Campaigners fear the 'hostile environment' will soon be extended to thousands of EU nationals.
Parliamentary candidates for this May’s Holyrood elections are being asked to sign up to a pledge to support the rights of migrants – including rejecting potential expulsion of EU citizens after the application to apply for settled status expires.
The Right to Stay campaign warns that Westminster rules could lead to thousands of EU migrants in Scotland being criminalised or deported, once the 30th June deadline to apply to stay expires.
Initial signatories of pledge for Scottish institutions to resist potential Home Office deportation plans include Depute First Minister John Swinney, as well as representatives of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens.
The Right to Stay campaign is a joint initiative of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Another Europe is Possible, with the groups campaigning for an automatic ‘right to stay’ to replace the Settled Status applications process for European citizens after Brexit.
The pledge reads:‘I support the Right to Stay campaign and principle of automatic registration, not application, for EEA nationals. I pledge to work to defend migrants’ rights and ensure migrants have access to public services. I support a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell principle whereby Scottish institutions do not act as Home Office border guards. If elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament I will campaign for the Right to Stay.’
Around a quarter of a million European nationals live in Scotland, and all have until the end of June to apply for Settled Status.
Even with a 99% application success rate, many thousands will face losing their right to be in the place they call home, campaigners warn.
Many of those who have not been rejected have been given ‘pre-settled status’, meaning that they will have to re-apply in the coming years. Some are reported to have been wrongly denied access to services and jobs because of widespread misunderstanding of the scheme.
Right to Stay activists say the existence of the Settled Status application process is itself a breach of the promises made by Leave campaigners during the 2016 referendum.
The Vote Leave campaign promised that “there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident here. These EU citizens will automatically be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
Alena Ivanova, Head of Campaigns for Another Europe is Possible, and a Bulgarian citizen living in Glasgow, said: “The Westminster government has for many years now pursued the Hostile Environment – a deliberate attempt to make life unbearable for many migrants – and it is now planning to subject European migrants to that same policy.
“We are talking about the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland, and many millions across the UK, including many of the front line workers who have kept the country running during the pandemic…The only way to guarantee their rights is for Westminster to introduce an automatic right to stay for all European citizens, which is what Boris Johnson promised during the EU referendum anyway.
“Failing that, the Scottish government must act. While Holyrood may not have the power to stop the Hostile Environment entirely in Scotland, it does have the power to operate a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy when it comes to access to public services and education.”
Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens candidate for North East Scotland, said: “Immigration brings huge benefits to our communities, and I am very disappointed that the UK Government’s continuing failure to value those benefits will damage all our futures.
“At a time when we have seen the massive importance of NHS and social care staff, many of whom are immigrants, there is a real opportunity for Government too recognise the vital significance of immigrants and immigration to our society and collective wellbeing. The hostile environment needs to end now.”
Josiah Mortimer is Co-Editor of Left Foot Forward.
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