Border Out of Control: The UK’s Politicization of the Immigration Crisis

Auhona Majumdar, Publications Executive of UCL JLAP

From Parliament down to the people, the topic of immigration and the protection of borders has remained firmly as a zeitgeist of the past decade. The ramifications of global economic instability post-2008 and the Eurozone Crisis have become firm markers of the waves of intra-European immigration. Immigration is no issue unique to the United Kingdom, however, The UK’s response has been markedly distinguished compared to its former European Union colleagues. As a new government arises, a seemingly never-ending conflict of economic interests, security and socio-politics finds itself once again as the centerpiece of current UK politics.  

With a fresh set of faces adorning the Cabinet, familiar discourse continues to pervade the debates surrounding immigration. A debate which has resettled far from its foundations on ensuring a degree of economic stability and streamlining border control has seemingly turned to a battle of scapegoats. The arrival of Home Secretary Suella Braverman at the borders of Kent on the 3rd of November best exemplified these failures of policy: arriving in military arsenal to the borders of England, and the resulting media frenzy which followed appeared another perhaps miscalculated distraction from the grander issue at hand. 

The visit to Kent, now marked by the Government as the “symbol” of “clandestine” illegal immigration featured a notable reference to the growth of Albanian immigration within the UK. The position taken by the UK government has semantically linked this body of immigrants with drug crime, prostitution, and a general sense of criminality.  

A striking yet not unsurprising digression from previous government’s articulations of the immigrant crisis. Earlier historical precedent predominantly raised concerns surrounding the economic liabilities of excessive immigration; the image granted to immigrants by the Government in this case, however, questioned the nature of their character and claims of arriving in the UK for the purpose of criminality above all.  

Following the actions of previous Home Secretary Priti Patel’s hardline, “no-nonsense” approach to immigration, marked most emphatically by the introduction of deporting illegal immigrants to Rwanda, a more conservative body of immigration policy is unsurprising. Regardless, the questions surrounding the wave of Albanian immigrations have not surrounded border control – rather only furthered a blameworthiness approach to a body of policy requiring far more nuance than what is being delegated currently  

The inconclusive status of the UK’s continuous crisis over immigration remains ever looming over each government of the day, with today’s government facing the residual Euroscepticism Brexit has left and an ongoing recession internally. Granted, these issues may impel the government to be stricter on border control, it appears the government approach has heavily focalized mass-deportation and instated a language of skepticism towards the Albanian immigrants above all.  

The response to this approach has not been met with quiet condemnation. The UK is no longer facing outcry of merely domestic media: the actions have resulted in ardent criticism from Albania’s highest authorities, including Prime Minister Edi Rama. Mr Rama’s comments seemingly reiterate the recent failures of the UK, praising the work of previous governments on integrating minorities and further, in a recent statement to the Guardian, referred to the functioning of UK immigration policy being “like a madhouse.” Braverman’s rebuttals have remained firmly statical, and whilst claims of a “wave of immigrants” may find itself with relative backing with a supposed “one to two percent” of the entire male population of Albania having arrived in small boats, the productivity of the language and approach to this wave of immigration is what is to be questioned.  

The questionable policy of sending Rwandan charter planes which set their course for dozens on migrants being deported to wholly unknown circumstances, now left to reintegrate in societies seems to exemplify what is to come in the area of immigration. This accompanied by shift from economic and societal considerations to a persevering blame game has resulted in policy has falling short in these matters.  

The constant referencing of increasing ties to drug crime and related issues should remain a fervent point of contention, however, when it is the only point contested, can the government’s approach on this matter truly be considered progressive? The rhetoric of crime has been a consistent scapegoat in the UK’s attempted tackling of the matters of illegal immigration yet this sudden devotion to drug policy does not appear authentic nor forward-looking rather another form of appearing a supposedly “strong-government” devoted to its legal, domestic citizens above all in a period of instability.  

Could one truly consider themselves a “strong” government when the policy focus has moved away from mere practical considerations. As of 2022, there is a 100,000 backlog in processing claims, with 96% of applications from 2021 still outstanding. In reducing immigration, border control is a key mitigating factor. Yet why does the current policy yield claims of xenophobia and work to dampen the UK’s efforts to assert itself as a strong power in a post-Brexit era?  

The media frenzy has resulted in detraction from true policy deficits. Reports have uncovered an inconsistent and inconclusive degree of communication between the UK and Albanian sources. Potential for deals and agreements curtailed through total lack of communication by the Home Office the government in Tirana claimed.  

The UK’s immigration policy has seen no real progress. The process of asylum seeking is indeed highly costly, valued at 2 billion of taxpayer money. This statistic is often used as an impetus for stronger border protection and a justification for the criminal language. However, for productive measures to be undertaken to reduce this cost. This statistic and the debates on immigration must be reframed.  

Language of the alien and fear of the unknown endorsed through parliamentary figures is only furthering divisions within a society in an era of constitutional uncertainty and stagnancy in progression. The language used is not language of policy and program nor is it of progress. The onus on the taxpayer adds a layer of accountability on the everyman to partake in reducing the effects of immigration, and through characterizing the immigrants as criminal, it only encourages disdain towards a group of people.  

Practical bilateral communications must take place between countries. If such harmful language pervades the policy of the UK, it seems these talks may never occur. Further, if criminality was an authentic concern – one could argue more is to be done domestically in reducing poverty through foundational measures in improving the education system, class mobility and reducing the cost of living rather than opportunistic scapegoating.  

Indeed, if the crisis it to be curtailed, no longer can individuals’ lives be used as a tool in a time of constitutional instability. It is abundantly clear that the UK’s recent approach to immigration has become semi-spectatorial, waiting for each headline and to further pursue a façade of a strong government protecting domestic legal citizens. Till a time of more settled constitutional status and political economy, heavy reflection is needed to happen on part of government. When this reflection is to come, that remains indefinitely inconclusive.  

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