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The Fallacy of The British Government's Stance on Undocumented Migrants


Monday, October 8, 2007.


By Keith Best


Benjamin Disraeli spoke of two nations more than one hundred years ago. In today's Britain, we are faced with a grave division in our country of equal significance: those who have full access to the attributes of a civilised society and the dispossessed.


It is storing up a fracture in the community which will have serious consequences in social cohesion unless it is addressed by the British Government.


Neither the Government nor the Opposition are committed to dealing sensibly with the estimated 500,000 illegal migrant workers in our midst nor the plight of failed asylum seekers.


Overstayers and migrant workers without papers will continue to be exploited by unscrupulous employers and the gangs unless there is a mechanism whereby they can be given a legal status.


By demonstrating that they have been for some time and are continuing to make an economic contribution to the UK and that they have not otherwise contravened the criminal law they should be encouraged to come forward and be given a limited leave to remain, renewable so long as those circumstances persist.


The Government knows that they cannot remove many of these people even if they could apprehend them. Moreover, the cost of removing them all would amount to some £5 billion (NAO figures based on each removal costing at least £11,000). That does not appear anywhere in the Government’s financial calculations. It is disingenuous, therefore, to pretend that this is an option.


If the Government cannot remove them and will not regularise their stay then this inaction itself is complicity in building an increasing underclass with serious consequences for society as a whole.


There is the plight of some 300,000 failed asylum seekers many of whom cannot be removed to their countries of origin not because they are unwilling to go but because they are unable due to the state of civil war or disturbance or are from a state that even the Prime Minister accepts are dangerous for their citizens.


They have no status and are in legal limbo. They are not allowed to work despite their ability and desire to do so. They, too, need to be given a status if they are from such countries and should be allowed to work and earn their living for themselves and their families until such time as it is safe for them to go home.


Jacqui Smith MP, the Home Secretary acknowledges the problem of the growing number of foreign women trafficked into the UK for prostitution but her response is to state that they cannot rely on not being deported because it could draw others into the UK – the so-called “pull” factor.


This is both illogical and dangerous. It is dangerous because it indicates that the Government is not prepared to do all it can to stop this trade in misery as it will not encourage such women to come forward to help prosecute those who perpetrate this outrage – the traffickers themselves.


It is illogical because it indicates that the Government believes that others may wish to be trafficked for the purposes of illegal entry – yet most of these women, some only young girls, have been tricked into coming to the UK with false promises of jobs and other benefits.


The Government needs to move beyond merely signing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which gives a period of recovery and reflection and a right to work and remain if necessary for victims co-operate with the authorities on investigations.


As the Government has committed in its UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking to ratify the Convention when the required legislative and process changes are in place we look to them to do that without delay and make such protection a reality for these unfortunate victims.


Keith Best is the head of Immigration Advisory Service - a Charity working for the welfare of migrants


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