England’s Commonwealth Games medallist and Olympian Lizzie Bird has supported calls by campaign group Regularise to grant urgent rights to undocumented members of British society through the implementation of an equitable regularisation programme than currently exists.
Bird, aged 27, won the silver medal for the women’s 3000m steeplechase in Birmingham on Friday evening as the city hosts athletes from 54 Commonwealth of Nations countries until the closing ceremony on Monday 8th August. Currently completing her legal training, Bird has previously worked with human rights groups in the UK.
The petition to the Home Office, recently launched by Regularise via Change.org notes that the Commonwealth declares to uphold human rights despite the fact that there are an estimated 600,000 – 1.2 million undocumented migrants currently living in the UK who do not have access to basic rights such as the right to rent a house, vote, access universal healthcare, work, and open a bank account.
Regularise was established to improve the quality of life of undocumented people through the advancement of human rights which includes an end to the ‘Hostile Environment’ against migrants and refugees. The group was successful in calling for the UK Government to enable undocumented migrants to more easily access the vaccination programme at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.,,
Regularise campaigner, Sunitha Dwarakanath, who grew up in Birmingham, said:
“Regularise would like to congratulate Lizzie for her fantastic performance on Friday night. She has rightly taken the opportunity to sign our petition to highlight the enormous gap between the Commonwealth of Nations’ stated values and principles, and the reality of how the UK Government continues to deny the human rights of undocumented people, many of whom migrated from Commonwealth nations.”
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been reported to be using the Commonwealth Games to further ‘Rwanda-style’ removal plans for people coming to UK to seek safety and better lives, in direct opposition to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, and against the Charter of the Commonwealth of Nations, which states its commitment to:
“…the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights…”
which it views as
“…universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively.”
maintaining a position that is
“…implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”
Regularise seeks justice for undocumented migrants. The UK Government maintains laws that stand in the way of justice and equity, in the same way that up to 30 years ago in Apartheid South Africa it was illegal for an indegenous African/black person to live in and access certain areas, work in most senior-level jobs, access public facilities, or marry a white/European person. The UK Government must therefore come to terms with the fact that migration must not be criminalised, as migrant communities are integral to British society and must be treated with respect, inclusivity and support, especially during crises.
Full text of petition taken from Change.org/UndocumentedRightsUK:
We are a group of British citizens, migrants and refugees, including athletes and Commonwealth citizens who are deeply shocked about the fact that currently in the UK there exists a population of adults and children, all members of British society, who are forced to live in the margins of inclusion and whose human rights continue to be infringed upon.
2022 marks the year that the UK hosts the XXII Commonwealth Games, also known as Birmingham 2022. It is a sporting spectacle that sees athletes from 54 Commonwealth of Nations countries and 18 territories, competing in a range of sports.
The Commonwealth* affirms the principles and values of mutual respect, inclusiveness and responsiveness, amongst others, whilst declaring the upholding of Human Rights to its members as follows:
“We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies.
We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively. We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”
Therefore, we urge the UK Government to:
- Implement a secure and equitable programme that enables undocumented residents living in the UK, including Commonwealth citizens with undocumented/irregularised status, to regularise their status. This scheme must be accessible and enable undocumented people to regularise and maintain their immigration status so they are not made undocumented (again), via:
a) a simplified application process for undocumented migrants who have lived in the UK for at least 5 continuous years which allows them to immediately apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (similar to ‘settled status’); and
b) the creation of a new process similar to that of the EU Settlement Scheme’s pre-settled status for those who have lived in the UK for less than 5 years (with a maximum of two applications in total before gaining indefinite leave to remain or ‘settled status’ after living in the UK for a ‘continuous period’ of 5 years);
- Maintain a just, inclusive and humanitarian approach to migrants, including undocumented migrants living in the UK, by respecting their human rights, and repealing the hostile environment policies which infringe on those rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (i.e. the rights to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing; work, marriage etc);
- Ensure undocumented residents basic needs are met, including subsistence and medical care, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crises like the cost-of-living crisis;
- Foster honest, empathetic and compassionate narratives about people who migrated to the UK for various reasons and are facing immigration issues;
- Immediately halt the forced removal of people seeking safety and better lives, including those from Commonwealth countries and those whose home is the UK, regardless of how they travelled/arrived in the country, allowing them to go through due process by respecting their human rights.
Implementing the above recommendations will provide undocumented people with the stability they need to be able to live with dignity: as many of them call the UK home, having lived here for more than 5, 10, and even 15 years**, and many having migrated from Commonwealth or formerly Commonwealth member countries. Gaining an accessible and lawful path to settlement will ensure they are able to participate fully, safely and openly, preventing exploitation, and unlocking a great deal of potential for many who call the UK home.
* The Commonwealth of Nations is made up of countries and territories who were colonised by Great Britain through violent conquest and forcibly made part of the British Empire. Today, it is described as a voluntary association with around 2.6 billion people, i.e. a third of the world’s population, living in Commonwealth countries, demonstrating the expansiveness of what was the British Empire and its legacy, The Commonwealth of Nations.
** Currently in the UK, there are an estimated 600,000 – 1.2 million undocumented migrants (less than 1.8% of the UK’s population), many who are Commonwealth citizens and who originally arrived from the very same Commonwealth member States that will participate in the Commonwealth Games, many who have lived in the UK for more than 5, 10, and even 15 years. For them, the UK is home.
For an undocumented person living in the UK, the existing routes to regularise one’s immigration status once made undocumented are extremely difficult to access or qualify under as they involve applying to regularise one’s status if they are either:
- seeking asylum and require refugee or humanitarian protection; or
- have lived continuously in the UK for at least 20 years and they can prove this; or
- are aged between 18 and 25 years and have spent at least half of their life living here; or,
- have lived continuously in the UK for less than 20 years but there would be very significant obstacles to their integration into the country of return (extremely difficult to prove ‘significant obstacles’ for most people who have lived in the UK for many years);
- a child under 18 can apply for leave to remain if they have lived continuously in the UK for 7 years where it would not be reasonable for them to leave the country or be deported.
Most undocumented migrants do not currently qualify under any of these routes, including those who have lived here 15/16 years, so they cannot regularise their immigration status and are forced to live life in the very margins, being a part of but unable to participate fully in British society. This leaves these members of British society in a highly precarious state, with sustained suffering exacerbated during crises, and at high risks of destitution and exploitation for lengthy periods of time. The existing routes, if accessible, only grant a temporary right to remain and have visa and legal fees that are often out of reach for a lot of undocumented migrants who already lead precarious lives and may already be living in or close to poverty. For example, someone who came to the UK at the age of 17 or 18 and is currently undocumented having lived here for 16 years would need to wait 4 more years until being able to apply to regularise their immigration status and, if they manage to do this, re-apply every 30 months over an additional 10 year period at the cost of over £11,000 (excluding legal fees) until they can apply to settle in the UK. For most on this route, this means more than 30 years of precarious existence. The physical, emotional and psychological toll on undocumented people caused by the current immigration rules cannot be understated.
– ENDS –