Jo’s Blog: On the Illegal Migration Bill

“Weren’t votes for women also illegal once?”

14 JUL 2023

– Jo Walby, Mustard Tree CEO

Friday 14th July 2023

Just got back from a week’s leave in sunny Cyprus and it’s great to come back into our charity and be again inspired by the belief and dedication of our team. This break has given me a little distance and a fresh perspective on the importance of Mustard Tree’s welcome to all – given with love by our volunteers, trainees, and staff.

Whilst I was away, there was another missing boat in the Mediterranean and the relief of 78 people being rescued is sobered by the reality of hundreds of people still missing. Is it just me or do these losses seem more common now and are we becoming more impassive to the human tragedies each of these boats represents?

Illegal Migration Bill

We know that the Illegal Migration Bill is being debated in Parliament and likely to be passed next week. I am hearing lots of concerns that the Act is not compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This seems incredible considering the UK helped to write them!

At Mustard Tree, we see dynamic people and families motivated, engaged, wanting to contribute but stuck in an asylum system for years, waiting for assessments and waiting for decisions. If people cannot seek asylum because you cannot reach a British Embassy when your country is in Civil War, under attack and you are under threat, what can you do?

Thousands of people are stuck in camps, bed and breakfasts or even a hotel for years and not allowed to work, not allowed to access English lessons, and in some cases not allowed to leave without a curfew. I know there are lots of sensible arguments about effectively managing migration and there are no easy answers. But I am ever the pragmatist and when people are already here, staying in these conditions but cannot work – isn’t this self-defeating for any Government? This approach incurs lots of cost without the potential productivity and benefits of people working to contribute to our society.

Boudi’s Message to Government

A few months ago, I met Boudi, a bright, lively 15-year-old boy who arrived in this country nearly a year ago with this mum Amani. They are from Sudan, which has been in conflict for the past 20 years with recent escalations over the past 2 months. The family had initially found work in Healthcare management positions in Saudi Arabia, but contracts were ended due to the increasing impact of the ‘Saudization’ legislation. His dad and older brother returned to help Sudan and Boudi and his mum sought asylum in the UK.

One day, Boudi knocked on my door and asked me to speak to ‘the Government’, to ask why his mum and the people confined to his hotel couldn’t work to look after themselves. I felt humbled by his faith in what I could do, and asked Boudi and Amani to send a video message with their requests, so we could show it to a Government minister during their recent visit.

Response so far has been that we cannot make any changes to allow people to work because it’s illegal. Well, weren’t votes for women also illegal once?

Boudi and his mum kindly agreed that I could include their story and the video in this blog. They have been stuck waiting for a decision from the Home Office for over a year, which means they can currently only apply for permission to work in the specific shortage occupation list.

Amani says “I want to get a job as soon as possible to support my family. As I have been here over 12 months, one week ago I applied for ‘Permission to Work’ and they said it will take 3 months for my request to be reviewed. I want to work as it helps an individual’s psyche, reduces visits to the doctor, fulfils the family’s needs, increases purchasing power and revives the market leading to improvements in the economy”. Well said Amani.

The sad reality is that in our experience, ‘Permission to Work’ permits are increasingly rare and not helped by the incredible delays to the processing of asylum paperwork, leading to thousands of people stuck without the means to support their families.

Routes out of Poverty

Why does Mustard Tree care about this? Because our mission is to combat poverty and prevent homelessness. Successful routes out of poverty include learning, skills and work – building self-efficacy and self-belief. It seems particularly cruel to reduce thousands of people’s right to self-determination, to prevent people from learning and working because of our mismanagement and political squalls. Surely, we can use our combined strengths, cultures, wisdom to come up with better options than the current malaise that the new migration bill represents.

Thank you to our supporters, volunteers and partners – we are so grateful for your kindness and care, and we could not do this without you. If you want to find out more or could offer any help e.g.: by offering a volunteering placement to someone seeking asylum or help with our English Language classes, please do get in touch. Thank you.

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