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article imageUK Government 'go home' text campaign harasses UK immigrants

By Robert Myles     Oct 19, 2013 in Politics
London - For the second time recently, the UK's Border Agency, has been heavily criticised after thousands of text messages were sent to suspected illegal immigrants warning them to quit the UK.
Many of the tens of thousands of texts were received on cellphones of UK citizens with a perfectly legitimate right to remain in the UK. They were transmitted by a company under contract to the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), the government body responsible for overseeing the UK’s borders and immigration.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is answerable to the UK Home Office, the department of state responsible for internal affairs, including border security and immigration. In the past the same agency has been criticised for launching insensitive campaigns aimed at reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants in the UK.
Just a few weeks ago, the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), which adjudicates on misleading or tasteless adverts, upheld a complaint concerning mobile billboard advertising pitched on the back of two small trucks which toured London streets. The billboards displayed posters calling on illegal immigrants to “Go home or face arrest”.
For a week last July, the two vehicles processed around five London boroughs known to have a high proportion of illegal immigrants.
Such was the public outcry, Britain’s ASA received 224 complaints about the mobile adverts from a mix of individuals, campaign groups, legal academics and politicians. The ASA upheld a number of complaints that the campaign was misleading on the basis of inaccurate arrest statistics, but failed to uphold that the same adverts were offensive and irresponsible.
Now, another Home Office anti-immigration campaign has again been strongly criticized from many quarters after an estimated 40,000 text messages were sent to people accusing them of being in the UK illegally and warning them to leave the country. BBC News puts the numbers of those contacted significantly higher at 58,800.
In a number of cases, texts were sent to UK nationals, the coincidence being they might have foreign-sounding names. The Daily Telegraph reports over 140 complaints were made to the UK Home Office concerning text messages wrongly accusing people of being illegal immigrants and demanding they depart UK shores.
In one case highlighted by The Independent, Suresh Grover, the founder of the anti-racism charity ‘The Monitoring Group,’ received a text from UKBA saying he had no right to live in the UK. The text read, “You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have right to remain.”
Mr Grover came to the UK in 1966, as he told The Independent, “I was absolutely shocked and quite horrified to receive the text. I thought it wasn’t meant for me. I came here with my parents in 1966. I was born in East Africa and have always had a British passport.”
Anxious to learn more, Mr Grover contacted private capital group Capita, contracted by the UKBA to see through the texting campaign. Capita confirmed he was indeed the correct recipient. Mr Grover explained to the company he’d resided in Britain for 50 years but said the woman he spoke to at Capita pressed him for more information.
“It’s horrific”
Mr Grover continued, “The more I talked to the woman the more angry I got. She was asking for more personal information about me and was not telling me where she got my number. I’m not going to be giving them information I don’t think they deserve. I think it’s outrageous sending people random texts without knowing who they are sending them to. I was angry but I was also bemused, because of the work I do. But I think people who don’t work in this area may take them seriously and be worried they don’t have the right to live in the UK. It’s horrific.”
Not satisfied with the explanations given, The Guardian reports Mr Grover submitted a Freedom of Information request to the UK Home Office. Their answer revealed that over 39,000 similar texts had been sent to individuals and 143 people had complained. Capita and the Home Office, however, only owned up to 14 people having been wrongly contacted.
The practice of harassing people by text was condemned by an acquaintance of Mr Grover, Bobby Chan, who also happens to be an accredited immigration adviser at a central London law centre. Mr Chan, who had also received a similar text, has in the past given expert evidence to the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee. Speaking to The Independent, Mr Chan said, “I came here in 1973 so I was very surprised to receive this message and even found it quite funny. But if an elderly Chinese person received one of these messages they would get very worried.”
Mr Chan condemned the UK Home Office’s texting campaign as “fishing raids” and said, “These kinds of practises stereotype immigrants as a criminal community and create an atmosphere of fear.”
The texting campaign was defended by the UK Home office The Daily Telegraph reports a Home Office spokesperson commenting, “We are taking proactive steps to contact individuals who records show have no valid right to be in the UK, some of which date back to December 2008. We believe it is right to enforce the immigration rules.
"Out of thousands of people contacted by Capita, a small number have been found to have the right to be in the UK or an outstanding application. Anyone contacted in error has been asked to get in touch with Capita to update their records"
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