Integration: A debate or a diktat?

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Ajay abc “Right now, there is a big  conversation about  integration in  this  country. The Government  says migrants need to  ‘adapt’; we  need to ‘be  nicer’; we need to  learn how  to queue.

 “If you want to see a real queue you should come down to Beckett House in London Bridge. Every day – in rain, wind and snow – hundreds of people stand in line, waiting to report to the Home Office. Come, and you will see the fear, mistrust and fatigue in their faces…

“On paper, this Government calls for integration. In reality, they practice division. And detention is the most extreme example of this.”

Ajay from Freed Voices captivated the audience at the Against Borders for Children conference at SOAS earlier this month when he presented a letter he wrote to his former self before detention. The conference called on parents and teachers to boycott the schools census, amid fears that the information may be covertly used to aid deportations, another everyday border in the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’.

Everyday borders are not visible like walls or fences. Instead they are erected by laws and policies that create difference, division and ultimately discrimination. These borders are everywhere, enforced by healthcare professionals, landlords, bank cashiers and teachers.

go home vanThe hostile environment manifests itself in ‘Go Home’ vans. It’s the creeping criminalisation of everyday activities. It creates new crimes such as driving as an illegal immigrant and transforms undocumented migrants’ wages into the ‘proceeds of crime.’

If the Government is to be believed, migrants must do more to integrate themselves into British society. Both the Casey Review and the Interim Report into Integration of Immigrants made a grave mistake. By failing to speak to the very people most affected by any future integration strategy, they fail to understand the lived experience of immigration enforcement and the challenge to integration it poses. This makes integration a diktat rather than a debate.

Ask people with experience of immigration detention, dawn raids, tagging and illegal curfews what they make of integration. They will speak of the hopeless alienation of indefinite detention. They will speak of injustice and trauma at the hands of the Home Office. They will speak of the difficulty of readjusting to life on the outside with little or no support. They will speak of the mistrust among migrant communities toward immigration enforcement.

If the Government is serious about creating a comprehensive strategy for integration, it must be based on consensus involving all sections of society. Reaching communities targeted by immigration control will require a major shift away from the hostile environment and the Home Office culture of enforcement, towards engagement with migrants. This starts with speaking to migrants and their communities, instead of talking at them.