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Home Office urged to go further with suspension of hostile environment

MPs and campaigners have urged the Home Office to go further with its suspension of hostile environment policies, as it emerged that schools are still required to pass on the addresses of the children of suspected illegal migrants to immigration enforcement teams.

During an urgent question on the hostile environment policy, MPs from all parties expressed concerns about the ongoing impact on people who are living legally in the UK, but who do not have proof of their right to remain.

Data on people over the age of 30 has been temporarily excluded from data-sharing policies, to ensure that Windrush generation citizens are not affected, the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, confirmed.

But the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, asked the minister for a total review of all hostile environment policies, warning that otherwise the “unfairness and cruelty” inflicted on Windrush victims would affect other groups, with “cohorts from all over the Commonwealth, including south Asia and west Africa, caught up in the net of the hostile environment”.

MPs emphasised that many constituents were living in fear as a result of the fallout from hostile environment policies. Bob Blackman, the conservative MP for Harrow East, said Windrush constituents in their 70s and 80s had expressed concern that they could still face sudden deportation.

Labour’s Barry Sheerman, the MP for Huddersfield, said two Jamaican-born constituents had recently visited him to say that older generation people were too frightened to seek help from their MPs because they were worried information would be passed on to the Home Office, triggering negative consequences.

One family of Iraqi-Kurdish refugees recently went on hunger strike outside the Home Office in Glasgow because they had been left in limbo for 18 years waiting for their asylum application to be resolved. “Eighteen years is worse than a life sentence,” the Glasgow North East MP, Labour’s Paul Sweeney, told MPs.

Nokes defended Home Office policies, stating that the “compliant environment provides some important policies that enable us to distinguish between those who are here legally and those who are not”. But, echoing home secretary Sajid Javid’s promise of a “fairer, more compassionate immigration system”, Nokes said she too wanted to see a new tone to the debate. “Too often, the discussions around immigration are steered by the tabloid press,” she added.

Asked whether the Home Office still had a suspension on all deportation flights to the Caribbean, initially announced in April, Nokes would only say that she was determined to look at deportation flights “with utmost rigour”.

Javid announced on Wednesday that data from HMRC, the DWP and DVLA would not be shared with the Home Office for anyone over 30, for a temporary period of three months, pausing the more combative measures introduced in 2014 as part of what the government previously termed the hostile immigration environment.

A Home Office spokesperson said the three-month period was “just indicative”, adding: “We won’t reinstate compliant environment data sharing until and unless ministers are satisfied it’s right to do so and when we are confident we have the right safeguards in place.”

Campaigners pointed out that hostile environment data-sharing arrangements with the Department for Education (DfE) remained in place. A memorandum of understanding between the Home Office and the DfE dating back to 2015 arranges for data sharing to enable immigration enforcement staff to re-establish contact with families the Home Office has lost contact with.

Gracie Bradley, an advocacy manager for Liberty, said: “The home secretary’s announcement falls short of a meaningful suspension of the hostile environment. The Department for Education still hands information on school children to the Home Office.

“Landlords and employers will still face fines and even criminal penalties if they fail to check the immigration status of prospective tenants and employees, and ID checks and charges at hospitals will continue to force health workers to police their patients. All of these measures push undocumented people into destitution and leave them vulnerable to exploitation and other harm.

“A review of these toxic policies to ensure that they do not affect the ‘wrong’ people is an incomplete response to the Windrush scandal. The home secretary should end the hostile environment once and for all, stop forcing our public servants to act as border guards.”

The Home Office said a data-sharing arrangement with the DfE would continue because it helped identify “children at risk”.

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