Home Office guidance on Nigeria has just been published. This is a document to help guide Home Office caseworkers deciding whether to grant asylum to people from Nigeria. It contains the following section:

“However trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”

You can (should) read more at the excellent ‘Free Movement’ Blog. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the sex trade will find this incredible. Women trafficked into sexual slavery do not become wealthy. Traffickers become wealthy. Pimps become wealthy. Women are abused, assaulted, raped and robbed. This is not ‘Pretty Woman’.

It is hard to believe that the authors of this believed that it was true; or at least that it was true for 99% of trafficked Nigerian women. It reads like the consequence of someone high up wondering how you could reframe country guidance to smooth the process of removing people. A ‘skeleton argument to justify refusals’ as Julian Norman put it.

There is an uneasy deal at the heart of the immigration system. Deep down most people working to support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are, at best, uncomfortable with the whole idea of immigration control. We don’t want to see anyone removed or detained. That might not always imply a full-on ‘no borders’ position in the abstract, but in practice we usually want each individual to be able to stay in the country that they want to be in; this country. We don’t often look them in the eye and think ‘well this one can get back on the plane’.

This, we know, is not a position shared by the majority of the British public. Most people want a greater or lesser degree of ‘control over our borders’. Political parties that aspire to election must bow to this, either with fill blooded conviction or by holding their noses.

So the uneasy deal is this. If the immigration controls are fair, we will abide by them. Critical to this is the asylum system. We can argue the toss about whether people who would like to leave home can come here. It’s when they have to leave, that we have to accept them. To misuse Robert Frost “When you have to go there, they have to take you in”. We’ll accept what we find distasteful so long as we think we can use the system to ensure that people are kept safe.

This has been corroded by the hostile environment. ‘Go Home’ vans, health charges, right to rent legislation. Now this ridiculous guidance. All ostensibly attacks on people without leave to be in the UK. All spilling over to devastatingly impact communities which clearly do have leave to be in the UK cf. Windrush. All contributing to a toxic culture within the Home Office which has led to an asylum system which seems to be predicated on finding reasons to refuse people rather than making reasonable decisions. All leading to an increase in flawed asylum refusals and vulnerable people left homeless and destitute. Hope Projects and our NACCOM partners are doing what we can, but sometimes you feel like you’re swimming against a hostile tide.

Credit: @Julian_Norman1 was the first person I saw talk about the Home Office using a ‘Pretty Woman’ narrative, and the source of the ‘skeleton argument’ line.