UK should end demonization of immigrants amid labor shortage
It may be a simplistic observation, but it is often not mentioned: A politician whose parents were migrants is today working to bolster the UK’s broken asylum system to curb new arrivals’ entry to the UK.
Interior Minister Suella Braverman, whose Indian-origin parents migrated to the UK in the 1960s, is also using a simplistic formula to defend the new law she has tabled in Parliament. She says there has been “too much” immigration and the country is facing an “invasion” by migrants. Braverman is also attacking opposition parties and other people who have been vocal in saying that her new plan, just like her Conservative Party’s past policies, is unworkable, difficult to apply and simply an electioneering stance aimed at boosting the party’s chances in the next general election.
In other words, she is appealing to those British people who are sensitive to any foreigners’ presence in the UK, despite the shortages and broken services in many economic sectors as a result of the Conservatives’ Brexit deal, which did not factor in the exit of the country’s large European workforce. This has left many businesses and services starved of skilled and unskilled labor, frustrating the government’s attempts to get the economy growing again.
The Illegal Migration Bill, which is designed to “Stop the Boats,” had its second reading in Parliament early this week. It aims to reduce the number of people entering Britain irregularly on small boats, which last year exceeded 45,000, up 500 percent on two years ago. Many come from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq. The new legislation will permit the arrest of asylum-seekers who arrive on small boats, as well as their detention without the right to bail for at least 28 days. They will then be “swiftly” deported to their native country if it is deemed safe or to a third country based on a unilateral agreement often paid for by British taxpayers.
Braverman’s efforts have been criticized by various “naive do-gooders,” as she described them, with TV celebrities and others becoming entangled in the saga. The national broadcaster, the BBC, was also dragged into the fray of the debate. It has often been accused by consecutive right-wing Conservative governments of lacking impartiality. The home secretary has also attacked those who have reminded her of her origins, saying that she has been subjected to “grotesque slurs” and that she refuses to be patronized on what views are appropriate for someone of her background.
Many businesses and services are starved of skilled and unskilled labor, frustrating the government’s attempts to get the economy growing again.
Contrary to Braverman’s allegations, the UK receives far fewer immigrants than many other European countries. But it has suffered from a chronic failure to tailor and implement a clear and workable migration system over the years due to a variety of moral failures and commercial interests. Britain’s asylum system is riddled with loopholes that unscrupulous businessmen and people smugglers alike have been milking for material benefit, such as by charging large fees to transport people illegally or the money earned from housing asylum-seekers.
Shipwrecks, the threat of drowning, wild animals, criminals gangs, getting lost in a jungle or even being met by hostile legislation, as is the case in Britain, has not deterred many people from taking their chance to seek better opportunities and a chance to be employed, or from fleeing civil strife, open wars or corrupt and dysfunctional states. Others have fallen prey to geostrategic efforts aimed at blackmailing Western countries through weaponizing immigration. For example, Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto this week claimed that Russian Wagner Group mercenaries operating in some African countries have been fueling irregular migration toward Europe as a way of hitting back at the nations supporting Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
In this complex landscape, where the geopolitical is impacting the national and domestic, the UK is no different in its attempt to rethink its position to meet new adversities. But London ought to listen to the voices warning it against rushing into policies that will ultimately not work, as rejecting those that arrive on small boats outright and sending them back where they came from requires bilateral agreements or new conventions to organize those returns.
As a result of Brexit, the UK has lost its access to the Dublin Regulation that allows EU countries to return migrants to the first country they set foot in on arrival to the bloc. The resistance of migrants to comply with biometric registration might be the first obstacle that multilateral rules could help avoid in the journey toward getting a better grip of who to admit and who to reject.
The UK’s bilateral deal with France to increase law enforcement on the French side of the Channel is unlikely to alone deter small boats or offer a long-term solution. Neither is the Rwanda deal or similar agreements struck with a few countries, coupled with financial arrangements paid for by the British taxpayer. Studies and expert reports have all been warning about labor shortages and, if we are to trust this government and its interest in encouraging economic growth, streamlining immigration should be its first priority. That would allow it to serve society and the economy instead of continuously using anti-immigration rhetoric for short-term electioneering reasons, while spoiling social cohesion in a country where more than 16 percent of the population were born abroad, according to data from the 2021 census.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.