28th April 2023
New figures show that Southwark is one of the most diverse boroughs in the country. According to data from the 2021 Census, 25% of Southwark residents reported their ethnic group as “Black, Black British, Caribbean or Africa”, well above the London average of 14% and the UK average of 4%. And Southwark has a very high proportion of residents who were born outside the UK, with 13% of people born in Europe and 27% born outside Europe and the UK. Of these, 11% of Southwark residents were born in Africa, substantially higher than the London and UK averages. The country where the highest number of residents were born was Nigeria, with 4% of residents born there.
This diversity is one of Southwark’s strengths. Those who have come here from abroad contribute significantly to our local communities. But it also means that many residents have at some point had to go through the Home Office’s processes for immigration or asylum, processes which are expensive, frustrating and often dysfunctional.
The problems caused by the Government’s immigration policies are evident in the daily stories I hear from people who come to me for help. Immigration and asylum problems are consistently the second most common concern that constituents contact me about, after housing. The system is opaque and applications often take far longer than they are supposed to. The process is particularly difficult if you don’t speak English.
One constituent from Ethiopia who, along with his wife and two young children, is seeking asylum, made his application a year and four months ago and yet still hasn’t even been called for an asylum interview. Another constituent from Eritrea who submitted an asylum application in June 2021, almost two years ago, has still not been called for an interview. And one of my constituent’s wife, who is Ghanaian, recently submitted an application to visit her husband in the UK, and was refused on the grounds that she did not have adequate funds to support herself whilst she was in the country, despite my constituent being in full time employment and his wife being a landlady.
Many of the people who come to the UK are desperate and vulnerable, fleeing persecution and warfare. And yet this week the Government has undermined them and left them without protection, passing its Illegal Migration Bill through the House of Commons on 26th April, which I voted against.
The Government claims that this Bill will stop people risking their lives by trying to get to the UK in boats across the channel but in reality it will make the chaos and danger in the channel worse. It will not stop the criminal gangs or dangerous crossings. It makes it easier for those gangs. It will not return everyone who shouldn’t be here to their country. In fact it makes it harder for the UK to get return agreements with other countries. And most importantly for those of my constituents waiting years just to be interviewed by the Home Office, the Bill will not clear the asylum backlog and it will mean tens of thousands more people marooned for years in asylum accommodation and hotels.
Instead of the Government’s Bill, Labour want to see action to stop the gangs and to prevent these dangerous boat crossings. We voted for the establishment of a new cross-border police unit, for decisions to be fast-track and the prompt returning of those who shouldn’t be here. We want new agreements with France and other countries on returns, on family reunions and on reforming resettlement. This would clear the backlog, end hotel use and be fair, humane and effective.
During 13 years of government the Tories have broken the asylum and immigration system. Only Labour will rebuild our border security and restore a properly functioning, credible and humane asylum and immigration system.