Written by Katie Garner

The current hostile UK immigration system is shaped by political leaders responding to a national anti-immigration sentiment. In the last year, polling has indicated that 58% of the population want less immigration, while 30% want immigration to remain the same, yet there is little evidence for what these preferences mean or what motivates them. 

The immigration system in the UK is intentionally cruel. Theresa May, the then Home Secretary and former Prime Minister, in an interview with the Times in 2013 declared that it was policy for the Home Office to create a consciously hostile environment. This hostile environment looks like indefinite detention without opportunities to challenge, the separation of families, limited access to legal advice, experiences of destitution, long delays that lead to mental and emotional atrophy, not being able to work and contribute, and irrational, inaccurate and often cruel decision making. 

The immigration system is also litmus test of our democracy, that how we treat those who are not able to vote is a clear indication of the health of our society as a whole, and of our commitment to common humanity. 

We are not well.  

We need a transformed immigration system, but for UK immigration policy to change, it is necessary to listen to and engage with the fears of those who are anti-immigration. It is also necessary to acknowledge the extent of current UK poverty. The UN Special Rapporteur, on visiting the UK in 2018 referred to an estimate that 1.5 million people in the UK are destitute.

Over the course of 2019, I plan to spend several week living immersively in four locations around England. Each town or city I visit voted for Brexit and is a location into which asylum seekers live and are dispersed. As a writer, storyteller, and photographer, I will use a wide network of existing relationships to interview, listen to, and document the stories of people around the UK. A central aspect of this process will be generating discussion, respectfully disagreeing in an engaging way when needed, and finding ways to support and amplify a range of voices that currently are not being heard. 

I also believe that the asking questions and expressing ideas has the capacity to change what we think, what I think, and the way that we operate as a society. It creates a space for generative conversation and interaction, at a time when fear and certainty are rife. My work is being faithfully incubated by Common Change UK, who are seeking to find practical, collaborative responses to systemic poverty, one person at a time.