Two years ago Sajid Javid, newly appointed home secretary after the Windrush scandal, declared an end to the phrase ‘hostile environment’. It was an ‘unhelpful’ form of words, he told Parliament, which ‘doesn’t represent our values as a country’. The phrase, which describes the bureaucratic obstacles conceived in 2012 to make life in the UK impossible for unwanted immigrants, may have disappeared from the official lexicon, but the policies remain, even during a pandemic.
The man who spoke to me on the phone from Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire asked me not to use his name. ‘At 10.30,’ he said, ‘they put us on a bus and took us to a private airfield in Doncaster although they were fighting for our case outside. I see police. I see dogs. It was like hell. We were watching other detainees going inside the plane. We were shaking, thinking any moment it’s going to be us.’