Overall, the UN review of the UK this week was a pretty intensive process. Both UK race equality NGOs and the UK government were quizzed about the state of race equality in the UK over a three-day period. It was my role to try and draw the Committee’s attention to migrants’ rights issues, and the discriminatory aspects of many immigration policies.
First up on Monday were the NGOs from the UK, ranging from international organisations to local NGOs. I was part of a UK race equality NGO delegation coordinated by the Runnymede Trust, and involving the Discrimination Law Association, Equanomics, Just West Yorkshire and many others. The NGO sessions were our chance to try and influence the agenda for the Committee’s main examination of the government and we packed them with written and oral briefings supporting our concerns. For more on this, have a look at my previous blog, and in our full report here. I had just a five minute presentation and a Q & A session to try and summarise our key migration-related concerns for the Committee – not easy!!
After the NGOs’ time was up, representatives from the UK government took the stand on Tuesday afternoon to offer up their side of the story. And then finally, the Committee members responded with their impressions of what is going on in the UK.
Overall, UN Committee members pointed out that the UK has built a strong reputation in terms of race equality legislation and policy. But a number of members said they were concerned about changes since May 2010 which risk undermining race equality. In particular, they refered to the risk that public sector spending cuts could unfairly affect minorities, raised concerns about the ‘localism’ agenda, and pointed out that parts of the Equality Act 2010 have still not come into force. The recent riots in Tottenham were commented on by almost all Committee members, who were concerned that they reflected deeper issues about the socio-economic position of some ethnic minorities. Another issue raised by many members was the imminent eviction of Irish Travellers from Dale Farm and a lack of appropriate sites for many UK Gypsies and Travellers.
Immigration and asylum issues were brought up by Committee members too, and in particular, the government had to field questions on:
Restrictive border controls and prohibitive visa fees which limit nationals of developing countries – and lack of reciprocity on visa regimes between the UK and other countries
Closing down of consular offices in Africa making it difficult for Africans to get visas to come here
Whether the UK government is really committed to providing protection to asylum seekers given the dropping levels of asylum claims in the UK
The unfairness of withdrawing settlement rights for migrant workers and their families
Increasing vulnerability of migrant domestic workers and migrant care workers in the UK
What is being done to counter negative media coverage of immigration – one member suggested that ‘the UK should take a long hard look at itself’ when it comes to media reporting on immigration and asylum.
Objections to the ‘take the best and leave the rest’ policy championed by subsequent governments towards migrant workers.
Limits on foreign students bringing their family members to the UK
At the end of the trip I was satisfied that, although immigration was not the ‘top issue’ at the meeting, we got our issues on the table. It is now up to the UN Committee members to agree and write up their Concluding Observations next week which will go to the government. We now have our fingers crossed that they reflect some of the very real concerns that we have about how immigration policies impact on race equality in the UK today.