Last time I checked, the United Kingdom wasn’t a police state. Enshrined in our laws, and our unwritten constitution, is the fact that citizens can go about their business within the country without the fear of arbitrary arrest or the need to tell police or the government where they are or why.
Yes, we have had a slow erosion of some civil liberties since terrorism has become a ‘real’ threat to this country. Yes, police stop and search powers have made life very difficult for young black men that may or may not be suspected of doing something they should not. However, the worst excesses of government have usually been defeated, either in Parliament or by public opinion. Remember the Blair Government’s first defeat in Parliament? That was over 90 day detention without charge. ID Cards, the Snooper’s Charter, derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights – all these have been beaten by public opinion. For the good of British citizens, and foreign nationals that are residing in the UK.
However, take a look at the official Twitter Feed of the Home Office, and you might think otherwise. On a regular basis, tweets attempting to divide the country, and strike fear into the hearts of citizens and foreign nationals emanate from this account. Below are just a couple:
Do these seem like the reasonable tweets of a government department to you? How about the recent leaflet drops and advertising, on the back of a van no less, in six London boroughs with scary threats to people in the UK illegally to go home or be arrested. Or, the fact that in the past few days, UK Border Agency officers have been posted at tube stations in these boroughs to check the immigration status of anyone that might look a little different to the standard white British person, somewhat heavy-handidly apparently. That’s plain racial profiling, and that’s appalling.
Now, I know, the people in the UK illegally have broken the law. As a defender of the rule of law, I understand that they should be removed from the country (although I’m one of the few people I know that believe wholly in the free movement of people and see border laws as kind of ridiculous). However, is it really necessary for us to do so in such a demeaning, degrading and scary way. There is absolutely no need to tweet pictures of people being arrested, nor is it tolerable to me to describe people solely as ‘Illegal Immigrants’ or, as the new hashtag seems to be, #immigrationoffenders. These are people. They are not illegal. They are human. I seem to remember there being a thing called innocent until proven guilty. That the Home Office seems to be making decisions without fair trial, or due legal process, is dangerous.
I know. It’s incredibly important to the Conservative party that they show themselves to be tough on immigration (even Labour are trying to outdo them!). It’s important that the Tories don’t lose a whole swathe of voters to UKIP. In fact, I suppose I’d rather have Tories in power – with a good few moderate MPs – than a party that generally wants ALL immigrants to go home, doesn’t like same-sex marriage and wants to leave the EU completely. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem for the UK. However, there are a few unintended consequences to this action (or perhaps intended?).
This country succeeds because of immigration. We wouldn’t be anywhere without it. Treating anyone that looks different to us as possible ‘illegals’ might make it less likely for those deemed ‘good’ to come to the UK, perhaps harming our economy, our care homes and our NHS. Tourism might take a hit, with people from across the world realising they are unwelcome in the UK, even if it is just to come on holiday and spend their money, helping boost the economy of towns and cities that might need it. British citizens that might have a different skin colour, speak a different language or even worship a different religion may be more likely to be harassed by police and immigration officers, and begin to feel unwelcome in a country that is definitely their own.
Let’s also take a moment to think about the people that are in this country illegally. Perhaps they are escaping from countries where they are threatened or abused, and our tough asylum system has failed them. Perhaps they have come to earn a little money to send back to their families in countries that need our help. Maybe these are people that have been in the UK for years, forming families and relationships that are destroyed by our treatment of them. Those here illegally cannot access the benefits UK citizens can, they are almost always paid a cripplingly low wage, and live in fear on a daily basis. Maybe we should do something to help them, help them to live as dignified human beings, rather than arresting them, tweeting their pictures, and revelling in their arrest.
I am disgusted by the tweets from the Home Office. Many on Twitter are appalled too. But there’s something much more sinister going on underneath when institutions that are supposed to work for you, like the police, the government and the UK Border Agency, can treat people in such inhumane and degrading ways.