Asylum seekers, all human beings, deserve better.

Scottish Greens justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman MSP gave a powerful speech on the UK's cruel and racist anti-migrant policies. Here is the speech in full.

I want to thank organisations, communities and individuals who work, day in, day out, supporting asylum seekers. I pay tribute to Grampian Regional Equality Council and Dundee International Women’s Centre for their work across the North East. And of course, the Scottish Refugee Council. 

We’ve heard that we shouldn’t be having this debate, that, as immigration is a reserved matter, we can cheerfully and with clear consciences leave it to those wise men and women of Westminster. 

But this is one of those moments when history will judge us by what we say and do, or by how we keep silent. 

For the scandal that is UK asylum policy and legislation is already having disastrous impacts at multiple levels: internationally, for the UK, for Scotland, for our communities. And, most of all, for the people and families that the asylum system is supposed to protect. 

Globally, passing the Illegal Migration Act represents a serious blow to the UK’s standing. While the British reputation for decency and fair play has often been undeserved, it is the case that people in the UK have played significant roles in developing international human rights and asylum systems.

It is the greatest of insults to these hardworking, courageous pioneers that their country is now seen as a rogue state, a reputation which, now gained, will be very hard to lose. Who’d have thought it possible that a UK government would pass laws that admit - on their very face - that they are not compliant with our most basic human rights?  

This reputation is an international humiliation. But it’s also worrying that others may be tempted to follow the UK’s lead. If the UK, with all its prosperity and advantages, can disregard shared humanity and international law, others will ask why they shouldn’t do the same? 

In the UK, these policies and the rhetoric behind them are doing incalculable damage to our political and public discourse. The crude violence of the “stop the boats” messaging would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And the level of opposition, from moderate Tories and the official opposition, has been woefully weak.

It’s my profound hope that their consciences will overcome their cynical calculations of electoral advantage – not least because those calculations are very likely to be wrong. Despite the extraordinary media messaging over many years, messages of spite, bile and blatant untruth, most people are not xenophobic border obsessives but compassionate citizens who recognise themselves in those seeking refuge and welcome them as neighbours, colleagues and friends.  

Here in Scotland, we’ve long recognised the value of people coming from elsewhere - for our community, culture, identity and economy. That tradition of welcome and mutual enrichment is deeply rooted and remains strong and vibrant, though its practical manifestations are made much more difficult by the UK government. 

Demographically and culturally, we know, as politicians and commentators in England seem to have forgotten, that we need new Scots.  

The motion recognises that the pernicious impact of Westminster policies is especially painful for our local authorities – those who already host and support people seeking asylum and those who want to do more. Our councils are, impossibly, being prevented from carrying out fundamental duties to provide essential services to those in most need. 

Finally, and most importantly, those inhuman and illegal policies are having tragic effects for our new and potential Scots neighbours, on people seeking asylum here including those in situations of deep danger, longing for refuge, those who have embarked on long and perilous journeys, those already here awaiting decisions from a cruel and dilatory Home Office, those who have received their refugee status, and many others affected by the hostile environment and discourses of demonisation. 

Those blows fall most heavily upon the vulnerable, especially upon victims of trafficking, whose rights and means of redress have been essentially shredded by the Illegal Migration Act. They fall upon children, including young teenagers whose age is disbelieved by the Home Office, and the youngest babies and toddlers placed in institutional accommodation with few if any opportunities to play, crawl, walk and reach the other essential milestones of child development.  

UK policies represent a failure of compliance with international law, a failure of humanity, a failure of imagination.  

I implore all those who think these policies acceptable to take a moment to imagine themselves faced with the horrific choices which have to be made by those in danger of persecution, imprisonment or death. Think about the dangerous journeys made, the homes, families, friends and lives left behind.  

Then imagine that when you finally reach what should be a place of safety, the fear continues – fear of attack by hostile far right actors, trauma reawakened by windowless rooms that feel like cells, anxiety and sleeplessness triggered by rooms shared with strangers.  

Think about the simple actions we take for granted, sufficient money to catch a bus to an essential appointment, to phone a family member, to buy a child a small toy or treat. Think about having studied and worked for years, perhaps in a much needed medical or caring role, and not being allowed to use those skills for the community around you, not being allowed to work at all, but left, maybe for years, in a limbo of indignity and lack of information. 

And at the end of all that waiting, when the decision finally comes that yes, what you said was true, that you are indeed a refugee, imagine that decision coming along with the news that you have just a few days before being evicted from your accommodation, with little hope of finding a home or escaping further destitution.  

These are the realities behind the brash slogan of Stop the Boats: not boats stopped, but lives, families and communities broken and bereft. 

Asylum seekers, all human beings, deserve better.