As we begin 2018, it is worth reflecting on the achievements of the Home Office over the past 12 months which resulted in many of its senior officials receiving honours from the Queen last week, including the heads of the Detained Casework and Returns Preparation and other members of the Border Force.
Here are 10 things that may have inspired their awards.
1. The Home Office continues to detain victims of torture and sexual violence
In October, the High Court ruled that hundreds of victims of torture had been detained unlawfully by the Home Office.
According to the Home Office policy on detaining ‘adults at risk’, abuse was only defined as ‘torture’ if it was committed by official state agents.
As a result, those tortured by traffickers, terrorists or other non-government forces could be held in detention even if expert medical evidence found the scars on their bodies to be consistent with their accounts of torture.
In November, it emerged that severely traumatised survivors of sexual violence were being routinely locked up at the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, in breach of the UK government’s own policy.
The Chief Inspector of prisons Peter Clarke expressed concern that in more than one case at Yarl’s Wood, the Home Office had refused, without explanation, to accept that rape came within the legal definition of torture.
2. The conditions in detention centres are deplorable
In March, it was reported that a disabled victim of trafficking in Yarl’s Wood detention centre was forced into a waist restraint belt attached to a long chain and dragged along “like a goat” when the Home Office tried to remove her from the UK.
In July, the Home Office was forced to admit it had acted unlawfully and breached the rights of a Kenyan asylum seeker by locking her up in segregation in a so-called “punishment room” for too long while she was in detention. The isolation unit in Yarl’s Wood contained no bedding and just a rusty toilet.
In September, BBC Panorama broadcast undercover footage of the mistreatment of detainees in Brook House detention centre near Gatwick airport.
The shocking scenes depicted staff at Brook House engaged in physical and verbal abuse of detainees.
A number of members of staff were dismissed and suspended in the wake of the documentary.
Many of the detainees have also commenced legal proceedings against the Home Office as a result.
The High Court prevented the Home Office deporting one of the men featured in the film on the same day that the programme was aired.
3. People are regularly dying whilst in immigration detention.
Tragically, 11 individuals died in immigration detention in 2017.
Almost all of the deaths were self-inflicted.
The majority have been EU nationals.
Nevertheless, the UK continues to be the only country in the EU that refuses to place a limitation on immigration detention.
Many continue to be detained for months and even years on end.
It is no surprise then that the death toll last year was the highest to date.
4. EEA nationals are being targeted for detention and deportation
As if to underline the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’, more and more EEA nationals were targeted last year by immigration enforcement.
Many EEA nationals convicted of relatively minor criminal offences found themselves in detention centres fighting deportation at the end of their sentences.
The Home Office has begun to routinely certify the appeals to enable them to implement the ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy.
An identical policy for non-EU nationals was struck down by the Supreme Court in June as being unlawful as it hindered a person’s ability to effectively present his appeal.
The Home Office continues to apply the policy to EEA nationals on the basis that they continue to enjoy the right to return to the UK to attend their appeals.
This of course fails to take into the account the formidable difficulties deportees have in instructing lawyers and preparing a case from abroad.
5. Homelessness charities have been assisting the Home Office to detain and deport rough sleepers.
In March, a report by Corporate Watch found that a number of homelessness charities had been referring foreign nationals living on the street to the Home Office, leading to their removal from the UK.
The report found that outreach teams from charities St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and Change, Grow, Live (CGL) conducted regular joint “visits” with Immigration Enforcement officers, as often as fortnightly in central boroughs.
Outreach teams also routinely passed on locations of non-UK rough sleepers to Immigration Enforcement.
In August, Liberty revealed that the Home Office had a secret data-sharing arrangement with the Greater London Authority, allowing it access to a map monitoring and locating rough sleepers based on nationality.
6. The Home Office policy of detaining and deporting rough sleepers was unlawful.
The policy which began in 2016 was premised on the assumption that homeless EU nationals were abusing their freedom of movement rights by coming to the UK with the intention of sleeping rough.
The High Court disagreed and in December ruled the policy to be unlawful, ordering it to be ended immediately.
It is unclear whether the aforementioned charities will continue to report rough sleepers to the Home Office in light of the ruling.
7. The NHS, schools, and the banking sector all became part of the ‘hostile environment’
Theresa May’s policy of making Britain a ‘hostile environment’ for foreign nationals gained considerable momentum in the past 12 months.
The year began with news that the confidential patient records of more than 8000 people were handed over by the NHS to the Home Office in 2016 as part of its drive to track down immigration offenders.
Department of Health figures show that the Home Office made 8,127 requests for patient details in the first eleven months of 2016, which led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration enforcement.
This has naturally led to a reluctance of foreign nationals with serious medical problems to seek help from doctors and hospitals.
In March, the Guardian reported how hundreds of pregnant women without legal status are avoiding seeking NHS antenatal care because of growing fears that they will be reported to the Home Office or face high medical bills.
Since September 2016, the Department of Education has asked parents to supply the nationality details of individual pupils enrolled in state schools in England, as part of the termly school census.
While parents are not legally obliged to supply the information, reports that the data was regularly passed onto the Home Office and police led the National Union of Teachers passing a motion at its annual conference condemning the policy.
Banks and building societies are now also being required every three months to carry out immigration status checks on every current account in Britain against a Home Office-supplied database of people of interest.
They will be required to close the accounts of those whose names are identified as disqualified persons on the database.
8. Foreign nationals were arrested for reporting crimes to the police
In March, a pregnant woman who reported being kidnapped and raped was arrested on immigration charges while being cared for at a centre for sexual assault victims.
In July, a Polish man Miroslaw Zieba was detained and is facing deportation after calling the police following an assault by his landlord and others on him and his wife.
Both were forcibly evicted at knifepoint from their home in the early hours of the morning.
It beggars belief that we are now living in a society where foreign nationals should be apprehensive about reporting crimes to the police out of fear of being detained and deported themselves.
Cases like this will not only send shockwaves throughout communities within the UK but they are also likely to be perceived by criminals as a green light for them to target foreign nationals who may be too afraid to report the crime to the authorities.
This is the sadly predictable result of Theresa May’s attempts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for foreign nationals in Britain.
9. The Home Secretary believes that she is Above the Law
2017 was the year when it became apparent that the Home Secretary Amber Rudd seemed to believe that she was above the law.
In August, a high court judge expressed deep concern about Amber Rudd’s behaviour in failing to release a survivor of torture from detention despite repeated court orders requiring her to do so.
In September, the courts ordered Ms Rudd on no less than three occasions to return Samim Bigzad from Afghanistan, after he was deported following the refusal of his asylum claim.
Bigzad fled to the UK after being targeted by the Taliban for working on US construction projects in Kabul.
Rudd refused to comply with the courts orders on all three occasions, only returning him to the UK after the Court of Appeal issued a fourth order for Bigzad’s return.
Such repeated disregard for the rulings of the higher courts should have led to Rudd’s dismissal. In the current climate, she may even get promoted.
10. The Home Office is making profits of up to 800% on application fees
In April, fees for Home Office applications increased once again bringing the cost of regularising one’s stay in the UK beyond the means of many average income families.
In September, an analysis by the Guardian revealed how the Home Office is making profits of up to 800% on such applications .
The analysis showed a vast discrepancy between how much it costs the government to process each immigration application and the fee it charges applicants.
For example, since April the fee to apply for indefinite leave to enter for a vulnerable adult dependent relative has been set at £3,250. It costs the Home Office £423 to process the application.
The Home Office charges £2,297 for an application for indefinite leave to enter or remain, a rise of 22.5% on 2016-17. It only costs £252 to process each application.
This has made it virtually impossible for foreign nationals to pay for their applications to remain in the UK, which is not only unreasonable but according to the above analysis, it is also completely unnecessary.
Well deserved honours then from the Queen!
Roll on 2018.
Visadreams.com, Diary of an Immigration Lawyer, is a blog run by Fahad Ansari, the director and principal solicitor of Riverway Law, a niche UK immigration and nationality law practice based in London. If you would like any advice or assistance in relation to your immigration matter, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your details here.