Immigration policies under scrutiny
An academic who advises the Government on immigration policy has questioned the effectiveness of a string of high-profile recent operations targeting illegal migrants.
Dr Martin Ruhs, a member of the Migration Advisory Committee, warned that Britain did not want to use tactics for dealing with migrants more familiar in countries like Singapore or much of the Middle East.
He was speaking after immigration minister Mark Harper defended the use of spot checks at London Underground stations to question individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
Mr Harper insisted that those stopped at Tube stations were not targeted on the basis of their race, but their behaviour when confronted by immigration officers attending the location on the back of intelligence that it may be linked to illegal activities.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the immigration checks for possible discrimination, and is also probing a controversial Home Office advertising campaign, which saw vans deployed in parts of London with the message to illegal immigrants that they should "go home" or face arrest.
Oxford University economist Dr Ruhs questioned whether the headline-grabbing initiatives were effective as a policy, rather than simply being a "spectacle".
He told The Observer: "In liberal democracies generally we don't want to do the kinds of things that are commonplace in Singapore or maybe the Middle East. You have to draw the line somewhere. Different people will draw the line in different places over what is acceptable in how you treat people.
"Obviously the Government has to do something about irregular immigration, but the issue is more complex than many policymakers believe. Some policies have an element of a spectacle - you want to send a signal, and those policies aren't necessarily the most effective."
Labour immigration spokesman Chris Bryant has demanded the release of statistics on the number and ethnic background of people stopped, accusing the Government of whipping up a "moral panic" over immigration for electoral purposes.
But Mr Harper revealed that no details of the ethnicity of those questioned were recorded, with officers noting only the nationality, name and date of birth of those they spoke to. Some 17 people were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences at two Tube stations where operations were carried out, though no figures were yet available on how many people were stopped, he said.