Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:17 pm, 26th June 2019

It does, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I see this day in and day out at my surgeries.

More recently, a case has been highlighted in the press—it very much seems that the press is the way to go for those with a complaint about the Home Office, and if I were to do that the pages of all the Scottish newspapers would be full of my constituents—of a group of blind musicians who came over from Chennai as part of a British Council, Creative Scotland and Scottish Government-funded project. They were asked to come over from India as part of that project, and two of the musicians were refused entry. These two blind musicians were told that they did not have sufficient reason to go back to India after the trip. Their carers were allowed in, but these people with disabilities were not. Because their case was highlighted in the press, the decision magically and mysteriously changed, but it was too late because the event had passed.

The group are now £4,000 out of pocket for flights that had to be cancelled. Will the Minister compensate this group of musicians from Chennai who were not able to travel to take part in a British Government project? That is no less than they deserve. She has wasted taxpayers’ money, and she has wasted these young people’s opportunity by refusing them entry and then cynically changing the decision when the case appeared in the press.

I have good grounds to believe that the Government pay attention to the cases that appear in the press and change their decisions. The UK Government deemed a number of people in the highly skilled migrants group, because they needed small and legitimate changes to their tax returns, to be in some way of bad character and a threat to national security under paragraph 322(5) of the Home Office rules.

The cases that I have highlighted in the press, and the cases of constituents who were on “Channel 4 News” and in the newspapers, were decided a full six months quicker than those of constituents whose cases I could not put into the press due to sensitivity. I would like an explanation from the Minister of why very similar cases, with very similar circumstances, were differently decided because two of them were in the media and two of them were not. The UK Government’s decision-making process on this is deeply disturbing.

The same goes for many other cases I have highlighted in the Scottish press. I have a lot of reason to be thankful to people in the Scottish media, at The National and at other publications in Scotland, because they have repeatedly highlighted the terrible decisions made by the Home Office.

I chair the new all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, and trauma has been caused to my constituents by persistent and arbitrary detention. There seems to be a modern-day cat and mouse act, with people being arrested under immigration detention and then let go. The impact on those individuals is traumatic and appalling, and these are people who have been through a huge amount of trauma already. They have been tortured and trafficked. They have seen things that none of us would ever want to see, and they are being locked up with no time limit.

People can accept being in prison if they have done something wrong, and they know when their sentence will end, but people in this country, quite uniquely, are held in immigration detention with no end in sight. I ask the Minister to consider why she thinks that is fair. I pay tribute to the strength and dignity of those with experience of immigration detention who came to last night’s launch of the all-party group to tell their stories. People in arbitrary detention do not know for how long they will be locked up, even though they have done nothing wrong. That is a stain on this Government and previous Governments who endorsed places like Dungavel.

We need to do so much more to highlight the plight of people held in immigration detention. We must make sure that we do all we can for people who come to this country fleeing persecution and FGM and looking for a place of sanctuary. We must not, by this Government’s actions, cause them further trauma and further pain. Instead, we must protect them and welcome them with open arms.

We are celebrating a refugee festival in Scotland this week. We are celebrating all the things that refugees and asylum seekers bring to this country, and the Government would do well to attend more such events to celebrate people, rather than locking them up, detaining them and causing them pain.