prevent in immigration: an evolving concern about racism and islamophobia in the system
Shawcross’s recommendation on Prevent and immigration urges that the policy be extended into the immigration system and into job centres. However, its approach is already there, and increasing their hostility is not the answer to a safe UK – this blog is about why.
Muslims in the UK live in the ‘Prevent’ environment – that is, they are disproportionately subject to scrutiny; Prevent is embedded in public services as a legal duty for teachers, medical staff and social workers to report those who are deemed to show ‘indicators’ of being ‘drawn to terrorism’.
The Prevent training for these public employees is deeply problematic and biased and starts from the assumption that Muslims, by their religion, are suspect. This includes children.
When it comes to the intersection of this overarching Prevent environment with current immigration policy, the UK government has expressed the same assumptions when it comes to Islam and people of colour who enter the UK.
Clear racism and Islamophobia permeate both, driven by certain known MPs as well as a broader media polemic. This impacts perception of Muslims and immigrants, which in turn justifies policy.
As with Prevent, there is a clear two-tier system when it comes to Muslims versus European immigrants. This has been evident in how doors and homes have been opened for Ukrainian migrants in a way that has not been done for Muslim migrants or other ethnic minorities.
The intersection of Prevent and immigration was encouraged by William Shawcross in recommendation 8 of his Prevent review. The review was found to be ideologically biased and based on a mere handful of cases.
Nonetheless all of his recommendations were adopted by the Home Secretary with no scrutiny – unsurprising given suspected irregularities with the review process and the involvement of the Home Secretary.
Schedule 7 border force policy a funnel for Prevent
Based on our cases at Prevent Watch where people have been stopped under Schedule 7 and then find themselves subject to a Prevent referral, we already know that there is a level of data sharing between the border force and Prevent and that referrals are already originating from them. It is important to note that Schedule 7 provides the power to border officials to stop, seize and search data (including phones and laptops) of individuals in order to investigate if they are engaged in acts of terrorism without the need for any reasonable suspicion.
The existence of both Prevent and Schedule 7, means that people coming into the UK and living in the UK, and Muslims in particular, are forced to self-censor, not only their speech, but often by changing the way they dress or practice other normative aspects of Islam.
A lack of clarity on Prevent referrals in the system
Like groups advocating for positive change in immigration policy, Prevent Watch is also familiar with the frustrations of interacting with the Home Office on policies that impact Muslims.
One example is that in previous years, individuals who have been referred to Prevent and deemed unsuitable for the next step – ‘deradicalisation’ via the Channel programme – may still have their data stored with the Home Office even when their cases are ostensibly ‘of no interest’.
Recently, however, when asking for Subject Access Requests (SAR) from the Home Office, the Prevent referrals and Channel cases about which we have requested information have not appeared in the responses to our requests.
As a result, we assume that the Home Office has either stopped collecting data on certain cases, or they are keeping data on individuals in a manner that is not covered by the SAR, or they are simply not revealing information due to an exemption that exists, without saying what that exemption is.
This means that despite Shawcross’s recommendation to increase Prevent’s role in immigration, the question of how Prevent currently impacts UK immigration, and asylum seekers in particular, and how it may in the future, is surrounded by many unknowns.
The urgent need for transparency
A recent comment by Olive Lenvinson, Head of Countering Violent Extremism in the Mayor of London’s Office, in response to a question on whether he agreed with Prevent being extended to immigration and DWP, is a call to action:
“I would not disagree, but there is an element of importance around transparency as to why that is happening. If you do it without the transparency and the evidential base, then you are talking about potentially creating fuel for the people who are in the anti-Prevent lobby, talking about the stigmatisation of immigration and the stigmatisation of economic disadvantage. There are lots of very good reasons to do it, but let us be transparent … and let us bring the evidence to the table.”
If at any time transparency and a strong evidence base were to be presented, this would surely have been in the Shawcross review. But Shawcross does not justify recommendation 8 with any substantial evidence, nor does he address Prevent’s broader issues with transparency anywhere in his report.
Instead, he implies on two occasions a connection with refugees and asylum to violence, by referring to Ahmed Hassan (the Parsons Green bomber) and Salman Abdi (the Manchester Arena bomber) and tenuously using them as ‘evidence’ of a ‘problem’ with immigration policy.
We are all too familiar with these fear-based tropes. Ahmed was a refugee, and Salman’s parents sought asylum in 1993.
It is extraordinary to think that Shawcross suggests placing an already deeply toxic policy within a hostile immigration system, because of his unjust, but implied, view that Salman’s parents should never have entered the country in 1993, due to the actions of their son some decades later.
As in many places in his report, Shawcross misses the substantive truth through the violence of his own bias.
There is a complete denial across government about the deeper problems associated with how immigrants, in particular Muslim immigrants, and Muslims themselves, experience British society.
How can actively cultivating further hostility towards those living here and coming here, be anything but counter-productive?