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UK Government's lack of regard for Equality and Human Rights shows in the treatment of displaced people

Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak’s government announced on X (formerly Twitter) that it has managed to “clear the backlog of asylum claims”, delivering on one of Rishi Sunak’s pledges that was made when he moved into 10 Downing Street (X, 2024). They claim to have cleared over 112,000 cases in their plan to “stop the boats” (X, 2024). According to Home Office figures, reported by the BBC, there are still 4,500 cases waiting for a decision to be made (BBC, 2024). The Home office have also said that they have reduced “by 50” the number of hotels which have been used to house asylum seekers (X, 2024). Many are celebrating this ‘achievement’ in furthering the UK’s current hostile immigration policy, one that is rooted in xenophobia and discrimination, however we at the Equality Act Review question what this acceleration in decision making has meant in reality for the people that each of these cases represent?


The UK’s current immigration strategy is toeing the line of international ethics. There has been widespread recognition of the fact that the current Conservative Government is implementing policies which are breaching the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory and therefore legally bound to carry out (UNHDR, 1948). One clear example of this can be seen in the scandal of the Bibby Stockholm, the Home Office’s latest attempt to cut costs and enforce asylum seekers into a state of nothingness at the expense of removing the rights of asylum seekers. The barge, located in Dorset, has not only broken international health standards when Legionella Bacteria was found in the barges water supply in 2023, but is such a dire and dehumanising place to live, that an asylum seeker was forced to take his own life. Leonard Farruku committed suicide on the barge, on the 12th December 2023, having previously mentioned that he needed support whilst living on the barge due to suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as many displaced persons do, drawing attention to the catastrophic conditions in which people onboard are being forced to reside. The barge has incredibly cramped quarters, essentially incarcerating those forced to live there, who will have their agency stripped from them and be obliged to live as the Home Office demands. The Government’s contempt for asylum seekers is shown in the escalation of the story, where the Government are refusing to release Mr Farruku’s body to his family, unless they raise funds to repatriate the body (BBC, 2024). This is fundamentally inhumane.


The Home Office’s own impact report, which has since been deleted and a statement issued claiming an error in publication, shows that the Bibby Stockholm breaches the Equality Act 2010 on grounds of gender and sex, as it is a confinement for men between the ages of 18 and 65. Furthermore, the Home Office has made claims that no one who has been subject to serious mental health issues as a result of trauma would be made to live on the Barge, when in fact may modern slavery and torture survivors were among those first incarcerated on the barge (Euro Med Human Rights Monitor, 2024). This is reducing men within these ages to far worse conditions of survival than their female or non binary counterparts, showing an inherently rudimentary understanding of asylum seeker needs and instead using gender as a way to stereotype an asylum seekers personality. Instead of viewing these men as the vulnerable population group that they are, the government is adamant on perceiving them as dangerous ‘terrorists’ who pose a threat to the safety of the naturalised UK population, the stereotype with which migrant men are so often seen in the mainstream media.


We, at the Equality Act Review, have long advocated for the reformation of the Equality Act 2010 to include immigration status as a protected characteristic. This would ensure that the quality of life of displaced individuals, an inherently vulnerable population, will have their equality and human rights protected as they should be entitled, instead of continually diminished (Equality Act Review, 2021). We also advocate that this characteristic is viewed intersectionality with other protected characteristics such as health and gender, so that the depth of support many asylum seekers need to get their lives back on track can be provided.


Furthermore, there has been international recognition for the damage to human rights within the UK that Sunak’s Government is causing through this discriminatory migration strategy. We have previously written about the ‘Anti Refugee Bill’ or the Illegal Migration Bill, but in 2023, the Illegal Migration Act was put into action with the Government moving closer and closer to deporting displaced peoples to Rwanda (Equality Act Review, 2023). This piece of legislation makes the fundamental assumption that any asylum seeker who arrives in the UK through unconventional means, is not an asylum seeker and should therefore be deported (Home Office, 2024). This fails to take into account the reality of forced displacement, where the majority of those forced to leave their homes are to do so without funds, identification, or worldly possessions. Instead, the government has decided that these people will either be returned to their unsafe and war torn homes or to a developing nation like Rwanda. While Sunak’s Government claims this is a safe country, we cannot overlook that Rwanda has its own internal political issues, which led to a genocide in recent history. It is concerning that the Government is content in ignoring the cries of the international community, its allies and its own legal system, that has deemed this scheme illegal and unethical in the highest of UK courts. In adopting our proposed changes to the Equality Act, bills such as the Illegal Migration Act, where someone’s immigration status is the cause of such dehumanising discrimination, would be stopped and the disregard for human life which is currently on the UK’s hands could be rectified.


It must be noted that the Government's hostile immigration policy extends beyond that of asylum seekers, however economic migrants have a privilege that many asylum seekers don’t: money. Sunak’s Government recently announced that any migrants, who want to work in the UK, must have a salary of £38,000 as of Spring 2024. The average salary for a University graduate in the UK is £33,229 (Target Jobs, 2024). Even UK nationals educated to the highest levels would be ineligible to live in the UK under this scheme. Allowing asylum seekers, or any migrant, to be treated with such contempt is a threat to us all whether we are a migrant or not (University of Birmingham, 2023). By allowing the rights of those in need to be diminished, we are opening ourselves up to becoming culpable in the crimes against humanity committed by a Government founded in our name. It’s time we stopped standing on the shoulders of those below us and simultaneously cutting them down. It’s time to advocate for humanity.


References:

University of Birmingham (2023) ‘ Bibby Stockholm - another cruel twist in the UK’s asylum policy?’. Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/2023/bibby-stockholm-an-cruel-twist-in-uk-asylum-polic (Accessed: 02/01/2024)


BBC (2024) ‘Bibby Stockholm: Migrant's family 'can't afford' to repatriate body, sister says’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-67865224 (Accessed 02/01/2024).


BBC (2024) ‘Bibby Stockholm: Asylum Seeker, 27, who died on barge identified as Leonard Farruku’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67751815 (Accessed: 02/01/2024)


The Times (2024) ‘Home Office removes Bibby Stockholm discrimination report’. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/home-office-removes-bibby-stockholm-discrimination-report-pbpv9g58z (Accessed 02/01/2024).


UK Government (2024) ‘Illegal Migration Act 2023’. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/illegal-migration-bill (Accessed: 02/01/2024)


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2024) ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/universal-declaration-of-human-rights (Accessed: 02/01/2024).


Euro Med Human Rights Monitor (2024) ‘Prison-like Bibby Stockholm “death trap” barge is UK’s latest move to torment asylum seekers’. Available at: https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/5782/Prison-like-Bibby-Stockholm-“death-trap”-barge-is-UK’s-latest-move-to-torment-asylum-seekers (Accessed: 02/02/2024).


Equality Act Review (2024) ‘Suella Braverman’s ‘Anti-Refugee’ Bill shows we need to protect Immigration Status in equality act’. Available at: https://www.equalityactreview.co.uk/post/suella-braverman-s-anti-refugee-bill-shows-the-need-to-protect-immigration-status-in-equality-act (Accessed: 02/01/2024).


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