Skip to main content

‘Fluid and pervasive’: Aidan Mosselson on the 'hostile environment'

Krzysztof hepner TH7 TW20de9s unsplash
Krzysztof Hepner (Unsplash)

Ahead of our Sanctuary in a Hostile Environment event on 12th May, we asked panellist Aidan Mosselson from the University of Edinburgh about some of the ways the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy affects people in their everyday lives.

Aidan tolds us that the hostile environment is “a fluid and pervasive set of anti-migrant practices and policies [which] affects different types of people in different ways.”

Aidan will speak about hostile environment policies alongside writer and campaign Maya Goodfellow and Victor Mujakachi of local charity ASSIST. The event will also discuss some of the work being done in Sheffield to actively challenge and contest the hostile environment - and create a city that is welcoming to, and hospitable for, forced migrants.

ID checks

"Policies enacted under the blanket of the hostile environment have made checks on people’s migration status part of everyday life, including going to the doctor, attending higher education institutions, accessing social services, renting homes and even reporting crimes to the police.

"The Windrush Scandal – or rather, the scandalous way in which the government treated members of the Windrush Generation – shows how these immigration checks affect people who have been racialised, regardless of their migration status. The fact that people who were legally resident in the UK for the majority of their lives had their citizenship status questioned and were denied social services, lost their jobs and [were] even deported shows that the hostile environment affects people in the most basic and significant ways, and is something that racialised communities have to negotiate and live with constantly.

"The hostile environment means that anybody’s migration status can be called into question at any time, with deadly consequences."


"In my own research [...] I met one person who arrived in the UK as a child, as her mother was fleeing Zimbabwe and claimed asylum here. She has been granted provisional asylum on several occasions, meaning that she and her family have not been able to settle in the UK and enjoy permanent residency or citizenship.

"[She] had completed the bulk of her schooling in the UK and wanted to attend university to study nursing. She was accepted to her first choice institution, but then discovered that she would have to pay international fees, as her provisional asylum status means that she is not classified as a ‘home student’. This has meant that she is unable to study, as the fees are far too expensive. Her status also means that she cannot qualify for any government bursaries or student loans.

"So although she has worked incredibly hard and wants to enter into a crucial profession, the anti-migration stance adopted by the government means that she is stuck and cannot fulfil her ambitions or feel like a full, participating member of UK society.

"This is a rather mundane example, compared to people being deported and dying, but also shows the way in which the hostile environment shapes people’s everyday lives – in terms of the avenues open to them, the choices they can or cannot make, and the ways migration classifications can stall and disrupt people’s lives."


"When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, we can see the hostile environment at work in a number of examples.

"For example, people awaiting decisions on asylum applications are housed in dire circumstances. Various activists and scholars have documented the dreadful conditions of the housing provided to asylum seekers, showing numerous instances of houses overrun by mould, pest infestations and unsafe structures. These conditions make everyday life uncomfortable, unpleasant and difficult, and send signals to asylum seekers that they are not welcome and should never be able to feel at ease.

"Significantly, these houses are provided by companies who profit out of housing vulnerable asylum seekers."

During Covid-19

"During the Covid pandemic housing situations have deteriorated, leaving people stranded without adequate sanitary provisions, unable to socially distance and disconnected from ICT infrastructure necessary for home schooling.

"Refused asylum seekers are not permitted to work and are provided with the bare minimum financial support. This pushes them into destitution and is a deliberate strategy on the part of the government to make life in the UK untenable.

"All of this treatment fits into the hostile environment, which explicitly aims to make the UK an inhospitable place, eventually prompting people to leave."


"Experiences of the hostile immigration regime are often traumatising and leave emotional scars. These can surface in unexpected places, even in spaces designed to provide support to migrants.

"During my research I witnessed how people could be easily triggered by seemingly innocent questions, such as ‘How long have you been in the UK?’, or encounters. Their emotional states often created further isolation, as people would avoid them or keep their distance.

"Charities requiring people to provide identity documents in order to access services also have strong resemblance to the hostile environment policy that makes checks on migration status part of everyday life. In some cases, being asked to show identification made people suspicious and even prompted them to leave certain places offering support services.

"Here we see how the hostile environment creates suspicion and division between migrants and those attempting to offer support and solidarity. It is again something that crops up in everyday encounters and situations and makes life difficult, unpleasant and isolating."