THE idea that the UK has acted as a beacon of liberty and provided a safe and welcoming home for people fleeing war and conflicts is one of the central and self-aggrandising myths peddled by successive UK governments and much of the British establishment.

Even in the speech in which she announced her disgraceful plan for asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda for “processing”, Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke of a UK that “[supports] those fleeing oppression, persecution, and tyranny” and “has always extended the hand of friendship to those in need”.

The reality is that her plan to “offshore” vulnerable people in Rwanda didn’t come from nowhere. It is the result of decades of brutal and dehumanising policies. Whether it is chartered deportation flights, the prison-like conditions of detention centres like Dungavel, the injustice of the Windrush scandal or the spectre of deportation vans and dawn raids, the Home Office has routinely targeted and punished some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

And this hasn’t just happened under Tory governments. Many of the foundations for the hostile environment were put in place by Labour home secretaries. During his tenure, David Blunkett (above) spoke of asylum seekers “swamping” schools while he and his successors introduced much of the heartless and immoral detention and deportation infrastructure now fully taken advantage of by his Tory successors.

Behind every scare story or restriction there are real people paying a terrible price. We are often told that we are facing a “migration crisis” but the real crises are the war, poverty and climate catastrophes which are forcing people to risk their lives to seek safety.

In 2017 I saw the reality of this suffering when I joined a fact-finding trip to the islands of Sicily and Lampedusa. The trip, organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, was an opportunity to see the vital work being done by faith and human rights groups to support refugees in the face of outright hostility and a militarised response from most European governments.

Lampedusa is referred to as the “door to Europe” and thousands of people have died trying to reach it from Libya. While I was there I met Vivien, a 17-year-old from central Africa. She was pregnant by rape and had been kidnapped twice and forced into sexual slavery. In her short life she had already experienced so much horror and violence.

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I also saw the grave of Walala, an 18-year-old from Eritrea who had suffered terrible burns when gas canisters had exploded in the Libyan warehouse she was being held in. Rather than take her to hospital, the people smugglers put her on a boat to die in agony at sea. Nobody should have to go through the pain Walala did.

The hostile environment policies being pursued by Priti Patel and her colleagues and the refusal to open up safe routes for asylum are doing little for people like Vivien or Walala. The only beneficiaries have been the outsourcing companies, who have lined the pockets of shareholders while profiting from the misery that these policies have inflicted.

Things could be about to get even worse. This week the House of Commons moved a step closer to introducing the Nationality and Borders Bill, a disgraceful piece of legislation that would criminalise the very act of seeking safety in the UK.

The Home Secretary has said that her plans will “break the business model of people smugglers” but by making people even more dependent on criminal gangs she risks making the situation even worse.

What is needed is a humane approach, with dignity, compassion and respect at its heart. We need to offer safe and legal routes to asylum and a right to housing and healthcare which will allow people to rebuild their lives and be reunited with friends and family.

The Home Office itself is one of the biggest barriers to this kind of change. Time and again it has shown itself to be callous, cruel and unfit for purpose. The Scottish Greens are the only party calling for it to be abolished entirely and its responsibilities redistributed across the UK Government, on the basis that it is institutionally racist and needs a hard reset of its internal culture.

The cruelty and humiliation is not an accident, it is a central part of the system. As long as Scotland remains tied to a broken Westminster and UK political culture it is unlikely that we will see a radical departure from these horrific policies.

With independence we can take a different path and build a fairer, greener Scotland that welcomes people from around the world, rather than one which implements policies that demonise and dehumanise them.

We saw a glimpse of the society we can be last May, when the community in and around Kenmure Street in Glasgow came out in their hundreds to defend their neighbours, who were being targeted by Home Office dawn raids.

The National: The scenes at Kenmure Street in Glasgow after immigration offcials attempted to deport two men

That day on Kenmure Street, the Home Office was forced into retreat as the people of Glasgow showed that solidarity and humanity can win. But the reality is that while the raid was stopped, the system continued. The detentions continued and so did the deportations.

You can tell a lot about a society or a government by the way it treats vulnerable people. In this case, a cabinet of millionaires is planning to send destitute people to be “processed” by a regime with an appalling human rights record in order to look “tough” and score political points.

I have no doubt that future generations will look at the appalling way successive UK prime ministers have treated their fellow human beings with horror and disgust. They will ask how they got away with it and wonder why something so wrong was allowed to continue for so long.

But, until that day comes, there is an obligation on us all to oppose Westminster’s hostile environment and to do everything we can to dismantle the racist brutality that underpins it.