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February 2002

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NEWS ANALYSIS

 

EDITOR'S CHOICE   

 

Will Blair Outdo Idi Amin?

 

The British Home Office plans to send back numbers that could run into hundreds of thousands, officials have indicated.

 

By Samanta Sen 

 

A White Paper being prepared by Britain's Home Office aims to send back potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants.

The British government plans to start sending back about 2,500 a week almost as soon as the operation is launched early in the year, officials say.


Because of its very nature there are no reliable estimates of the population of illegal migrants in Britain. But one figure citing Home Office estimates has put the figure around a million. The Home Office plans to send back numbers that could run into hundreds of thousands, officials have
indicated.

If even a substantial fraction of that number is sent back, the scale of this forced exodus would dwarf the expulsion of Asians by Idi Amin from Uganda in 1972.

The Home Office hopes to flush illegal workers out partly through their employers. Under present law an employer faces up to 10 years imprisonment for employing illegal labour. But the law has rarely been enforced. Under the proposals to be made in February the law will be actively enforced, and the punishment for employers hiring illegal migrants will be raised from 10 years
to 14 years imprisonment.

We need to start getting much tougher with them, Blunkett said at a meeting at the Foreign Policy Centre last week. I'm intending to send a signal to those who feel theres nothing evil about the way in which they take and use the lives of others, often exploiting them when they are here, having
got them here illegally claiming neither nationality nor asylum status.

Blunkett has been going public with several of the proposals in the White Paper on Asylum, Immigration and Citizenship. There is little opposition to the proposals from either the opposition parties or by the mainstream public.


The only opposition comes from some immigration groups and the illegal workers themselves. The proposals have shaken families of these migrants from the Indian sub-continent. Hundreds of thousands of South Asians have settled in Britain illegally.

I have no papers here, a restaurant worker from Southall told IPS. But I have two sons age 10 and 12, he said. They were born here, so does that make them illegal as well?

It does, unless at least one of the parents has legal status. Under British law residence will be allowed in such cases only if someone has been living in Britain despite illegal entry for more than 14 years. The number of people who have entered Britain illegally over the past 14 years is itself
reported to be in hundreds of thousands.

South Asians feel particularly vulnerable because they can easily be spotted from their skin colour. Also, they are concentrated in some localities, and in just a few professions like catering and retail trade. According to Blunkett as many as 60 per cent of the work force in Britains
catering business is illegal.

It is very unfortunate that the Secretary of State is talking about targets for sending people back, Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) told IPS. The government should instead adopt a pragmatic and humane approach.

People who have been working and are filling a need should be regularised in their jobs rather than sent back, he said. People have come because of all sorts of circumstances, and they have nowhere to go back to, he said. The government will cause great human misery by this move.

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, says many illegal workers are filling a need for both skilled and unskilled labour. If you simply crackdown on the employees without tackling the question of demand, you will not solve the problem, he says.

Migrant workers from South Asia entered Britain legally until the end of the fifties. But they have continued to enter Britain illegally for more than 40 years now. The number of illegal arrivals is reported to have risen dramatically over the last decade.

It is only over the last year or so that the British authorities have toughened entry controls and maritime patrolling. That has still not stopped the flow. We know of people coming here on boats, in buses, in trucks all the time, an immigration lawyer from Birmingham told IPS.

Over recent years the largest number of illegal migrants caught have been from the Balkans and from Eastern and Central Europe. But these people have found it much easier to merge into the mainstream, the lawyer said.
 
The Home Office proposes to employ new staff to form hit squads that will raid suspect hideouts to round up illegal workers. Besides catering these squads will zero in on construction, clothes manufacturing, agriculture and also IT.