Priti Patel's war on migrants concerning Scots

TAKE a walk down Glasgow[1]'s Duke Street, past the bustling Coia's cafe --- an Italian institution established in 1928 - round the corner and in this typical row of red sandstone tenements is the flat Marita Hoppe calls home. Originally from Greven, in the north west of Germany, she met and married a Scottish solider posted there and came back to Scotland[2] with him 34 years ago - so long ago in fact, that her original accent has softened and fused with an east-end Glaswegian one instead. For years she worked in the Kodak factory but was made redundant when it closed in 2004.

Now divorced, she's worked in the care sector too, but at 61 - though upbeat and optimistic about life - she is unable to work due to a cancer diagnosis. Once a week she calls her 90-year-old aunt, her only surviving relative back in Germany, and visits regularly for several weeks at time. She tries not to pay too much attention to politics - "I can't make head nor tail of it anymore" - but this week she's unnerved.

"I heard Priti Patel wants to end free movement for good, and all the rest," she says. "That was upsetting. It makes me worry, and I'm not meant to get stressed because it's not good for my condition. But what if I go to visit my auntie and I can't get back into the country?"

She still has a German passport and claims that due to her poor health[3] she can't afford the fees of GBP1330 to apply for UK citizenship, which would give her a UK passport. "I don't want to be British anyway," she says. "It's Scotland I've been living in most of my life." She's yet to apply for settled status and it sounds complicated to her. But, like many others, she is concerned that even when she does this will not provide proof when she crosses borders that Scotland is where she belongs. No physical document is provided (the letter sent to confirm settled status has been granted states categorically it is not evidence of leave to remain).

It suddenly feels, she says, like everything is collapsing. Her concerns are far from new. Since 17.4million people across the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, the end of free movement for European citizens here has been on the table.

Last month, the UK Government[4] was forced to make a U-turn on plans it had announced weeks before to end free movement with immediate effect on 31 October if the country left without a deal. Home Secretary Priti Patel was forced to accept the move was legally challengeable. Regardless, Patel's seemingly gleeful pledge at the Conservative[5] party conference left week not only to "end the free movement of people, once and for all" but to introduce "an Australian-style points based immigration system" has left a chill in Scottish communities.

For Robina Qureshi, director of charity Positive Action in Housing which supports refugees and destitute migrants - but who is also the Scottish-born child of Pakistani immigrants - the issue is personal as well as professional. "We have seen and heard this dog whistle routine from career politicians before - whip up racial hatred in order to scrape votes from the bottom of the barrel," she says. "The right wing is increasingly emboldened by this sort of rhetoric, and that racism inevitably filters down to street level and increases direct racism and attacks on minorities. "The message it sends to the people we work with - refugees, asylum seekers, EU nationals - is the same message the children of immigrants like myself got growing up in this country - we don't belong here and we should go "home".

"I was born here and that rhetoric still manages to sting. Out of touch politicians like Patel think they are appeasing the right-wing when they make these derogatory references to migrant communities, but they are offending me and every other tax payer of colour or a heritage other than "British". That's a lot of people who are being alienated by their hate speech."

Now the director of Scottish Refugee Council, Sabir Zazai - who escaped war in Afghanistan and claimed refugee status in the UK 20 years ago - is equally dumbfounded by the approach. "Has she forgotten that after the Second World War, it was people from black communities and ethnic minorities who came to the UK, set up businesses, worked in industries, helped rebuild the country?" he asks. "Doesn't she see that we are all on a shared journey?

This country wouldn't last a minute without people from migrant backgrounds, including people seeking refugee protection." He has other reason to be concerned. On Friday it emerged services helping refugees find homes, jobs, healthcare, and financial support previously funded by the EU will not be underwritten by the UK Government.

The Scottish Refugee Council is one of six charities which has written to the UK Government asking it to meet a huge gap in funding and says the services will otherwise be lost. According to John Vassiliou, a partner at Edinburgh[6] law firm McGill and Co, when you strip away the populist anti-immigration rhetoric, Patel's speech is not only offensive but "devoid of substance". Free movement is already heavily restricted, he adds, and awarded mostly to economically active people such as workers, self-employed workers and job-seekers, or self-sufficient people, or students.

Those who cannot prove this can have their treaty rights evoked already, regardless of the UK's EU membership. "This kind of rhetoric is a mixture of terrifying, bewildering, and infuriating for many European people I've spoken to," he says. "It suggests that their lives, careers, and contributions to the UK over the past decades are unwanted, uncounted, and unvalued. "It is infuriating for me too as a British citizen, knowing that it is our Government's strong desire to end my rights to freely move to work, study, or live as a self-sufficient person in Europe[7].

These kind of announcements don't just affect incoming migrants but also those of us who liked the option of migrating out of the UK." Marita Hoppe's concerns about the lack of paperwork provided by settled status are commonplace, he adds, with many EU citizens rising the issue with him regularly. There is a worry too about the difficulty it causes at the border, but in proving the right to work or to other state entitlements.

For migrants from outwith Europe, the UK Government already operates a points-based immigration system, he adds, and the suggestion that it aims to tighten-up further on low-paid migrant labour is just not practical. "We need fishermen," he says. "We need fruit-pickers. We need builders.

We need care-home workers. We need truck drivers. All of these people are likely to be excluded from a points-based system which is geared towards high incomes and high academic qualifications."

He lists off the problems his clients have in navigating their way through the already complex system. Increasingly it falls to MPs around Scotland to pick these up, lobbying on their constituents' behalf to find a way through. Alison Thewliss SNP[8] MP for Glasgow Central says: "I see the UK Government's hostile environment policies at work on a near daily basis through my constituency casework, and I am acutely aware of the devastating impacts that they continue to have on individuals and families in Glasgow, and Scotland as a whole.

"With increasing regularity, EU citizens are telling me that the Home Office deem them not to have a right to reside in the UK, and are arbitrarily stripping them of their social security support. Highly skilled migrants, who have been in Scotland for years and made it their home, have told me how Home Office attempts to deport them due to minor errors in their tax returns have ruined their lives, and cost them thousands in legal fees." Families are being torn apart, she claims, and separated from loved one because of delays of months or even years on immigration decisions.

Labour[9] MP Paul Sweeney for Glasgow North East, who is supporting constituents including Hoppe, is also seeing an increased number of migrants from the EU and elsewhere who are concerned by the current rhetoric of the UK Government. "People are being left fearful - they feel the tide has gone out on them. And that is just so depressing to hear," he says. "It's embarrassing and it is not what I want to see happening in our country." The Scottish Government has been clear throughout that its view is very different from that of its UK counterparts. "People who've settled in Scotland from elsewhere in the EU significantly enrich our society and make a huge contribution to Scotland's economy[10] and public services," says Europe and Migration minister Ben Macpherson.

"They're our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we really want them to stay. The UK Government's 'hostile environment' immigration policies are deeply damaging to Scotland, and any Brexit[11] will only exacerbate this. "It is increasingly clear that the UK Government is incapable of delivering effective immigration policies that reflect Scotland's values, circumstances or interests." The answer, he claims, is for Scotland to be able to deliver "tailored immigration solutions that meet Scotland's needs and aspirations".

But for Hoppe and others the question might be how quickly will this be within reach.

References

  1. ^ Glasgow (www.thenational.scot)
  2. ^ Scotland (www.thenational.scot)
  3. ^ health (www.thenational.scot)
  4. ^ Government (www.thenational.scot)
  5. ^ Conservative (www.thenational.scot)
  6. ^ Edinburgh (www.thenational.scot)
  7. ^ Europe (www.thenational.scot)
  8. ^ SNP (www.thenational.scot)
  9. ^ Labour (www.thenational.scot)
  10. ^ economy (www.thenational.scot)
  11. ^ Brexit (www.thenational.scot)

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