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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Labour: please change the focus, and conversation, on UK immigration

The new UK government's first step on immigration policy has been encouraging. Its second - or at least its statements regarding it - has been less so.

Here, we offer some advice to the UK's new Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, her department, and her government: stop talking about immigration as if it's a security issue, improve the immigration system's efficiency and humanity, and massively reduce deaths at sea, by providing transport for people who want to travel to the UK.

Last Thursday (4 July), thanks largely to the Right-wing being split for the first time in UK history, the Labour Party took power in the country.

Unlike other services, we make no pretence or attempt to hide our political position: the Labour Party in its current form is nowhere near as Left-wing as we would desire, or as the UK needs at present to deliver what the country deserves.

On the other hand, there is almost no doubt that what Labour will deliver is a period of competent government, carried out by people who want to govern well.

While their targets fall far short of what the country needs, they are also far better than what has happened in the 14 years preceding this election: a succession of Tory governments led and run by incompetents and those seeking to line the pockets of their friends at the direct expense of the state and those who live within it.

With this in mind, we set out an open letter to the UK's new Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, on immigration.

Ms. Cooper,

A few days into its administration, it's worth saying that the new Labour government's dismissal of the Tories' sickening, unworkable and illegal Rwanda 'plan' is extremely encouraging. It is good that you ditched it so swiftly and so publicly.

But we must also note that it is concerning that you and your government, like its predecessor, seem obsessed with the role of 'people smugglers' in your approach to reducing the number of people trying to reach the UK in small boats.

As advice, Ms Cooper, we would offer the following points:

1) The number of people arriving by small boats in the last five years (85,000 people in 2018-23, about 17,000 people per year) is higher than that in, for example 2010-15, not because the UK is facing a 'crisis' but because other routes by which people could have arrived - some irregular but also all regular routes - have been closed by the Tories.

2) This in itself demonstrates why plans to 'tighten border security' will always fail.

When one route closes, people do not give up, they find another route.

We ask and strongly advise you, Ms. Cooper, your department and your government to cease looking at this as an issue of 'security'. 'Tightening borders' and pretending previous governments have not tried or have been bad at the same simply will not deliver the solutions the country needs.

3) On this subject, we must also cease thinking about this as an issue of 'security' because... it simply isn't one.

People are not coming to the UK to attack it: they are coming to find safe places to live, learn and work.

They aren't a threat, whether they are refugees or so-called 'economic migrants' (we also ask you, Ms. Cooper to remember that 'economic migrant' is not a negative term: these are people who may have been forced to travel by the threat of starvation, lack of clean water threatening health, and/or lack of access to affordable medicine threating their or their families' lives. Equally, they want to earn money, to work. This is in no way a negative thing. We need people who want to contribute).

4) Given the above, we ask you to work as hard as you, your department, and your government possibly can to move away from terms invoking 'war' and 'defence' or even crime and 'security', and instead to consider and talk about the positives of having people, including young people, who wish to be here to live, learn and work, and - we of course wish to be reasonable and to acknowledge the work which must be done - the challenges of making a system of helping people who are entitled to be here to settle and succeed, as well as of ensuring everyone who enters gets a fair hearing based on their individual experience, both in terms of asylum and in terms of being alowed to stay for other reasons.

5) We do not object - indeed we welcome - initiatives to make contact with and begin the process of consideration of people's cases to live in the UK before they arrive.

This should, in fact, be a part of a process of providing safe and regular transport (regular in the sense of 'standard and openly-operated) to people who hope to reach the UK and make a case for being allowed to live in the country.

We absolutely must reopen regular routes to the UK, because without them, how can we even hope to reduce the number of people making irregular, very often unsafe, journeys?

But that 'contact and consideration' approach should exist solely as a part of that system of providing and operating regular routes and safe means of transport, not as part of an ill-conceived 'security' plan 'designed' to stop people from coming (which in any case realistically cannot be done, and is not legal or even beneficial to the UK).

6) Under such a system - of safe, decent, affordable (or free) transport for people who need it - a measure which will at a stroke wipe out almost all irregular channel crossings in small boats - you will also deliver the immediate benefit of knowing who is travelling, why, and where and when they will arrive.

You will create jobs for those who were laid off under the Tory Party's deliberate and cynical prgramme to cast the entire UK asylum and immigration system into crisis - either because of its economic fundamentalist view that the government 'should not interfere' even in making sure the country can operate effectively, or in order to manufacture a 'crisis' (which was not backed at all by the numbers of people arriving) in order to make draconian, vicious and immoral attacks on ordinary men, women and children seem 'proportionate' or 'necessary', and you will create more jobs beside.

7) This - a system in which we cooperate with our international allies and partners to find and communicate with people travelling for a variety of reasons, we provide them with safe, regularly-operated, affordable (or free) transport to reach the UK, entering via monitored entry-points, and we give every person who arrives a fair opportunity to demonstrate why and whether they should be entitled to remain and contribute (whether under international refugee or any other law) - is what we believe you sincerely want: a system which operates competently, in which 'irregular arrivals' are reduced to tiny numbers, and in which men, women and children are treated with dignity and respect in a safe and fair process, operated with care as well as attention to detail.

We ask you to consider these recommendations in the sense of respect and hoped-for cooperation in which we make them. We welcome any moves towards their realisation, as well as any comments and discussion as part of the process of making this happen.


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