The Express, The Telegraph and MP Priti Patel

One of David Cameron’s new ministers, Priti Patel, has received a large amount of attention from The Express and The Telegraph over the past few days.

Presenting a written question to the current Minister of State (Immigration), Damian Green, she demanded to know how much the running of Morton Hall immigration removal centre cost the “public purse” in the last financial year. These figures, coupled with the “revelation” that only 9% of people detained in the centre over the last 5 months have been deported, has sparked inflammatory articles from both The Express and The Telegraph bemoaning the “stranglehold” of the European Human Rights Act.

Quoting the Home Office, both papers revealed the heavily euro-sceptic and isolationist approach of the current Coalition towards the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Claiming that “foreign offenders” are abusing the rights given to them by the Human Rights Act, a Home Office spokesperson stated that “we will shortly be changing the immigration rules to reflect the public interest in seeing the removal from the UK of those who should be removed.”

Priti Patel, MP for Witham and one of the Conservative Party’s ‘bright young things’, has already made a name for herself as a hard-line, quasi-Thatcherist. In one of her earliest TV appearances on BBC’s Question Time, she stated her controversial support for the re-introduction of capital punishment as a “deterrent” in the UK’s penal system. In a similarly brash approach to human rights, she revealed to The Express and The Telegraph that “[illegal immigrants] should be put on the first plane out of Britain with no additional costs to taxpayers.”

Whilst this traditionalist Conservative Party view is hardly surprising, Patel’s careless approach to the clear differences between illegal immigration, seeking sanctuary and criminality suggests a deeper cancer in the Conservative New Wave’s approach to migration. Morton Hall is an all-male facility that houses foreign national prisoners, failed asylum seekers and migrants who no longer have ‘right to remain’ in the UK. Those incarcerated at Morton Hall, therefore, are under different charges and require very different legal approaches and support. To state that those detained at Morton Hall are all illegal immigrants and should be treated as such is both inflammatory and false.

This confusion is symptomatic of an underdeveloped asylum system in the UK that penalises, rather than supports, those seeking sanctuary. Asylum seekers ‘illegally’ enter this country because there is no legal way to travel to the UK specifically to seek asylum, something that was recognised in the 1951 Convention on the status of refugees. There is nothing illegal about filing a claim for asylum and it is impossible, in legal terms, to have an “illegal asylum seeker.” Yet the Home Office’s Five Year Strategy for asylum and immigration published in 2005 revealed their pledge then was to “… move towards the point where it becomes the norm that those who fail can be detained”.

Considering that in the last quarter of 2011, 27% of appeals made by refused asylum seekers were granted, it would suggest that some of those refused asylum seekers incarcerated in Morton Hall have been unfairly denied sanctuary. With the recent revelation that many failed Congolese asylum seekers who had been returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo have either ‘disappeared’ or have reported instances of torture and intimidation, Priti Patel’s approach to repatriation is shockingly ill-informed.

In an interview before the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, Iain Dale, a political commentator, said that Priti Patel was a hard-nosed member of the “hang ’em and flog ’em right.” With a myopic protectionism defining her approach to the global question of migration, I can’t help but agree. To dismantle a cross-country agreement on unified Human Rights sets a uncomfortable precedent for further erosion of the rights of vulnerable people in the UK and Europe.

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