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How Theresa May’s “hostile environment” led to police arresting a rape victim

This woman’s dehumanising treatment can be seen as symptomatic of deliberate government policies.

In April this year, we first heard the shocking story of a rape victim being treated as a criminal simply because she was an undocumented migrant. When she called for help, the police responded by questioning her immigration status. Unfortunately, this woman’s story is no longer unusual. In the UK’s “hostile environment”, immigration enforcement has been placed above and beyond the welfare needs of crime victims, with no exceptions for women who experience sexual violence.

A six-month investigation by Natalie Bloomer of, involving numerous Freedom of Information requests to the police, has shed some light on this woman’s ordeal. The few details that have been unveiled, while preserving confidentiality, are distressing to say the least.

The police confirmed that a young lady from an unknown nationality, five months pregnant, presented herself to a London station voluntarily, where she revealed having been kidnapped and raped from September 2016 to March 2017, in Germany. The police took her to a sexual assault centre, The Havens, but she was arrested from these premises after being seen, and taken into custody. Her crime was having entered the country without legal permission.

We know little about the kind of assessment that the police carried out, but it did not deem the woman to be a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery. Yet police forces have recently been found to fail regularly in such referrals, incorrectly sending victims of trafficking and torture to detention, and on to deportation.

In the woman’s case, she was then given temporary leave to enter the UK. We can only hope someone encouraged her to seek independent legal advice, to help her work out her situation. We have no idea of her whereabouts, nor of her ongoing experience. One thing we can assume is that given her initial interaction with the British authorities, she won’t be rushing back to seek help. The open question is whether this has exposed her to further danger.

This woman’s dehumanising treatment can be seen as symptomatic of the so-called “hostile environment”: a set of policies, announced when Theresa May was Home Secretary back in 2012, explicitly designed to make life difficult for undocumented migrants. The woman's treatment captures the consequences of linking emergency support to a victim's immigration status, and of prioritising border control over duties of care and protection.

There are (working) alternatives to this dehumanising approach. In cities like Amsterdam, where the police also have a “duty” of reporting immigration offenders, they have taken a different approach. One where the police realise that, to build trust with migrant communities, they must have safe-reporting mechanisms, and keep immigration status separate from the most urgent issue to be resolved – in this case, crime and abuse. Significantly, the Amsterdam initiative was conceived and led by the police itself.

Can we also do better here? We can keep asking ourselves how we got to this point. But for the survivor who was denied protection, this point is already, tragically, too late.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration, hopefully we can agree that all victims of violence, including sexual violence, should be able to seek protection and shelter. Clearly, priorities need to be re-ordered. Our obsession with immigration enforcement has led us to treat victims as perpetrators. To recover our ability to consider people humanely, the “hostile environment” must go.

Fizza Qureshi is the director of the Migrants’ Rights Network. Fabien Cante is the MRN communications officer.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.