Tuesday 15 September 2020

Business as usual with the BBC's illegal immigration reporting


Yasminara Khan in Dover

I see that Newsnight tackled the issue of illegal migrant Channel crossings last night - the issue highlighted by Nigel Farage earlier this year.

It did so. of course, in the usual BBC way...by focusing mainly on the problem of the far-right. 

The language used throughout was fascinating. For example, there's a huge divide between those who prefer to use them term 'asylum seeker' and those who prefer the terms 'illegal' and 'migrant' - and Newsnight placed themselves emphatically in the former camp.

Also look out for the way reporter Yasminara Khan introduced Conservative MP Adam Holloway who wants to tighten the rules for asylum seeks: 

We have seen social media posts across far-right networks in which the names and addresses of hotels housing asylum seekers are being widely shared. They are calling for the boycott of some of the hotel chains. Fake anti-Muslim conspiracies have been shared. But some go even further...

Cue Mr Holloway talking about tightening asylum rules, which makes it sound as if Adam Holloway was "going even further" than the far-right (with their sharing of hotel names and addresses and their spreading fake anti-Muslim conspiracies). 

Either that was very clumsily-worded by Ms Khan, or it was a deliberate smear against Mr Holloway. Either way it should have been picked up by a Newsnight editor, re-edited or removed.

Here's a transcript:

Emily Maitlis: Throughout the summer, the footage of asylum seekers arriving on British shores in dinghies and small boats prompted much concern. Some were concerned about the welfare of those arriving and what they were fleeing, accusing the Government of not showing enough compassion. Others worried that the numbers were reaching peaks not seen since the Brexit referendum, and this concern has brought protest onto the streets. Britain First - a pro-repatriation group - leading the way. Yasminara Khan brings us this report on an issue that may have been buried by Covid, but has not gone away. 

Yasminara Khan: Covid-19 means 2020 will be remembered for one thing. But alongside the pandemic there have been culture clashes. And rumbling debates about identity. And with the summer heat and people landing on British beaches in dinghies, a perennial issue that slipped out of public consciousness has, among all the turbulence, come back. Asylum and immigration. 

Protestor: Boris, you're not listening. Priti Patel, you're not listening. Now is the call-out to the patriots of this country. If our Border Force and our government can't protect this border then the people must. 

Professor Matthew Goodwin: At the moment it is not seen as a top three issue. Immigration is way down the list. But if it moves up the list and voters are saying the government is managing it badly, that's that potent cocktail. 

David Moreland, UKIP: The public have been treated like idiots. Oh, well, we'll just ignore it, let it carry on, let it carry on. But it's getting worse and worse and worse and I really do fear, going forward, this is going to cause some major civil uprising. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. 

For many, Dover is a visual symbol. Not just of our borders but of Englishness itself. Of Empire and of wars fought to protect the country from invasion. And it's here in Dover that, for some, the battle to protect English borders and identity still goes on today. Anti-immigration protesters gathered in Dover earlier this month. A massive police presence and a turn-out nowhere near the thousands promised by the organisers. But real anger. Varied views here, too. In the shadow of cliffs that in World War II were the last glimpse of home for pilots leaving to take on Nazi Germany, among the crowd, one woman wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika. There is a clear and visceral backlash to the summer's Black Lives Matter demonstrations, too. 

Protestor: Take the knee! Take the knee - go on! There's a black man over there. Bend the knee! That's all you're good for. Bending down and BEEP. 

On the demo, we met David Moreland, a former UK Parliamentary candidate and party spokesman. He has got long expressed anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views. 

David Moreland: I'm here representing a large number of the country standing up against what I consider to be illegal migration in mass formation into the UK. The political elites at the moment are doing absolutely nothing to stop our country being... And it is an invasion. We are being invaded. There are some people here who should be entitled to come over and I fully agree with that. But the bulk of them have got no right to be here and we're doing nothing to remove them or stop them. 

Anger at a perceived loss of national identity, at immigration, are nothing new. But this summer has seen a huge rise in the number of people arriving on this by dinghy. In the last three months, 4600 people made the crossing. In the whole of 29, that number was 1800. Asylum seekers, once processed by officials, are placed in hotels and hostels temporarily. The system that is supposed to disperse those seeking refuge around the country has been disrupted due to Covid. Some asylum seekers have had to stay in temporary accommodation longer. And with that has come negative attention, protests and even vigilante action from groups such as Britain First - an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, pro-repatriation group. 

Matthew Collins, Hope Not Hate: Britain First are knocking on the hotel doors, declaring themselves spokespersons for the Great British taxpayer. And they are portraying what are potentially very vulnerable people, portraying them as some kind of thieves. Or that they are there stealing from the Great British taxpayer. And I think that's not just sinister, it's really quite cruel as well. 

The Home Office has condemned the violence and abuse directed at asylum seekers as completely unacceptable. 

Matthew Collins, Hope Not Hate: No matter what the Home Secretary says, she hasn't got a grip on this at all. And her statements and the Government statements about this issue have become harsher and harsher and harsher. And I think that is, of course, to the detriment of us as a country and also, I think, puts these people coming to this country at greater risk because the public sympathy, or the empathy the public should have with these people, whether it's up for debate or not, has evaporated. 

We have seen social media posts across far-right networks in which the names and addresses of hotels housing asylum seekers are being widely shared. They are calling for the boycott of some of the hotel chains. Fake anti-Muslim conspiracies have been shared. But some go even further. 

Adam Holloway, MP (Conservative): I don't care what the far-right are doing. That's for them and if they want to wander into hotels and intimidate young illegal immigrantsasylum seekers, then that just tells you about them. What I'm more interested in is, until we can change the rules so that is very difficult for you to claim asylum if you come in illegally in this way, then sadly this will go on and on. And also, frankly, we'll have more drownings, like that poor boy the other day. 

The logjam caused by coronavirus is causing another set of problems. We understand that just last week, Coventry Council won an injunction against the Home Office to prevent a third hotel in the city being used to house asylum seekers after police, health services and even charities supporting migrants said they were too stretched. Newsnight has seen a letter from six council leaders in the West Midlands - Labour and Tory - to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. 

"We can no longer accept a situation in which less than half of councils house asylum seekers in their areas and in which just 20 of the UK's 343 local authorities are home to as many as 50% of all dispersed asylum seekers." 

The Labour leader of Coventry Council, George Duggins, was one of those who signed the letter. I asked him, when are the council told that asylum seekers will be arriving in the city? 

George Duggins, Labour: Well, sometimes when they arrive. It is often as late as that, when they arrive. And it's often after the fact. So this is all part and parcel of what needs to be a realignment of the relationship between the Home Office and local authorities. There needs to be a complete revision as to how the Home Office deal with this going forward. 

Despite the publicity given to the rise in Channel crossings, overall numbers of asylum applications are down. There were 4850 claims between April and June this year. Down from 7657 in the same period last year. And on the wider question of immigration - not asylum - away from the far right extremes, many voters remain concerned about the scale of immigration. Taking back control was, of course, the Leave slogan. And Leave won the Brexit referendum. 

Professor Matthew Goodwin: For many voters that put Boris Johnson into office, they were expecting to have what they would call control over immigration and lower numbers overall. And what we have seen with the latest data on net migration is that we are running at a net migration level of around 312,000 per year, which is actually not far off the peak of around 330,000 before the referendum. And I think probably over time, some Leave voters, some Boris Johnson voters, some Conservative voters will start to say, actually, does this government have a grip of immigration? 

However you define "grip", no one would suggest it's an easy thing to achieve. Those shouting loudest and angriest will always be there. Massing on Dover is nothing new for the far-right. The question for the Government is, if worries about control and numbers become a mainstream concern again, what then? 

Emily Maitlis: We did ask the Home Office for an interview, but nobody was available. In a statement, the Home Office said: The UK has a statutory obligation to provide destitute asylum seekers with accommodation and support whilst their asylum application is considered. Asylum seekers are housed where appropriate accommodation is available and we are encouraging more local authorities to help. We take the well-being of asylum seekers extremely seriously and any abuse is completely unacceptable. 

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