried — our local law centre based in Moss Side is receiving dozens of inquiries from those in the community who don’t want to ring the Home Office for clarification in case the first response, as usual, is to refuse and possibly remove.

“And most of all we want a political solution, not just calling for the Home Secretary to ‘do the honourable thing.’ Who would she be replaced by?

“We need a new government committed to repeal of the immigration laws which are inherently racist.

“Why not start with a commitment to repeal the 1981 British Nationality Act and replace it with a citizenship law that does not discriminate against either women or black and Asian Britons, as promised by Labour in its 1983 general election manifesto?

“No-one is illegal.”

 

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