If Boris Johnson has his way, at midnight on 31 October we will leave the EU, deal or no deal. This looming date dominates the news, but dramatic changes to the UK’s refugee policy will come into place the following day, on 1 November, and have received little attention.
In the case of a no deal Brexit on 31 October, the UK’s new policy will come into effect to prevent applications from asylum seeking children who wish to be reunited with their relatives.
In a bid to deflect attention away from such a significant policy change, last week the government triumphantly announced a reform of the UK’s migration system — student visas will be extended to allow graduates to remain job-seeking in the UK for two years after they complete their degree. It is important to note that this reform is purely economically driven. The 40,000 overseas students who study in the UK contribute £26 billion to the British economy every year, in addition to their payment of higher international tuition fees. It seems the UK government hopes to present Britain as a more enticing destination, but for a specifically targeted socio-economic group.
Such a gesture of goodwill does not extend to the actual refugees for whom the UK should be a beacon of sanctuary, as the policies on family reunification demonstrate. At least we can rejoice in the understanding that our refugee system continues to be formed by economic imperative. Surely the only priority should be to help those in need of refuge.
The purposeful publication of the student visa reform misleads voters. But it is not only the current administration’s doing. Our public discourses on refugees and asylum seekers perpetuate a false consciousness. We are misleading ourselves, pretending to be an open and tolerant society. In reality, the government has been pursuing an actively hostile migration policy since 2012.
In 2015, during the European refugee crisis, the UK agreed to resettle 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in the UK. 3,000 became 480 and 480 has become 270. Not even a high court ruling, stating that the government had broken the law, was enough to make them accept more unaccompanied children.
It is hypocritical to express dismay or condemn the United State’s recent policy change of separating migrating children from their parents at the border US-Mexico border. As of 1 November, the UK’s immigration policy will officially do the same cruel practice. This reform will bring us into line with some of the most extreme immigration policies in the world, putting us in rank with Hungary, which cracked down on asylum and refugee rights in 2016. Whilst Brexit consumes the news, we are complicitly surrendering ourselves to an ever increasingly intolerant, unjust and hostile immigration system.
Image: Dunk via Flickr (Bansky mural in Clacton-on-sea)