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Against the Hostile Environment

The Brent Biennial 2022, In the House of my Love, reflects on ten years since the implementation of the Hostile Environment policy in the UK. Read through this quick guide for action by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants.

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants is a queer activist group who, through fundraising and direct action, stand in solidarity with all migrants and refugees. Inspired by the 1980s group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, we build on a proud history of queer solidarity to say: No one is illegal.

A Day of Action Against the Hostile Environment (30 July 2023), as part of the public programme of the Brent Biennial 2022, ‘In the House of my Love’.
The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.
— Home Secretary Theresa May, 2012


The UK Home Office Hostile Environment policy is a series of measures designed to make the UK a hostile environment for so-called “illegal immigrants”. It was designed by the Conservative- Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2012, and implemented primarily by the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. The Hostile Environment aims to make the UK unlivable for undocumented migrants (people who can’t prove their right to live in the UK), and ultimately force them to leave.

The Hostile Environment creates a mandate for discrimination in the UK. Most famously, this has affected the Windrush Generation: subjects of the British Empire who migrated to mainland Britain between 1948 and 1973 from colonised and formerly colonised countries in the Caribbean. Despite having a legal right to remain in the UK, from 2014 many of these Black elders were deemed ‘illegal immigrants’ / ‘undocumented migrants’. Many people lost their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. Many were placed in immigration detention, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they hadn’t set foot in since they were children.


The Hostile Environment policy embeds hostility in public services and within communities. This turns regular citizens and public workers into immigration officers, making them complicit in the enforcement of the hostile environment. The Government requires employers, landlords, private sector workers, NHS staff and other public servants to check a person’s immigration status before they can offer them a job, housing, healthcare and other support. Landlords and employers can face fines and even criminal sanctions if they fail to do so.

The Hostile Environment therefore results in widespread racial profiling and discrimination, with public servants and private individuals prioritising people who ‘look British’. People with insecure migration status, including people seeking asylum in the UK, are often scared to access healthcare and other essential support, for fear of deportation.

In this way, immigration controls are now embedded in everyday interactions between public sector workers and the people they are supposed to serve. New offences mean undocumented migrants find themselves criminalised for doing what they must to survive—in some cases simply for working or even driving.


It has been ten years since the UK Government conceived the Hostile Environment policy, and things are only getting more extreme. This year, the Conservative government passed the Nationality and Borders Act. It extends the Hostile Environment, creating further unsafe situations for people seeking refugee and safety, as well as for anyone who is not white and British. The Nationality and Borders Act gives the Home Office a set of new powers, including the power to strip people of their British citizenship without telling them.

People of colour are eight times more likely to be vulnerable to being deprived of their nationality than those who are racialised as white. The Home Office plans to deport people seeking asylum to Rwanda to process their claims. As the government body with responsibility for immigration, security, and policing, the Home Office has been given more power to surveil, detain and criminalise migrants, and anyone who is seen as helping migrants to enter the UK.


Brent has a long history of migrant activism. On a Friday morning in August 1976, Jayaben Desai and a handful of colleagues staged a walk-out at the Grunwick photo processing lab on Chapter Road in Willesden. Demanding better pay and working conditions, Desai and her co-workers not only fought for the right to unionise at the lab, they also sparked a two-year long fight that would become a significant moment in British labour history, mobilising thousands of workers all across the country––many of whom were white working class men––in support of workers’ rights for women and migrants. 

There is power in community action. Everyday people can and have resisted deportations, arrests and legal actions through joining together in solidarity with migrants. You can join a grassroots group or local mutual aid effort; you can create a local network of spare rooms for refugees; you can write to your local MP and make sure they stand against the Hostile Environment. Or you can join a local anti-immigration raids group through the Anti Raids Network, who will advise you on how you can collectively or individually intervene legally and safely and take direct action if you witness an immigration raid taking place.

The government enforces the Hostile Environment with the belief that it has the broad support of the British public, but countless daily actions and gestures of support for migrants tell us otherwise. Brent has its own culture of migrant solidarity. The borough is home to organisations such as Young Roots, Sufra Foodbank and Kitchen, Asian Women Resource Centre and many others providing support and services to migrants regardless of their immigration status.

But the fight is not just about the work of charitable organisations making up for the destruction of the Welfare State. We need to organise and demand an end to the Hostile Environment, and we need to challenge the ideas that uphold the government’s punitive immigration system. We can advocate for an end to the border regime, and demand for freedom of movement as a human right; we can refuse the idea that any human is ever ‘illegal’. We can say that everyone deserves to live with dignity and safety, and that everyone has a right to refuge if that safety is compromised. Together we can fight for a world where everyone is welcome, no matter what they look like or whey they come from.