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Chill of recession grips illegal Indian migrants

Whom does an economic crisis hit hardest? The textbook says: small businesses, the poorest, women and the old. At the bottom of the ladder in Britain are destitute illegal immigrants.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2012 00:16 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Whom does an economic crisis hit hardest? The textbook says: small businesses, the poorest, women and the old. At the bottom of the ladder in Britain are destitute illegal immigrants.

From the start of the recession, through the general election to a year on now, illegal immigrants have been the staple of the media. The latest report, by BBC television, shows illegal immigrants from Punjab living in filthy garages or huddled under bridges, desperately struggling against the cold.

There are two kinds of illegal immigrants: those who came here with valid visas but then overstayed and those who are stateless, because they tore up passports in a bid to stay on.

In boom years, when there are jobs, they work for cheap and help oil the wheels of the economy. Now in its bust years, the job market has dried up. Immigration authorities are cracking down - anyone found hiring 'an illegal' is fined £10,000.

But the immigrant doesn't want to return. Often, having borrowed money or sold land to get here, they are too embarrassed to return without a penny to show for their poor families' sacrifices.

The deportation of those who overstay their visas is the responsibility of the British government, which gave them the visas in the first place. There were 12,879 deportations last year, including 7,000 to India. But those who have no papers need to be identified, and that's an Indian responsibility.

A Sikh charity says India is "dragging its feet" over establishing the identities of those who have no papers but claim to be Indians and want to return. The High Commission says establishing someone's identity is complex and time-consuming (ending at the village thana) and that still 86% of the cases are resolved in two months.

Two years ago, London Mayor Boris Johnson advocated an "earned amnesty" for 400,000 immigrants, saying plans to deport them were "not going to happen."