Joint letter to Priti Patel on the far-right

Freedom from Torture, along with Hope Not Hate, Detention Action, and JCWI, wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel seeking urgent measures to counter the escalation in far-right hate against asylum seekers.

Read the letter in full below.

Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department
By email

8 January 2021

Dear Home Secretary,

In response to the disturbing events in Washington this week, you noted that President Trump’s words of incitement to his far right supporters “directly led” to the looting and violence which resulted in four deaths and has further deepened divisions in the country. Your condemnation is welcome.

We note, however, the same direct connection between words and deeds in the UK context also. This includes language that you and your colleagues have used, with harmful consequences.

As organisations providing support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and focusing on human rights, we are writing to call for urgent action by the government to stem the rise of far right organising, intimidation and violent hate crime against asylum seekers, as well as against lawyers and civil society groups that work with them.

At a time when you are preparing contentious new legislation on asylum, it is essential and urgent to reflect and act, to protect lives and ensure stability.

We have seen at close quarters how far-right hate against asylum seekers has escalated. We believe this is a direct response to a misleading and dangerous government narrative that ignores the torture and persecution that so many of those arriving across the Channel have fled. Government rhetoric falsely suggests that asylum seekers’ travel routes can invalidate their claims for protection, and denounces lawyers for doing what the law requires of them.

This has been further compounded by government decisions to house asylum seekers in hotels and army barracks. As well as being entirely unsuitable for these vulnerable people, this accommodation has created highly visible targets for the far right. Despite the obvious risks, we understand that no strategy was developed for combatting far right activity. And when far right attacks on asylum seekers have occurred, the government has remained silent.

Warnings to ministers about the safety of immigration lawyers likewise went unheeded. Days after you claimed “activist lawyers” were frustrating removals, solicitors at the Duncan Lewis law firm were subject to a knife attack. The prosecution said that the alleged attacker planned to place flags “so that like-minded people would take action”.

Vulnerability to hate crime is now amongst the issues of greatest concern to asylum seekers accommodated in the hotels and barracks. We know from our services that it is also a growing concern for asylum seekers and refugees living in community settings. Many of our organisations have become targets for vicious far right online hate and have had to implement new security procedures to protect our staff.

We are troubled by the details of the changes to immigration rules that have already been published, which look set to have real and damaging impact for asylum seekers and their rights, guaranteed under international law including by the UN Convention on Refugees, which marks its seventieth anniversary this year.

We anticipate that the new Sovereign Borders Bill will re-ignite the flames of far right hate if the government persists with its inflammatory rhetoric. We believe a significant change in tack is essential.

As organisations providing support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and focusing on human rights, we call on you to:

  1. End misleading and inflammatory rhetoric about asylum seekers, particularly those arriving via the Channel, and about lawyers and civil society organisations that defend their rights.
  2. Develop and share with stakeholders a strategy for combatting violent extremism and far right activity directed at asylum seekers in the UK, including through the Hate Crime Action Plan, and to collect and publish data on hate crime towards asylum seekers.
  3. Task the Commission for Countering Extremism to examine the growth of far right hate against asylum seekers in the UK and make recommendations for countering it.
  4. End the use of barracks as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers immediately, and hotels as soon as practicable. People on asylum support should be dispersed into community-based accommodation at the earliest opportunity.

The Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts was right to condemn in Parliament the far right abuse directed at asylum seekers. But this message needs to come also from the top, and it needs to be consistent.

When far right activists attacked police during the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, you said: "There is no place for their sickening conduct and hate in our society.” We need to hear similar language from you and from the Prime Minister in relation to far right attacks on asylum seekers too, followed up by strong actions.

Yours sincerely,

Sonya Sceats, CEO, Freedom from Torture
Bella Sankey, Director, Detention Action
Nick Lowles, CEO, Hope Not Hate
Satbir Singh, CEO, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

A copy of this letter has also been emailed to:
Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister
Chris Philp MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts)