Migration, Integration, and Security in the UK Since July 7
Unlike the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, which were perpetrated by non-U.S. citizens, the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings in London's transport system were carried out mainly by men born and raised in the country they attacked. It might seem, then, that the atrocities on British soil had less obvious implications for migration policy than those in the United States. Indeed, as the bombers' identities were released by police, the public debate initially focused on how British-born citizens could wish indiscriminately to murder their compatriots. The bombings revealed, or so one might have believed from the media coverage, an enemy within rather than an enemy without.
However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the July 7 bombings and the failed bomb attempts on London transport on July 21 had nothing to do with migration.
Firstly, all of the July 7 bombers were brought up in immigrant-descended communities while several of the July 21 would-be bombers were naturalized citizens who originally came to Britain as asylum seekers. In addition, the fact that one of the July 21 suspects, Hussain Osman, managed to flee to Rome via the Eurostar train terminal at Waterloo was portrayed in parts of the media as further indication of the porosity of Britain's borders. Thus migration control, asylum, and admission to citizenship were all intensified as security issues in the aftermath of the attacks.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the advent of apparently home-grown Islamist terrorism put the integration of Muslim communities at the heart of political debate. Integration had long been on the government agenda, but the bombings gave new impetus to questions of socioeconomic as well as cultural exclusion and alienation in Muslim communities. Prime Minister Tony Blair made this connection explicit in a major speech just one month after the bombings, when he claimed that "coming to Britain is not a right. And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life."
In this article we outline the specific migration measures that have been proposed and implemented as part of the antiterror strategy, and then discuss the wider implications for the integration of Muslim communities.
Antierror Measures and Migration Policy
In the aftermath of July 7, the Labor government proposed a raft of antiterror measures, most of which were put before Parliament as a new Terrorism Bill in October 2005. The most controversial proposals — an extension on the amount of time that police can detain terrorist suspects without charge and the introduction of a law against the "glorification of terrorism" — are not directly related to migration.
The government originally proposed that the police should be able to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days, rather than the 14-day period that existing legislation allows. Despite Blair's very public attempts to defend this measure, members of Parliament (MPs) rejected it (Blair's first parliamentary defeat since coming to power in 1997) but later voted to support a 28-day holding period.
The proposal to outlaw the glorification of terrorism has also come under fire from civil liberties and numerous Muslim groups. In January 2006, the House of Lords rejected the clause, but the democratically elected House of Commons voted in favor of the bill in mid-February, sending it back to the Lords, which, on February 28, again voted to strike the glorification-of-terrorism provision. Once more, the Commons must consider the matter.
Compared to these controversial and high-profile issues, the migration-related measures in the antiterror package have received relatively little attention in the mainstream media. This is partly because the measures taken in this area mostly predate the attacks.
Indeed, the Terrorism Bill itself does not contain migration-specific proposals, and the primary legislation that extends the government's powers in this area is part of its wider overhaul of immigration and asylum policy first announced in February 2005. Thus the securitization of UK migration policy was already well under way before the bombers struck in London.
While the security dimensions of recent migration policy should not be interpreted as a direct response to July 7, there is little doubt the bombings gave an extra impetus to the securitization of migration policy discourse as well as galvanized support for specific measures that might otherwise have met with greater opposition in the legislature and wider civil society. These measures fall into four broad categories:
- border controls
- asylum restrictions
- acquisition and removal of citizenship
- deportation orders
Given the continued emphasis on border controls in public discourse on immigration, it is unsurprising that this aspect of migration policy featured in the government's immediate response to the London attacks.
The government's five-year strategy for asylum and immigration, Controlling our Borders: Making migration work for Britain, which was published in February 2005 as part of the Labor party's preelection campaign, included various measures related to border controls.
After Labor was returned to power in May, these measures were included in a new Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill (which, at the time of writing, Parliament is considering). These measures include extended provisions for immigration officials and subcontractors to search aircraft, ships, and vehicles at ports of entry, and powers to enable immigration officers to verify and detain passengers' identity documents and demand biometric information (such as fingerprints or eye-scan data).
In his August press brief, in which he outlined the government's response to the London bombings, the prime minister emphasized the proposals contained in the bill and also announced the creation of a list of countries specifically designated for biometric visas.
In addition, he reported that the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were compiling an international database of persons whose activities or views pose a threat to Britain's security. "Anyone on the database," Blair insisted, "will be excluded from entry with any appeal only taking place outside the country." The civil rights group Liberty argued that these proposals were disproportionate and would undermine human rights.
Several of the July 21 bombers were naturalized British citizens who had originally arrived in the UK as asylum seekers. It is important to note that the British public's antipathy toward asylum seekers dates back to the early 1990s, when the country, like many others in Europe, received thousands of applications from people fleeing the Balkans; the British media tends to portray asylum seekers as economic migrants who want to benefit from the country's welfare system. While attempts to restrict access to asylum predate the events of July 2005, the bombings undoubtedly made it easier for those who want further restrictions to link asylum with terrorism.
In his August speech, Blair stated that "anyone who has participated in terrorism or who has anything to do with it anywhere will automatically be refused asylum." The government has remained true to this statement, and the immigration bill would prevent asylum claims by persons deemed to be associated with terrorist activities although there is no evidence that previous asylum recipients had terrorist ties before their arrival.
The bill outlines an interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention such that "acts of committing, preparing or instigating terrorism or of encouraging or inducing others to do so constitute acts contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations and will result in exclusion from asylum." The bill would empower the home secretary to reject an asylum claim on these grounds, and any appeal hearing would need to begin with substantive deliberation on this issue.
Acquisition and removal of citizenship
The immigration bill would tighten the conditions for acquisition of British citizenship while making it easier for the home secretary to deprive someone of their citizenship status under the terms of the 1981 British Nationality Act.
Regarding acquisition, the requirement that an applicant for British citizenship be "of good character" would be widened. At present, this applies only to those seeking British citizenship by naturalization, but the bill would extended this requirement to nearly all applicants, including, for example, the husband, wife, or civil partner of a British citizen.
The government's ability to strip someone of citizenship would become easier as the bill would give the home secretary more leeway in making such decisions. The bill would replace the current criterion (the person concerned has done something "seriously prejudicial to vital national interests") with the criterion that the home secretary "is satisfied that such deprivation is conducive to the public good."
In addition, the bill would confer on the home secretary a new power to withdraw the right of abode in the United Kingdom from any person whose exclusion or removal is considered to be conducive to the public good. As the prime minister has made clear, the intention behind these measures is to prevent acquisition of citizenship by those "engaged in extremism" and make it simpler for the government to strip "extremists" of their citizenship. In other words, this legislation would make it significantly easier to exclude from citizenship those suspected of terrorist activities.
Deportation of foreign nationals resident in the United Kingdom has become an important tool in the government's attempts to clamp down on those perceived to be a security threat. In the three months after the London bombings, 22 people, including the radical cleric Abu Qatada, were detained pending deportation.
Deportation and detainment are possible under the terms of the 1971 Immigration Act, but, since July 2005, the home secretary has widened the criteria under which foreigners can be deported to include a list of "unacceptable behaviors" that threaten public order, national security, or the rule of law. These include fomenting, justifying, or glorifying terrorist violence; seeking to provoke terrorist acts; fomenting other serious criminal activity; and fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence.
In addition, the new immigration bill contains a clause that would require an appeal against a deportation order made on national security grounds to be brought only from outside the United Kingdom.
The government faces a legal obstacle here in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998, which prevents the deportation of anyone to a country where they may face torture or persecution. To bypass this requirement, the government has signed "memoranda of understanding" (MOU) with several countries.
An MOU is a written agreement between two governments in which the second country promises that anyone deported to it from the first country will not face torture or ill-treatment. Countries that have signed MOUs with the UK government include Jordan, Algeria, and Lebanon.
Critics doubt that these MOUs have any value as guarantees of deportees' human rights. Mike Blakemore, Amnesty International's UK spoksesman, has said that such assurances aren't worth "the paper they were written on." And as Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, observes, the very fact that such assurances are sought reveals that the UK government perceives a serious risk of torture or ill-treatment.
Taken together, these various control measures amount to a significant extension of the state's discretionary powers over migrants and nonnationals by granting immigration officials greater powers of surveillance and control at point of entry; allowing for refusal of asylum applications on grounds of suspected involvement in terrorism; and making the legal status of citizenship both sharper and more significant.
The deportation orders in particular represent a hardening of the legal distinction between citizens and noncitizens, and, as such, run counter to the idea that fundamental human rights have been decoupled from national citizenship.
Thus, while the controversy surrounding the government's antiterror proposals has concentrated on the wider civil liberties implications of the detention and glorification of terrorism provisions, migration analysts should be aware of an intensified securitization of migration policy that will significantly affect the rights of would-be migrants, asylum seekers, and nonnational residents.
Muslims, Integration, and the Security Agenda
Just as the securitization of migration policy predates the July bombings, so too does the integration agenda and its political linkage with migration. Indeed, the connection between immigration control and integration policies began in the 1960s when an earlier Labor government sought to balance restrictive immigration legislation with progressive "race relations" policies that were strengthened through the 1970s. The so-called color bar for employment and housing was outlawed in 1968, though there is evidence that indirect discrimination continues to this day.
Nevertheless, the integration debate has taken on new life, as indicated by the government's recent antidiscrimination legislation, introduction of citizenship ceremonies, and its predilection for debates about "Britishness." Since September 11, and now July 7, this debate has focused increasingly on Muslim communities and, specifically, on how to tackle radical elements within those communities.
The political calculus surrounding Muslim religious and political extremism has been affected by three overlapping sets of developments.
Firstly, since July 7, the work of the security and intelligence services has come under considerable scrutiny. A leaked internal report from the UK's national security agency, MI5, suggested that little or no progress had been made in gathering reliable evidence about the July 7 suicide mission. This revelation implies that operational and tactical support for the bombers has been buried in an implicit code of silence within British Muslim communities.
Secondly, a Home Office initiative to launch seven different consultations with representatives of British Muslims has produced only modest results. These consultations, on subjects such as mosques, community leadership, and education, were mired by internal conflicts and were given very little time (eight to nine weeks) to report their findings. In the opinion of some commentators, they represented little more than a fig leaf. This effort has brought onto the policy agenda a set of partly connected grievances voiced within many Muslim communities but has not managed to engage the public. Objective measurements show that public support for addressing Muslims' grievances remains extremely low. Many Muslims, on this reading, remain barely a step or two up from being public pariahs with no equal.
Finally, agitation and disquiet within and between British Muslims has served to complicate the role of government even further. The May 2005 general election campaign, for example, witnessed the first overt demonstration of radical opposition to the moderate organization, the Muslim Council of Britain. The gap between mainstream Muslim leaders and a relatively small brigade of radicals who sometimes endorse violence has been exposed. Recent protests against the Danish cartoons, which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a suicide bomber, have exacerbated tensions.
The government's approach so far has been contradictory. On the one hand, it has sought to include Muslim community leaders in the post-July 7 consultations, and it has put forward legislation many of those leaders have called for, such as the bill to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.
On the other hand, the government has pressed ahead with measures that many commentators believe will alienate Muslims, perhaps further intensifying the Muslim community's sense of grievance. These include the efforts to sidestep human rights laws so as to implement the new deportation rules, the decision to refuse asylum to anyone linked to terrorism, and the attempt to make glorification of terrorism a punishable offense. Whether these conflicting dimensions of the government's approach can be reconciled remains to be seen.
Amnesty International (2005). "United Kingdom: Deportation of terror suspects." Media Briefing, Oct. 20. Available online.
Leppard, David (2006). "MI5 admits: we've run out of leads on bombers." The Sunday Times. Jan. 29. Available online.
United Kingdom. 10 Downing Street (2005). "PM's Press Conference - 5 August 2005." Available online.
United Kingdom. Home office (2005). Controlling our Borders: Making migration work for Britain: Five year strategy for asylum and immigration. February. Available online.
United Kingdom. Immigration and Nationality Directorate (2005). "Broadening Powers to Tackle Extremism." Press release, Aug. 5. Available online.