View Full Version : The UK Riots: What Implications For Immigration and Race Relations?

15th August 2011, 12:05 PM
The recent disturbing images of rampant looting, thuggery and wanton vandalism in the UK have clearly affected the UK’s global image and would no doubt be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all right-thinking decent people across the world.

As the fires are doused, people are arrested and the inevitable post-mortem begins, it is impossible to ignore the implications for immigration issues, and by extension, race relations in the UK. Ghanaians maintain a strong presence in the UK, with many back home having close family or friends living in that country. It has also been reported in the media that four young men with Ghanaian names have been arrested and charged for various offences relating to the riots. It is in the context of these two facts that the future implications are discussed and analysed.


In the specific case of the four young men, it is of course early days yet, but their immigration status could well determine their future beyond the UK’s criminal justice system, and one can only speculate at present. Of course, if they are British nationals, then they are effectively beyond the reach of the immigration authorities, even if tried and found guilty. The position will not be different even if they are dual nationals, because a dual national can only be stripped of his British nationality upon conviction of a very serious crime within the league of say, terrorism.

The situation becomes a bit more complicated if any of them is in the UK legally but does not have British nationality. This includes those on student visas or permanent residence. Under the UK Border Act 2007, a non-British, non-EU national, regardless of immigration status, becomes automatically liable for deportation (subject to appeal) if convicted and sentenced to a prison term of 12 months or longer. If the sentence is less than 12 months, the Home Office retains the discretion to commence deportation proceedings at the end of the sentence. Alternatively, they may decide not to deport but when the visa comes up for renewal, or when the holder of permanent residence applies for British nationality, this could be refused on the grounds of a criminal conviction.

If any of them is undocumented in the UK, the Home Office will seek to remove him from the UK for immigration breaches even if the criminal charges are dropped. However, in this scenario the route will be administrative removal. This is different and less serious than deportation, which is expulsion following a criminal conviction, with the deportee being banned from returning to the UK for a prescribed period. A person who is administratively removed does not have to serve such a ban if he seeks to rejoin his family members such as spouse or fiancé(e) in the UK to settle there. For those seeking limited visas such as student or visit visas to the UK after removal, the person has to serve a mandatory ten-year ban outside the UK.

In the wider context, there are three main concerns that arise. First, there are fears among immigration practitioners and in the immigrant community that the government may use these riots as an opportunity to clamp down on immigration in the UK and step up removal of the undocumented.

Over the years, there has been a lot of noise made by far-right parties such as the British National Party (BNP) to the effect that the country’s social ills are due in the main to what they consider to be uncontrolled immigration to the UK over the ten years or so that the Labour Party was in power. They have thrived on a narrative that postulates that immigrants have taken away jobs, social housing and others from the indigenous, working class whites. This erroneous and negative branding of immigrants does seem to strike a chord among some sections of the society at large, and has created some social tensions and fault lines as a result. Immigration is a political hot potato in British public discourse, and always an important and sensitive election issue. These riots, which many allege were carried out mainly by young black men, clearly will feed into this narrative, with dire implications for race relations in the future.

The Conservative Party, the senior partner in the coalition government running the UK, has a negative image within the immigrant community as anti-immigration and in the same mould as the Republicans in the USA. This view has not been helped by the famous 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech of Sir Enoch Powell, a British Conservative MP, in which he warned of the dangers to social cohesion of unchecked immigration. Former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher complained during her tenure that the UK was being ‘swamped’ by immigrants. Against this background, and given the heady cocktail of factors such as the fact that the riots were a spin off from the death of a black man allegedly at the hands of the police, the fact that the flashpoints of looting have high ethnic minority populations, the public anger at the events and the Conservatives’ known tough views on immigration, the fear among many is that the government may have found the perfect excuse to tune into the public mood by cracking down hard on illegal immigration.

The second factor, which spins off the first factor discussed above, is that undoubtedly, the police will step up its presence in these flashpoints of trouble, firstly for public assurance and secondly to seek intelligence and information with regard to making arrests. The inevitable consequence of this is that the police are likely to stop people and ask questions. In the process, a young Ghanaian man, for example, who had nothing to do with the riots but are in the UK illegally and live in such areas may be stopped on his way home from work late in the evening, and in the questioning process, the issue of his identity may come up, which could then lead to problems on the immigration front. Thus, criminal investigations may have the resultant, perhaps unintended result of landing people in immigration trouble, even if there is nothing to place them with the riots and therefore no criminal prosecutions.

Finally, a new fault line may arise in intra-ethnic relations. Obviously the immigrant community is made of different ethnic groups from around the world, each with its own set of identities and values, but nonetheless lumped up under the all-encompassing expression ‘ethnic minorities’.

Normally, one would expect that a tragedy such as that which befell the young black Carribean man allegedly shot by the police would find sympathetic resonance across the ethnic minority spectrum, and it is probably the case that initially it did. However, once the looting and vandalism began, small businesses like corner shops, barbering saloons, courier companies, khebab shops and others that are owned by people from other ethnic groupings were hit badly. Naturally, any such sympathies would have quickly dissipated at this point, and perhaps hostility and raw anger would take its place. Any solidarity between the various sub-groups of the ethnic minority community may therefore suffer as a result.

One can only hope that the fears of uncertain times ahead do not materialise, but it is difficult to be optimistic in the face of the bubbling cauldron into which the various strands have fed. Hopefully, calm heads will prevail and British society will be able to consolidate its fragile yet considerable progress made over the decades in the area of race relations.

The writer is a UK-based immigration law practitioner. He runs Walworth Consulting Services, based in Accra and which provides specialist UK immigration law advice and assistance to prospective travellers to that country. He is also the author of ‘Abrokyir Nkomo: Reflections of A Ghanaian Immigrant’, published in June 2009. He can be reached at: rodboat@yahoo.com.