Working in news, I have been bombarded with a range of views over the past few days on whether the Home Office's latest bid to crackdown on illegal immigration is a form of racism. The week-long pilot saw six vans drive around London carrying a board asking: 'in the UK illegally?' followed by 'go home or face arrest'.
Now, as trade union Unite has revealed it is seeking legal advice about whether the Home Office encouraged 'racial hatred' through their use of the vehicles, it is important the scheme is analysed. The ultimate question is, how has an advertising campaign costing £10,000 caused so much controversy?
I have had the opportunity to speak to Immigration Minister Mark Harper about the London-based pilot while also discussing the matter with concerned Londoners who claim they have been 'victimised'. I realise maintaining a balance is essential hence why I have been exposed to such differing views on the matter. Also, considering the fact my nine to five is based around being neutral and impartial it is often difficult to take a bold stance on debatable issues.
However, this case is clearly a matter of an extreme attempt to crackdown on illegal immigration gone wrong with an ill-thought through scheme which was obviously going to cause a stir. If further analysis and greater care had been put into the planning of the pilot carried out last week, it is likely the Home Office would not be receiving such a huge backlash as they are now.
Before all the controversy began, just hours into the scheme being launched, I asked the Immigration Minister in an interview whether he was concerned that the bold message may scare some illegal immigrants off addressing their situation and ultimately have the adverse effect. However, he was quick to justify the Home Office's efforts and reassured that part of the operation is to make it clear that the chances of illegal immigrants being detained and removed are increasing. Therefore their aim was to set out that there is an alternative being offered, where officials will provide help and advice to aid those living here illegally to get 'back home' voluntarily.
But upon analysing the vans, does it really make that clear? The appearance of the vehicles do not necessarily connote with 'helpful' and rather than a welcoming pair of hands, a large image of a handcuff is presented. Yes, we know the aim, to present the consequences. But many illegal immigrants who watch over their shoulder every day and panic when they receive a knock on the door will not appreciate such a harsh presentation - nor would it appeal to many.
Going back to the question I posed to the Minister, it is easy to see how some individuals who are here in the UK illegally would indeed be 'scared off' addressing their situation even more so after seeing the billboards. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also shared his 'surprise' at the scheme revealing he feels the vans were 'not a very clever way' of tackling the issue - that's to put it lightly considering the outrage of some others.
I appreciate aid was being offered as part of the pilot, most notably in assisting with flights 'home'. While the vans clearly state this, albeit in far smaller text than 'go home or face arrest', I feel the approach taken in regards to the hostile style of the billboards would ultimately warn individuals away.
It is worth highlighting that many illegal immigrants who come here may not even be able to read the English text on the billboards. However, many Britons who originate from another country and can read the text felt as if they were being targeted. In all fairness to the Home Office, this is part of an attempt to crackdown on 'illegal' immigration and indeed this is made clear yet the bold message for many was one that many ethnic minorities in the UK could relate to, in ways they wish they could forget. I have spoken to some people who were reminded of racist attacks in the playground with the use of 'go home', in the context of 'go home, back to your country'. As a British Asian I can appreciate such experiences. I think it is this reminder which has played in so many people's minds and sparked fury as a result. In my opinion, the pilot headed downhill in their lack of compassion and their inability to relate to their target audience.
Considering my points above, there are a few questions that I feel are worth raising:
- Should the Home Office's immigration team have more ethnic minorities on board?
- If so, would this help such issues in the UK be better understood?
- Has the Home Office taken a step too far in their 'crackdown' and lost vision of sensitivity?
Nearly 30,000 illegal migrants returned home voluntarily last year. In my opinion, those dealing with immigration in this country need to increase their work in the boardroom if they want to continue to increase such figures year-on-year.