The Home Office's ‘advice sessions’ expose the sinister trickery of the hostile environment

Melissa Chemam

2019 has seen Britain become an increasingly hostile environment for immigrants.

A couple of cases struck me in particular. In August, Anna Amato, an Italian woman who has lived in the UK for 52 of her 55 years, was refused her settled status. Then in November, Hubert Howard died three weeks after being granted British citizenship – 59 years after arriving in UK as part of the Windrush generation.

Yet while these cases of outright refusal of legal status are well-known, what is less so are the many subtle and insidious ways the Home Office makes immigrants feel unwelcome and unsafe.

One of these ways was exposed on Monday, when the Financial Times reported on the work of the Home Office’s invitingly-named National Community Engagement Team (NCET).

According to the FT, NCET has been holding a number of “advice sessions” aimed at immigrants, and advertised as a “valuable opportunity to learn more about what support is available to local people who may feel they are in vulnerable circumstances”, such as “people who had been victims of modern slavery or other crimes.”

Yet the FT revealed that, rather than pointing these vulnerable people in the direction of help, these advice sessions were an opportunity for Home Office agents to urge illegal immigrants “to return to their home countries”. In other words, the government has been exploiting the very vulnerability it claimed to address in order to uproot migrants.

What is particularly galling is that many of these “advise sessions” – at least twenty of which have been held to date – have been held in places of worship. At one such event, a legal adviser told the FT that the NCET team “appeared to be using trusted and public community spaces to ‘trick’ vulnerable migrant victims of crime into making themselves known to immigration officials,” thus “corrupting spaces that should be safe for victims.”

Yet while shocking, NCET exemplifies the sinister, deceptive tactics that, in the twelve years I have been reporting on migration, I have seen used increasingly across the world. Take the hundreds who enrolled in the University of Farmington, a fake university created by the US Department of Homeland Security to apprehend people committing immigration fraud (up to 250 people have been deported as a result of the sting).

The case of the NCET shows how cruel our immigration system has become. Such cruelty will not prevent people from coming to the UK. It will simply make them more vulnerable while they are here. Many people come to Britain because they see our country as morally upstanding. The Home Office’s cheap trickery has proven them wrong.

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