Theresa May’s creation of a “hostile environment” towards illegal immigrants is “destroying the lives” of ethnic minorities in Britain, a United Nations expert has warned.
Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s special rapporteur on racism, said on Friday the impact of the government’s immigration policy may be so discriminatory that it could violate international human rights law.
Achiume was in the UK to assess the impact of Brexit on racial inequality, and reported she had found a rise in the “acceptability” of racism in the referendum nearly two years ago.
“The harsh reality is race, ethnicity, religion gender, disability status and related categories all continue to determine the life chances and well-being of people in Britain in ways that are unacceptable and in many cases unlawful,” she told a press conference in London.
Achiume said the Windrush scandal, which saw migrants who came to the UK after the Second World War wrongly threatened with deportation, had seen Afro-Caribbean British citizens suffering “gross human rights violations and indignities”.
Achiume was presenting the preliminary findings of a report due to be presented to the UN next year.
The special rapporteur said the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts were at the “rotten core” of the prime minister’s “hostile environment” plan.
She said it was “no surprise” that a policy to target what she called “regular immigrants” had ended up impacting the lives of those who had been “instrumental in the prosperity of this nation for centuries”.
Achiume said while the UK had the right to set its own immigration policy, if it resulted in the “exclusion, discrimination and subordination of groups and individuals on the basis of race or ethnicity” then it would cross a line.
“Such a strategy violates international human rights law and the very commitments the UK government has made to racial equality,” she said.
The newly appointed Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, who took on the role after his predecessor Amber Rudd was forced to resign her post following the Windrush revelations, has said he will abandon the term “hostile environment” and instead prefers to use the phrase “compliant environment”.
Achiume, who is independent of the UN, was invited examine the levels of racism in the UK by the British government.
“Another Brexit related trend that threatens racial equality in the UK has been the growth in the acceptability of explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance,” she said.
She said while extreme right-wing political parties were not on the rise in the UK, some of their views had “gained ground” within the mainstream on the right and the left.
In her initial findings, she also said it was clear austerity measures had been “disproportionately detrimental to racial and ethnic minority communities” in the UK - especially women of colour.
And she warned Islamophobia had taken “firm root in the UK” and that instances of anti-Semitism had increased.