‘Super-selectivity’ and its effects

‘Super-selectivity’ and its effects


Written by: Frances Webber

The policy of commercialisation of migration leads inexorably to neglect and ill-treatment of the most vulnerable.

At a recent conference organised by the Detention Advice Service (DAS), Rob Whiteman, the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) chief executive, was unapologetic. ‘We implement the government’s policy of super-selectivity’, he said. ‘That means we want only the brightest and best to come to the UK.’ The term, as Jon Robins pointed out in the Guardian,[1] comes from a speech given by former immigration minister Damian Green in February to the think-tank Policy Exchange. And of course, ‘brightest and best’ is, these days, almost a euphemism for the  ‘richest’, who have their very own fast track to entry and settlement in the UK if they are prepared to invest £1 million here. But the corollary, as he did not need to explain, is mass detention and punitive and inhuman treatment for those Britain doesn’t want – the foreign national offenders and the undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, including the most vulnerable.

We have previously documented cases where High Court judges have ruled UKBA’s treatment of a number of mentally ill ex-offenders breached the ban on inhuman and degrading treatment contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. The case of asylum seeker EH[2] highlights once again the apparent inability of UKBA to modify its detention policy in cases of extremely vulnerable people, whether ex-offenders, refused asylum seekers or those caught up in ‘fast track’ detention and processing of their claims. EH, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression, could not secure representation for his asylum claim – which was rejected. Without a medical report to corroborate his account, he lost his appeal after the immigration judge disbelieved him, and he was detained. Very soon it became clear to UKBA officials that he was suffering from mental illness and that his continued detention, and the threat of imminent removal to Rwanda, was making his illness worse. But they kept him in detention for five months, despite acute episodes of PTSD and suicide attempts – and his mental state was not even taken into account when his detention was reviewed. A High Court judge found EH’s detention to have been unlawful, because of this failure. Eventually, as a result of the litigation, EH’s case was reviewed and he was allowed to stay.


Being given refugee status did not prevent death by starvation for the year-old baby of a successful asylum seeker. Baby EG died in March 2010 in temporary accommodation in Westminster after the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) asylum support was cut off when his mother’s refugee claim was accepted. Isolated and reliant on charity hand-outs, the family, comprising EG, his 3-year-old sister and their ill mother, were told they had to become homeless to get mainstream benefits, although they were known to have ‘chronic and complex health and social needs’. EG starved to death as his mother lay unconscious from an HIV-related brain infection from which she also was to die two days later. Although the direct cause of the baby’s death was his mother’s state, the family’s total destitution must have played its part. When the magazine Inside Housing reported on the death on receiving documents from a Westminster social services review in October 2012, organisations working with refugees pointed out that since EG’s death the situation has worsened. In September 2011 the government abolished the Refugee Integration and Employment Service, which used to provide some transitional support for refugees caught by the end of asylum support.[3]

Selectivity in immigration control is not new; since the 1905 Aliens Act, governments have sought to exclude the poor while encouraging the wealthy and highly skilled. In the 1960s this was reflected in the issuing of work vouchers to limit the number of unskilled and semi-skilled workers entering the country. New Labour’s embrace of ‘managed migration’ policies (for recruiting only the most highly qualified), combined with deterrent and punitive measures against asylum seekers, the undocumented and foreign offenders, refined this selectivity and encouraged a marketised approach to migration which the Coalition’s ‘super-selectivity’ policy consolidates. As the Coalition adopts New Labour’s policies of enforced destitution for refused asylum seekers, a 70-year-old Somali woman is among those sleeping on the floor of a mosque.[4] As the end of legal aid for most immigration cases looms and refugee and housing charities warn of more refused asylum seekers sleeping rough, we would do well to ask our leaders for a re-think on neo-liberal policies like super-selectivity.

[1] ‘Foreign national prisoners do not deserve blanket judgments’, Guardian, 12 October 2012. [2] R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin). [3] ‘Child starved to death after benefits delay’, Inside Housing, 5 October 2012. [4] ‘A tough choice’, Inside Housing, 20 July 2012.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

One thought on “‘Super-selectivity’ and its effects

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