LONDON — Critics of the British government’s new promises to crack down on illegal immigration say its policies could breed discrimination, with landlords opting for British applicants over foreigners out of fear of being penalized.
The British government pledged new measures Monday whereby landlords who fail to evict illegal immigrants or carry out proper checks on them could face up to five years in prison.
The measures will be included in the government’s upcoming immigration bill with the aim of clamping down on rogue landlords and deterring illegal immigrants desperate to come to the U.K.
But human rights groups worry that the new measures could make life more difficult for foreigners who are living in Britain legally, with landlords prioritizing British tenants.
Landlords “might just take a short cut and lend to a white British person, especially if they might face a fine or a threat of a jail sentence,” said Jan Brulc, a spokesman for Migrants' Rights Network, a U.K. charity.
Gov's been busy over weekend coming up with ways to divert attention from Calais: landlord checks, asylum support rates, immigration bill
— Migrants Rights Net (@migrants_rights) August 3, 2015
The new measures, which follow a pilot scheme introduced last year in England’s West Midlands, come as the British government attempts to take control of a migrant crisis in the French port of Calais, which has caused huge traffic delays impacting Britain’s road freight industry and holidaymakers traveling between England and France.
About 5,000 migrants, many fleeing war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East, are living in squalid, makeshift camps on the edge of Calais with hopes of sneaking onto a truck or train crossing the undersea tunnel to England. The situation has escalated in recent days with migrants making thousands of attempts to storm the Eurotunnel in hopes of reaching the U.K.
The crisis has dominated the news bulletins in Britain over the past week, and in recent days, the British government has been stepping up its rhetoric, hoping to send a message that life here will not be easy for those who hoping to slip past border controls.
Under the new landlord proposals, those who repeatedly fail to conduct proper checks on a migrant’s status prior to agreeing a lease — or who fail to evict migrants who don’t have the proper papers — could face stiff penalties. Landlords will also be able to end tenancies — in some situations without a court order — if a migrant is unsuccessful in a bid to win asylum.
British Communities Secretary Greg Clark told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Program: “We’re cracking down on those rogue landlords who make money out of illegal immigrants, exploiting vulnerable people and undermining the immigration system.”
The reaction from landlords was “mixed,” said Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlord Association. He said that “it’s controversial because it puts a duty on the landlord to perform functions that are normally done by border control and the Home Office. But we have called for end of tenancy when there is no right, without having to go through costly court process — that is positive,” he said.
Migrants in Calais are drawn to the U.K. for a variety of reasons, including the English language, family connections, and view that it’s easier to live and work illegally in the U.K., in part because there are no national identity cards.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Theresa May, Britain’s Home Secretary, and her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, sought to counter the view that Britain is the land of milk and money.
They wrote: “Many see Europe, and particularly Britain, as somewhere that offers the prospect of financial gain. This is not the case – our streets are not paved with gold.”