Asylum seeking update (1)

Less than a week ago, I posted a pretty damming report on what I titled “Crisis in Calais”. The facts presented in that report and the views expressed provide a basis for what is to follow. I did not expect to return to the subject of asylum seeking so soon but for recent announcements by government that they were going to make things tougher for those living in the UK whose immigration status has not been regularized, specifically those that might be labeled as asylum seekers. Then came my way three sets of words that all have a bearing on the subject, and which I will deal with, each in turn.

The first set is from a friend, an immigration advisor, whose job is made especially difficult given the shortage of help and hope for those who are seeking asylum, and which has worsened over the years. Regarding the government announcement that is to do with housing, he wrote: “Landlords are to be given the power this month to evict undocumented migrants which will plunge many into homelessness most of whom will have no recourse to public funds. Those that have pipeline cases with Home Office are also most likely to be at risk. Overstayers and refused applications will also face unstable accommodation. A clear policy is needed as to the treatment of disenfranchised tenants who maybe bereft of the ability to meet their every day needs and may fall on the mercy of the local authority and non statutory services. This raises also the question of best interests of children in insecure accommodation and those deprived of it in such circumstances”. My heart had already been saddened when I heard of the government’s plans a few days earlier, and this only reinforced my view that this was a measure designed primarily to further restrict what asylum seekers could do and hound them out of the country (more of which later).

The second was set is also from a friend who shared some of her ideas for a better immigration policy:

  1. Ditch the EU policy we have signed up to re asylum seekers and refugees.
  2. Properly and fully man our borders and main exit points from other counties like Brussels, Calais, major airports etc.
  3. Refuse to accept any claim for asylum from any person on UK soil, asylum must be claimed in first safe country. Stop airlines, trains and ferries transporting those without correct papers. Make it illegal and criminal to carry them. Heat check all lorries, arrest any stowaways and deport back to where they came from eg France.
  4. Set up camps in countries were asylum seekers are leaving from, if possible, or arriving at through UN.
  5. Process and finger print ID all asylum seekers, if found to be real asylum seekers then place them across EU and wider, based on a points system and issue all required paperwork before they travel on.
  6. Offer asylum seeker no more than a five year permit. They must find work and cannot access all benefits for 3 years. If after 5 years they can return send them back, if not safe to return them then they can apply for citizenship if they have not been criminal and have worked etc.
  7. Economic refugees, control at borders, accept only those with a valid permit to enter. No access to benefits for 3 years. Max 5 years work permit to be reviewed etc.
  8. Publish a list of all known illegals with photos aliases etc and sample visas and permits where employees and landlords etc can register to check folk.
  9. Stop accepting folk off the boats in the med, save them but return them immediately to Africa for processing in camps, scuttle the boats, only then will they get the message.
  10. Accept the genuine on a quota basis, fully finance with EU and other countries series of humanitarian camps under auspices of UN for processing applications.

I must admit that at the time I gave these ideas short shrift as being unworkable and naive, e.g. point 9, and often requires unlikely bilateral agreements to work. While the points made covered more than straight-forward asylum seeking, on reflection I see these being useful to throw into discussion, although the humanitarian crisis, whereby asylum seekers try to find sanctuary in the UK, are but the tip of the iceberg of the immigration issue needing addressing.

The third set was from yet another friend, a housing professional, who shared his concerns and a report that articulated some of those concerns, titled: “The Something Must Be Done Bill, Calais edition”. The title reflects the observation of the writer that in the light of what is happening in Calais and elsewhere, the government has felt compelled to make things even more difficult for those “asylum seekers” wanting to find sanctuary in the UK, following on from recent legislation in the previous Parliament (Immigration Act 2015), which happened to receive all party report. In announcing the changes, the author argues the government has not dealt with the real issues and will be creating much bigger issues. Now I come to the creative part – what needs to be done, and here I struggle.

I struggle with coming up with solutions, firstly because I am not cognizant with all the facts and a lot of my ideas are based on anecdotal evidence at best. That doesn’t let anyone of the hook though – not only do we have a large, worldwide refugee crisis that in the main world governments have failed to address, with our own government showing little in the way of moral leadership, but there exists a sizable number of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the country, numbering hundreds of thousands, and however much one might wish otherwise the problems aren’t going to go away soon. My limited understanding is not for want of trying though. Six years ago I produced the “Missing Communities” report, a culmination of a year long research based project. One of the missing communities investigated were asylum seekers, especially those linked to the 2000 strong Zimbabwean community that were resident in my town of Southend (comprising 175,000 residents).

I explored many nooks and crannies in order to fully understand and, while there was much more I would have liked to know, I became aware of the destitution, despair and distress among asylum seeker folk, as well as outstanding examples of faith, hope and charity among them and those who go out of their way to help. I came to a view the system was broken and had rather hoped government would fix it rather than be taken up with the wider immigration debate and be seen to be tough in order to appease its detractors, by withdrawing benefits etc. As it turns out, things have got worse, not just because of the afore-mentioned legislation but also because of the withdrawal of legal aid and government support for agencies that help asylum seekers. I have no doubt that we need to maintain the rule of law and I understand why government wants to make it more difficult for people to get away with breaking the law, but the lack of compassion leaves me feeling uneasy.

It seems to me that its present policy of stopping asylum seekers coming to the UK has been pretty effective in recent years, if the reduction in number of new entrants coming in is anything to go by. I made mention in an earlier blog of an approach the US Obama administration in dealing with illegal immigrants from Mexico and South America, by declaring a conditional amnesty, suggesting that may be a step in the right direction and a way to wipe the slate clean given past government cock-ups and the distress that continues to be experienced by those who can’t work or claim benefits.

All this comes on top of what we are seeing now in Calais and much further afield. From where I stand, government has hardly begun to address the needs but, thankfully, albeit in a limited way, others have sought to compensate for by simply showing compassion to the asylum seeker, as the good book says we ought.

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