Immigration and crime were increasingly linked between 2000 and 2010 as thousands flocked to the UK. Many legitimately came from other EU countries when new countries such as Poland and Rumania joined the EU. Many more have entered the UK illegally from the Middle East, Africa and Middle Asia and the police now believe that people trafficking is proving as lucrative for criminal gangs as drug smuggling.
Because these immigrants are not in the UK legally, their only real opportunity is to work illegally. While there is a common perception that illegal immigrants have fuelled crime – the tabloids blame an increase of knife crime on immigrants – this may not be the case. Clearly if an illegal immigrant – and Migration Watch believe the figure runs into hundreds of thousands – gets involved in a criminal activity (outside of illegally working) and is detected, arrested and found guilty, they face swift deportation back to their country of origin. Having invested a great deal of their savings in paying the traffickers to get into the UK, it is not really in an illegal immigrant’s interest to get involved in overt criminality. A counter-argument to this forwarded by some pressure groups is that desperation alone might force an illegal immigrant into involving him/herself in some form of criminal activity.
However, some small businesses (which are difficult to monitor) have engaged in criminal activity by knowingly (though they would deny this) employing immigrants who have no work valid visa.
In a sense both parties benefit. The illegal immigrants need work to gain money while the employer can cut costs via pay (the national minimum wage would almost certainly not be paid) and can skimp on health and safety legislation. The employer might also recoup some of his/her wages by also supplying accommodation that many would see as being of the most basic of kinds – crowded, damp and dirty with only the most basic of amenities. Given the circumstances an illegal immigrant is in – entering the country illegally and working illegally – he/she is hardly in a position to complain.
The end result has been described as modern-day slavery. One African illegal immigrant (‘Fatima’) was quoted in the press as saying: “"British people say slavery is still happening in Africa, but they never know it's still in their own country as well."
‘Fatima’ had an illegal job in the UK where she says she was virtually held prisoner for four years and had to work from 6am until late, never had a day off - not even Christmas Day - and was paid just £100 a month. Eventually, she left where she was and handed herself into the authorities and it is now up to them as to whether ‘Fatima’ is deported or not.
The overwhelming problem when examining illegal immigration and any area of criminality is the simple lack of hard data. We can only know about the cases that have come to light and even the current coalition government has stated that it can give no accurate figure for the number of illegal immigrants who have entered the country. Plans have been mooted for an amnesty to legalise those who came into the UK illegally. They would therefore no longer live in fear of being found out and the hold their employer has over them disappears as they would become legitimate citizens of the UK. They would also be covered by a whole raft of legislation including being paid the national minimum wage at the least and being covered by free health care. However, it is a politically sensitive area as the government would be aware of the probable negative reaction of some in the public as some would argue that the government if they went ahead with this would legitimise an illegal act – illegally getting into the UK – and such a move would also encourage others to do the same.
With no knowledge as to how many illegal immigrants are in the UK, there can be no way of knowing just how much or how little they are engaged in criminal behaviour. However, those who employ them are actively engaging in criminal behaviour but as it is carried out in the dark shadows of society, few would be brave enough to start putting figures on just how great the problem is.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex