Editorial: Immigration, Off-Shoring and Resettlement – the lived realities of Britain’s hostile environment

Louise Ryan

This issue of Discover Society brings together discussions of groups who are often considered separately, in order to explore how anti-immigration policies and discourses operate across and within national and ethnic groups.  The authors are all leading researchers and thinkers in their field and use empirical evidence to bring novel insights into this timely and highly topical social issue.

Linking the Windrush scandal, Brexit, asylum regulations and recently proposed ‘off-shoring’, the papers offer a searing critique of how immigration policies are impacting on migrants across a wide range of ethnic, racialised and national groups, as well as impacting on wider society including the UK economy.

The special issue begins with Brad Blitz’s analysis of Off-Shoring policies and critical assessment of how such policies have failed to work when previously implemented by Australia and Israel. Next, Alessio D’Angelo examines the inter-play between the UK and wider EU immigration policies as fortress Europe is invoked once again.  Both these papers demonstrate how deals with other countries are being used to detain and deter migrants from reaching British shores and making asylum claims in this country.

Turning to migrant experiences in the UK, Louise Ryan, Maria Lopez and Alessia Delceggio draw upon their on-going research with Afghans who were dramatically evacuated from Kabul airport in 2021, to assess how the much promised ‘Warm Welcome’ is being developed in practice. As thousands of Afghans still remain in temporary hotel accommodation, they, consider how these refugees will manage in the current cost-of-living crisis.  Sticking with the theme of migrant experiences, Umut Erel, Don Flynn, Erene Kaptani, Maggie O’Neill and Tracey Reynolds reflect on the lived realities of those who have no recource to public funds.  Drawing upon their theatre-based workshops with women migrants, they consider how the hostile environment is negotiated on a daily basis by families who have no access to public funds.

Several papers examine the fundamental contradictions at the heart of immigration policies, as migrants are vilified as ‘invading swarms’, while simultaneously providing much needed labour in the UK economy. Bringing together analysis of Brexit and the Covid Pandemic, Anna Gawlewicz, Kasia Narkowicz and Sharon Wright discuss the vital role played by Polish migrant workers, especially in health care. While their contribution as ‘key workers’ was applauded during the lockdown, their immigration status became uncertain and contested in the post-Brexit context. Tens of thousands of unfilled vacancies within UK health and social care cannot be disconnected from the impact of Brexit.

In recent years, Albanians have emerged as one of the most vilified groups of migrants entering the UK. The paper by Iraklis Dimitriadis uses demographic data to examine the complex and contradictory positioning of Albanians in immigration rhetoric. Although over 100,000 Albanians are settled in the UK, having arrived as EU citizens from other member states before Brexit, negative stereotypes of criminal gangs, people traffickers and drug smugglers continue to shape the public imagination.  The ways in which hostile policies and negative public discourses can impact even on seemingly settled communities is also powerfully revealed through the Windrush scandal. In their paper, Tracey Reynolds, Dave Hockham and Pamela Franklin use rich qualitative data from focus groups with older Caribbean-born residents in London, to show the impact of the Windrush scandal on the everyday realities of people who have lived in the UK for most of their lives. Moreover, Reynolds et al, also show how, as the years go by, the government is pulling back from the promised compensation schemes.

Together, these papers demonstrate the growing hostility towards migrants, including long term residents, as well as recent arrivals. Once again, we see, that as governments come under pressure in difficult economic times, migrants become an easy scapegoat to blame for societal ills. In the run up to the next general election, it is important for researchers to use informed debate and empirical evidence to challenge the negative and inaccurate portrayal of migrants in political and media discourses. This special issue grew out of a symposium hosted by the British Sociological Association in January 2023: Sociological Perspectives on Migration and the Hostile Environment.

Louise Ryan is Senior Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre at London Metropolitan University. She has been researching migration for over twenty years and during that time has published numerous highly cited articles in leading international journals. In 2015 she was awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences for her contribution to migration research. Her books include Gendering Migration (with Webster, 2008), Migrant Capital (with Erel and D’Angelo, 2015) and her most recent monograph is Social Networks and Migration (2023). Louise is currently chair of the British Sociological Association.

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Ryan, Louise 2023. ‘Editorial: Immigration, Off-Shoring and Resettlement –  the lived realities of Britain’s hostile environment’ Discover Society: New Series 3 (2):