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Published on November 16th, 2011 | by Lorna Gledhill
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="233" caption="(c) Amnesty International"][/caption]

“Yes, Britain will always be open to the best and brightest from around the world and those fleeing persecution. But with us, our borders will be under control and immigration will be at levels our country can manage. No ifs. No buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people. And it’s a promise we are keeping.” David Cameron, April 2011.
Consider the final paragraph of David Cameron’s April 2011 speech to Conservative Party members on immigration. There is a specific structure to contemporary political discourse on issues regarding border control. For foreign nationals to be allowed to settle in the UK, there must be economic rationale behind it. Britain must receive only the “best and brightest” to bolster our fledging economy; our immigration policy is an economic policy. It is from this painfully financial viewpoint that issues regarding asylum are considered. British borders are open to the best and brightest and then, almost as an afterthought, “those fleeing persecution.” The mainstream media, following the suit of government, functions within a very limited vocabulary that confuses immigration, economic migration, asylum seeking, and refugee status. The general public is bombarded with provocative images of the ‘tides’ and ‘floods’ of unrestrained immigration that threaten to wash away the certain terms of an essentialist ‘British’ culture. We are told that certain cultures are irreconcilable and that out country is overcrowded. We are told that ‘English’ money is used to support foreign nationals. We are told that jobs, housing and benefits are at risk. Fundamentally, it is suggested that we are under attack.

Definitions

It’s time to set the record straight. To seek asylum is a completely different process from migrating for economic means. An asylum seeker is “a person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.” If their claim for asylum is successful, they are officially awarded refugee status by the UK government. A refugee, according to UN regulations is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” Asylum seekers are those who, fleeing persecution, are unable to return to their country of birth. There is little to no choice in the decision to move away from repressive countries, and this is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish asylum seekers from general immigration rhetoric and economic migration. Those who come to the UK for a brighter economic future choose to travel; asylum seekers are forced by fear, danger and often torture.

The Asylum Process

The asylum process in the UK is not simple. It is recognised in the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees that there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum. People fleeing persecution often have to use highly irregular means of getting to Europe, let alone the UK. These methods are often incredibly unsafe, such as the crowded boat crossings from Libya to Italy, and thousands of people have died in transit. If the individual manages to arrive in Britain, they must immediately head to the offices of the UK Border Agency either in Croydon, London or Liverpool. If there is a delay between entering the country and applying for status, it often affects their rights to financial support and accommodation whilst awaiting approval. Equally, asylum seekers are expected to find a lawyer to represent them as soon as possible. The Home Office has introduced a new system to deal with asylum claims, called the New Asylum Model. This means that once the individual has filed his/her claim, they are assigned a specific member of the UK Border Agency staff, known as the ‘case owner’ who is responsible for any decisions taken on the case. From initially reporting a claim for asylum, there are 3 parts of the initial interviewing process:

1. Screening Interview

In this initial interview, the UKBA takes down information about the personal details of the individual claiming asylum, their journey to the UK and works out whether they have claimed for asylum before, either in the UK or another country. If the individual has filed an asylum claim in another country within the EU and been rejected, Britain reserves the right to deport the asylum seeker back to that original country of arrival. This legislation, known as the Dublin Treaty, means that many southern European countries – such as Italy and Turkey – are set to receive more asylum seeker claims than their northern European counterparts. Up to 50,000 immigrants are expected to arrive in Italy in the coming months, with up to 1500 people dying at sea while trying to make the precarious journey to Europe. Asylum seekers, forced into sheer desperation, have been known to burn their fingertips as to avoid identification and deportation.

2. First Reporting Event

If the individual has not claimed asylum before, they are given a reference number for their claim and assigned a ‘case owner.’ In the first reporting event, the individual seeking asylum is asked to meet their ‘case owner.’

3. Asylum Interview

This is the crucial part of the process in which the asylum seeker is given the opportunity to explain their reasons for seeking asylum. This interview is often scheduled within a few weeks of the individual filing their claim with the UKBA. They are subject to a strict assessment process, in which their ‘story’ is analysed, checked and double-checked in order to detect discrepancies. Most asylum seekers arrive in the UK with no papers or documents to substantiate their claims. This means that the entirety of their claim for asylum is reliant on their ‘believability’, essentially whether their story ever deviates from their original statement. Considering that these individuals have often experienced huge trauma, due to experiences in their own country compounded by a horrific journey, they often have little ability to speak coherently and without deviation.

Enforced Inactivity

After this process, asylum seekers are left in a state of limbo whilst they await status. Decisions often take months, even years to be processed, in which those waiting upon a declaration of status are not legally allowed to work and are forced to live off state support. Although official documents claim that if you have waited for over a year for status you are legally entitled to apply for permission to work, most claims are officially closed within twelve months, as they do not count time taken to appeal or file a new claim. Asylum seekers are then ‘dispersed’ across the country, often to the North East, and are accommodated in specially allocated housing that are often classed as ‘hard-to-rent’ properties. They have no choice over where they live, no option to move, and many are forced to live off as little as £5 a day. Without the right to work, asylum seekers are unable to escape the cycle of dependency. Essentially, asylum seekers are forced to into a half-existence. Often highly qualified in their respective countries, our asylum system forces individuals to become de-skilled. Rapidly losing confidence, forced to be financially dependent and unable to alter their subterranean existence, the trauma of asylum permeates deeply into a supposedly supportive country.

Refusal: Appeals

If the asylum claim is refused, the individual is expected to leave the UK. They do have certain rights to filing an appeal, or opening a new claim if fresh evidence comes to light. Yet, some applicants do not automatically have a right to appeal inside the UK, mainly if they come from the countries that are presumed by the Home office to produce unfounded claims, or if they have claimed asylum in a third safe country. Asylum seekers are only entitled to publicly funded legal representation (legal-aid) to pursue their appeal if it has a 50% or more chance of success. With current cuts to legal aid across all sectors, asylum seekers have increasingly less access to legal representation. Many individuals have taken to representing themselves in order to complete the appeal process. Often speaking broken English with little to no legal knowledge, it is hard to see how this can be considered a fair trial. In the second quarter of 2011, 27% of appeals were successful. Evidently, the initial decision making of the UK Border Agency is less than accurate. If this appeal is refused, a further appeal can only be made on a point of law and the timescale for making an application for reconsideration is normally only five working days.

Refusal: Destitution and Deportation

Once all avenues of appeal and re-appeal have been exhausted, asylum support for applicants is withdrawn within 21 days. Asylum seekers are expected to return voluntarily to their countries of origin or are forcibly removed from the UK. Those individuals who are unable to return immediately to their country of origin – due to personal safety or other reasons – are entitled to a limited form of support known as Section 4. In order to receive the support, the applicant must agree to return to their country of origin, be unable to leave due to logistical or health reasons, or have an out-standing legal case. If they fit these specific criteria, the individual is entitled to accommodation and £35 a week in vouchers, an amount hardly more than half of standard income support. If a refused asylum seeker does not qualify for Section 4, then they are often forced into destitution. Unable to work and too afraid to return to their country of birth, thousands of refused asylum seekers are forced to live on the streets. A recent report by the Red Cross revealed that 59% of questioned asylum seekers had been destitute for at least 1 year. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has also revealed that many refused asylum seekers do not claim for Section 4 because they are too frightened of the prospect of returning to their country of origin. In the second quarter of 2011, only 2,461 applicants were receiving Section 4 support. Equally, various enquiries have revealed that delays in receiving Section 4 are another key reason for being destitute. It is almost impossible to know the exact numbers of destitute asylum seekers in the UK. In 2009, the London School of Economics estimated that there were 500,000 refused asylum seekers in the UK. Reliant on the support of various charitable organisations, compassionate friends and relatives or on handouts from faith groups, these individuals are denied a human existence; they are expected to solely survive rather than live. Destitution is a horrific part of our asylum system. It works to dehumanise and demoralise the individual to such an extent that they have no other option but to leave the UK and return home to face whatever dangers they originally fled.

Approval and Status

If the individual is granted asylum, the applicant gets Refugee Status, which lasts for five years. They are given the right to work and claim benefits. The UK Border agency reserves the right to review this grant of status at any time, especially if the circumstances in the individual’s country of origin have changed. If the situation in this respective country remains dangerous for the whole five years, the refugee is entitled to apply for legal status known as Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. Some individuals are granted a limited form of status called Discretionary Leave, which is initially granted for up to three years. This is often used in cases considering children under 18 who cannot return to their country of origin. When an asylum seeker has been granted leave to stay in the UK, asylum support will end after 28 days. Within these 28 days, the individual is expected to find his or her own accommodation, a job, or file for benefits. Considering the enforced inactivity of the asylum seeking process, this prospect is incredibly daunting for those with recently granted status. After months of enforced inactivity – even after months of enforced destitution – the transition into ‘mainstream’ society is far from simple.

Communities and Isolation

“Real communities are bound by common experiences… forged by friendship and conversation…knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub.” David Cameron, April, 2011
If this is what our government considers to be ‘real’ communities, they are operating an asylum system that disables the potential integration of refugees and those awaiting status. It seems that ‘common experiences’ are reliant on a common birthplace rather than an overriding sense of universal humanity. ‘Real communities’ cannot function by isolating themselves from a ‘foreign’ threat. If we resort to this destructive language of ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are set to destroy ourselves from the inside. Unfortunately, we cannot seem to escape a specific vocabulary when we discuss individuals from other countries coming to the UK in search of a better life, sanctuary, or both. We function within binaries: good versus bad, honest versus cheat, genuine versus bogus, Britain versus the world, them versus us. Unfortunately, human experience doesn’t function within simplistic categorisation. To have a truly human asylum system, we must challenge our process of national identification. It is when we talk in the abstract that we run the risk of becoming increasingly disconnected, isolated and individualistic in our national and personal outlooks. If we fear the unknown as a threat to a supposedly united nation, we refuse to acknowledge the subtleties of the debate. What exactly is it that we consider Britain to be? What is it that we are trying to defend? And who exactly is posing a threat? In the culture-clash debates that spearhead discussions about integration, this country is defined as a bastion of human rights, personal freedom and respect. Denying an individual the right to what we value so highly can only be considered fundamentally hypocritical. We have no choice over where we are born, but we all have the right to flee persecution and seek sanctuary. The negative claims made against asylum seekers are enforced by an ill informed, under developed asylum system. They receive small benefits from the state because they are unable to work. They live on the streets because they are often refused state support. They ‘illegally’ enter this country because there is no legal way to travel to the UK specifically to seek asylum. They are dependent, not out of choice, but out of enforced circumstance. With asylum seekers demonised to such an extent that they have become a strange spectre within the British press, the government has authorised a system that undeniably dehumanises vulnerable individuals. Asylum seekers are considered barely human and barely here; our asylum system is far from humane. For further information on support, facts and campaigns see: http://www.asylumaid.org.uk/ http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/ http://www.amnesty.org.uk/ http://stillhumanstillhere.wordpress.com/

0

Survival not Sanctuary – the dehumanisation of Asylum Seekers in the UK

(c) Amnesty International

“Yes, Britain will always be open to the best and brightest from around the world and those fleeing persecution. But with us, our borders will be under control and immigration will be at levels our country can manage. No ifs. No buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people. And it’s a promise we are keeping.”

David Cameron, April 2011.

Consider the final paragraph of David Cameron’s April 2011 speech to Conservative Party members on immigration. There is a specific structure to contemporary political discourse on issues regarding border control. For foreign nationals to be allowed to settle in the UK, there must be economic rationale behind it. Britain must receive only the “best and brightest” to bolster our fledging economy; our immigration policy is an economic policy. It is from this painfully financial viewpoint that issues regarding asylum are considered. British borders are open to the best and brightest and then, almost as an afterthought, “those fleeing persecution.”

The mainstream media, following the suit of government, functions within a very limited vocabulary that confuses immigration, economic migration, asylum seeking, and refugee status. The general public is bombarded with provocative images of the ‘tides’ and ‘floods’ of unrestrained immigration that threaten to wash away the certain terms of an essentialist ‘British’ culture. We are told that certain cultures are irreconcilable and that out country is overcrowded. We are told that ‘English’ money is used to support foreign nationals. We are told that jobs, housing and benefits are at risk. Fundamentally, it is suggested that we are under attack.

Definitions

It’s time to set the record straight. To seek asylum is a completely different process from migrating for economic means. An asylum seeker is “a person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.” If their claim for asylum is successful, they are officially awarded refugee status by the UK government. A refugee, according to UN regulations is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Asylum seekers are those who, fleeing persecution, are unable to return to their country of birth. There is little to no choice in the decision to move away from repressive countries, and this is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish asylum seekers from general immigration rhetoric and economic migration. Those who come to the UK for a brighter economic future choose to travel; asylum seekers are forced by fear, danger and often torture.

The Asylum Process

The asylum process in the UK is not simple. It is recognised in the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees that there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum. People fleeing persecution often have to use highly irregular means of getting to Europe, let alone the UK. These methods are often incredibly unsafe, such as the crowded boat crossings from Libya to Italy, and thousands of people have died in transit.

If the individual manages to arrive in Britain, they must immediately head to the offices of the UK Border Agency either in Croydon, London or Liverpool. If there is a delay between entering the country and applying for status, it often affects their rights to financial support and accommodation whilst awaiting approval. Equally, asylum seekers are expected to find a lawyer to represent them as soon as possible.

The Home Office has introduced a new system to deal with asylum claims, called the New Asylum Model. This means that once the individual has filed his/her claim, they are assigned a specific member of the UK Border Agency staff, known as the ‘case owner’ who is responsible for any decisions taken on the case. From initially reporting a claim for asylum, there are 3 parts of the initial interviewing process:

1. Screening Interview

In this initial interview, the UKBA takes down information about the personal details of the individual claiming asylum, their journey to the UK and works out whether they have claimed for asylum before, either in the UK or another country. If the individual has filed an asylum claim in another country within the EU and been rejected, Britain reserves the right to deport the asylum seeker back to that original country of arrival. This legislation, known as the Dublin Treaty, means that many southern European countries – such as Italy and Turkey – are set to receive more asylum seeker claims than their northern European counterparts. Up to 50,000 immigrants are expected to arrive in Italy in the coming months, with up to 1500 people dying at sea while trying to make the precarious journey to Europe. Asylum seekers, forced into sheer desperation, have been known to burn their fingertips as to avoid identification and deportation.

2. First Reporting Event

If the individual has not claimed asylum before, they are given a reference number for their claim and assigned a ‘case owner.’ In the first reporting event, the individual seeking asylum is asked to meet their ‘case owner.’

3. Asylum Interview

This is the crucial part of the process in which the asylum seeker is given the opportunity to explain their reasons for seeking asylum. This interview is often scheduled within a few weeks of the individual filing their claim with the UKBA.

They are subject to a strict assessment process, in which their ‘story’ is analysed, checked and double-checked in order to detect discrepancies. Most asylum seekers arrive in the UK with no papers or documents to substantiate their claims. This means that the entirety of their claim for asylum is reliant on their ‘believability’, essentially whether their story ever deviates from their original statement. Considering that these individuals have often experienced huge trauma, due to experiences in their own country compounded by a horrific journey, they often have little ability to speak coherently and without deviation.

Enforced Inactivity

After this process, asylum seekers are left in a state of limbo whilst they await status. Decisions often take months, even years to be processed, in which those waiting upon a declaration of status are not legally allowed to work and are forced to live off state support. Although official documents claim that if you have waited for over a year for status you are legally entitled to apply for permission to work, most claims are officially closed within twelve months, as they do not count time taken to appeal or file a new claim.

Asylum seekers are then ‘dispersed’ across the country, often to the North East, and are accommodated in specially allocated housing that are often classed as ‘hard-to-rent’ properties. They have no choice over where they live, no option to move, and many are forced to live off as little as £5 a day. Without the right to work, asylum seekers are unable to escape the cycle of dependency.

Essentially, asylum seekers are forced to into a half-existence. Often highly qualified in their respective countries, our asylum system forces individuals to become de-skilled. Rapidly losing confidence, forced to be financially dependent and unable to alter their subterranean existence, the trauma of asylum permeates deeply into a supposedly supportive country.

Refusal: Appeals

If the asylum claim is refused, the individual is expected to leave the UK. They do have certain rights to filing an appeal, or opening a new claim if fresh evidence comes to light. Yet, some applicants do not automatically have a right to appeal inside the UK, mainly if they come from the countries that are presumed by the Home office to produce unfounded claims, or if they have claimed asylum in a third safe country.

Asylum seekers are only entitled to publicly funded legal representation (legal-aid) to pursue their appeal if it has a 50% or more chance of success. With current cuts to legal aid across all sectors, asylum seekers have increasingly less access to legal representation. Many individuals have taken to representing themselves in order to complete the appeal process. Often speaking broken English with little to no legal knowledge, it is hard to see how this can be considered a fair trial.

In the second quarter of 2011, 27% of appeals were successful. Evidently, the initial decision making of the UK Border Agency is less than accurate. If this appeal is refused, a further appeal can only be made on a point of law and the timescale for making an application for reconsideration is normally only five working days.

Refusal: Destitution and Deportation

Once all avenues of appeal and re-appeal have been exhausted, asylum support for applicants is withdrawn within 21 days. Asylum seekers are expected to return voluntarily to their countries of origin or are forcibly removed from the UK.

Those individuals who are unable to return immediately to their country of origin – due to personal safety or other reasons – are entitled to a limited form of support known as Section 4. In order to receive the support, the applicant must agree to return to their country of origin, be unable to leave due to logistical or health reasons, or have an out-standing legal case. If they fit these specific criteria, the individual is entitled to accommodation and £35 a week in vouchers, an amount hardly more than half of standard income support.

If a refused asylum seeker does not qualify for Section 4, then they are often forced into destitution. Unable to work and too afraid to return to their country of birth, thousands of refused asylum seekers are forced to live on the streets. A recent report by the Red Cross revealed that 59% of questioned asylum seekers had been destitute for at least 1 year. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has also revealed that many refused asylum seekers do not claim for Section 4 because they are too frightened of the prospect of returning to their country of origin. In the second quarter of 2011, only 2,461 applicants were receiving Section 4 support. Equally, various enquiries have revealed that delays in receiving Section 4 are another key reason for being destitute.

It is almost impossible to know the exact numbers of destitute asylum seekers in the UK. In 2009, the London School of Economics estimated that there were 500,000 refused asylum seekers in the UK. Reliant on the support of various charitable organisations, compassionate friends and relatives or on handouts from faith groups, these individuals are denied a human existence; they are expected to solely survive rather than live.

Destitution is a horrific part of our asylum system. It works to dehumanise and demoralise the individual to such an extent that they have no other option but to leave the UK and return home to face whatever dangers they originally fled.

Approval and Status

If the individual is granted asylum, the applicant gets Refugee Status, which lasts for five years. They are given the right to work and claim benefits. The UK Border agency reserves the right to review this grant of status at any time, especially if the circumstances in the individual’s country of origin have changed. If the situation in this respective country remains dangerous for the whole five years, the refugee is entitled to apply for legal status known as Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

Some individuals are granted a limited form of status called Discretionary Leave, which is initially granted for up to three years. This is often used in cases considering children under 18 who cannot return to their country of origin.

When an asylum seeker has been granted leave to stay in the UK, asylum support will end after 28 days. Within these 28 days, the individual is expected to find his or her own accommodation, a job, or file for benefits. Considering the enforced inactivity of the asylum seeking process, this prospect is incredibly daunting for those with recently granted status. After months of enforced inactivity – even after months of enforced destitution – the transition into ‘mainstream’ society is far from simple.

Communities and Isolation

“Real communities are bound by common experiences… forged by friendship and conversation…knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub.”

David Cameron, April, 2011

If this is what our government considers to be ‘real’ communities, they are operating an asylum system that disables the potential integration of refugees and those awaiting status. It seems that ‘common experiences’ are reliant on a common birthplace rather than an overriding sense of universal humanity. ‘Real communities’ cannot function by isolating themselves from a ‘foreign’ threat. If we resort to this destructive language of ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are set to destroy ourselves from the inside.

Unfortunately, we cannot seem to escape a specific vocabulary when we discuss individuals from other countries coming to the UK in search of a better life, sanctuary, or both. We function within binaries: good versus bad, honest versus cheat, genuine versus bogus, Britain versus the world, them versus us. Unfortunately, human experience doesn’t function within simplistic categorisation. To have a truly human asylum system, we must challenge our process of national identification.

It is when we talk in the abstract that we run the risk of becoming increasingly disconnected, isolated and individualistic in our national and personal outlooks. If we fear the unknown as a threat to a supposedly united nation, we refuse to acknowledge the subtleties of the debate. What exactly is it that we consider Britain to be? What is it that we are trying to defend? And who exactly is posing a threat?

In the culture-clash debates that spearhead discussions about integration, this country is defined as a bastion of human rights, personal freedom and respect. Denying an individual the right to what we value so highly can only be considered fundamentally hypocritical. We have no choice over where we are born, but we all have the right to flee persecution and seek sanctuary.

The negative claims made against asylum seekers are enforced by an ill informed, under developed asylum system. They receive small benefits from the state because they are unable to work. They live on the streets because they are often refused state support. They ‘illegally’ enter this country because there is no legal way to travel to the UK specifically to seek asylum. They are dependent, not out of choice, but out of enforced circumstance. With asylum seekers demonised to such an extent that they have become a strange spectre within the British press, the government has authorised a system that undeniably dehumanises vulnerable individuals. Asylum seekers are considered barely human and barely here; our asylum system is far from humane.

For further information on support, facts and campaigns see:

http://www.asylumaid.org.uk/

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/

http://stillhumanstillhere.wordpress.com/

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