The recent immigration policy proposed by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has caused quite a stir. The ‘Stop the Boats Bill’, or Illegal Migration Bill seeks to end illegal entry as a route to asylum in the country and even denies them the opportunity to put forward their case. Many have been taken aback by Sunak’s strong anti-immigration stance, and his utterances, especially considering his own family’s migration history.
Announcing this policy, Sunak wrote: “If you come to the UK illegally, you will be stopped from making late claims and attempts to frustrate your removal. You will be removed in weeks, either to your own country if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country like Rwanda.”
Home secretary Suella Braverman, in her statement, said: “The British people rightly expect us to solve this crisis and that’s what myself and the Prime Minister fully intend to do. We must stop the boats. You will not be allowed to stay.”
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Rishi Sunak’s ancestors migrated from undivided India and settled in Kenya (check my earlier article). His parents migrated to Britain in the ’60s, making him a “twice migrant”. Sunak is not alone in this category; home secretary Suella Braverman and former home secretary Priti Patel are also children of twice migrants.
One might assume that individuals who have personal experience with immigration would be more sympathetic to the plight of immigrants. However, the reality is quite different. Many of these politicians have been at the forefront of implementing harsh anti-immigration policies. They seem to be closing the door behind them.
In this article, I will not provide any critique to the UK’s new immigration policy (For critique and explanations, read the statement issued by the UN Refugee Agency). Rather I will try to understand why Sunak has developed such a language for those who wanted to ride the same boat, which his family travelled in the 1960s. Here are the five possible explanations:
We are migrants, but not like you: One possible explanation could be that Sunak’s experiences as a twice migrant have left a sense of elitism and exceptionalism in him. It’s possible that this class of comparatively earlier migrants see themselves as a unique group of people who were able to successfully integrate into British society, and others will not be able to do the same. This may lead to a belief that those who are unable to integrate are somehow less deserving of being allowed into the country. This line of thinking is dangerous as it perpetuates the idea of deserving and undeserving migrants, leading to the further marginalisation of certain groups. Twice migrants may feel the need to distance themselves from recent migrants. This phenomenon is not unique to the UK, as many immigrant groups in various countries have attempted to distance themselves from new arrivals in order to avoid being associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination.
Antipathy for the Blacks/African people: The source of aversions towards African people can be rooted in anti-colonial struggles in Africa. The South Asian community in East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Uganda, had a unique position in colonial society. They were relatively wealthy, educated, and well-connected, and many worked in colonial government occupying bureaucratic positions. There were also small number of businessmen who held monopolies on industry in these countries. However, their position in society was such that they became targets of the freedom movement in these African countries as they were seen as collaborators. Many were forced to leave their homes and properties behind and flee to the UK, which had agreed to take them in as British citizens. This historical background might have become part of primary socialisation of Sunak, Braverman, Patel and many of the twice migrants and might have played a role in shaping their thought process. These family histories — of being persecuted by the goons/freedom fighters of Africa — might be responsible for the cognitive bias playing a role in their decision making. This hypothesis needs further enquiries.
It’s politics: Another possible explanation for support to such legislation could be that these politicians, including Sunak, are catering to the anti-immigrant sentiment, which exists in certain parts of the British society. To appease their vote base, they are advocating stricter immigration laws and projecting themselves to be tougher and harsher on immigration. This is particularly evident in Sunak’s recent policy proposal that aims to prioritise high-skilled migrants and dump African migrants in countries like Rwanda. This could be seen as a reflection of his own background, as he is a highly educated and successful individual. There might be pressure to conform to the norms of the British society he has risen to power in, as well as to gain acceptance from the Conservative Party base that he represents. Sunak may feel that by being vocal about his anti-immigration stance, he can prove his loyalty to the conservative party and establish himself as a “true” British citizen.
Economic concerns and nationalism: Having previously held the position of UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak may be more focused on economic considerations than on socio-cultural or humanitarian ones. He may believe that strict immigration policies are necessary to protect British jobs and the economy. The UK government may believe that illegal immigration is putting a strain on public services and infrastructure, and that cracking down on it will free up resources for citizens and legal residents. Sunak’s family may have migrated to the UK at a time when immigration policies were more relaxed and they may feel that current migrants are not meeting the same standards they did decades ago. This could lead to a belief that new migrants are less deserving or less valuable to British society. Sunak has stated that his focus is on attracting highly skilled and talented migrants, rather than low-skilled workers. In this view, restricting immigration is seen as a way to control the labor market and protect the interests of native workers.
Brexit and liberty to frame laws: While the UK’s exit from the EU has contributed to the country’s ability to exert greater control over its borders, it is worth noting that the recent anti-illegal immigrant policy of the Rishi Sunak government is largely aimed at restricting illegal immigration by boat, particularly from Africa and Albania. The UK government has been under pressure to address the issue of illegal immigration by boat, as it has seen a surge in recent years. Overall, Brexit has played a role in the UK’s ability to control its borders and allowed it to implement stricter rules and measures to restrict the flow of illegal immigrants who try to enter the country from EU member states.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)