Sunday, January 07, 2007

failed asylum seekers

Tom Harris, in an otherwise entertaining blog, wrote just before Christmas:

"Dawn raids to remove failed asylum seekers are to continue during the festive season, and this is the subject of some criticism by certain organisations, media and individuals, including Roman Catholic Archbishop Mario Conti. What a shame that critics of the government’s asylum policies are never forced to follow their arguments to their logical conclusions...And here’s a truth that very few people dare speak: our asylum system is just."

The 'just' government policy is that 21 days after a final claim for asylum is refused, all benefits, accommodation and support are cut off. The theory is that absolute destitution will force people to return to their countries of origin, and you have to admire the courage of a member of Parliament daring to speak up against destitute asylum seekers and in favour of a policy supported by just about every national newspaper.

It might sound logical, and look good on leaflets attacking 'handouts for failed asylum seekers', but according to the National Audit Office, more than 150,000 are choosing to remain in Britain, sleeping rough, relying on the charity of friends, because even this is preferable to what they fear will happen if they return home. Cutting off all support means that destitute asylum-seekers lose touch with the Home Office, actually making it less likely that they will return (in practice, removing people to countries like Iraq and Somalia is extremely difficult and often not possible).

At the last meeting of the all party group on poverty (which Mr Harris is a member of, according to his website), refugees gave testimony about their experiences of going for days without food, being attacked while sleeping on the streets, and going to a police station to ask to be arrested because they couldn't face going hungry and sleeping out in the cold. One person spoke of being denied medical care until he had to be rushed to hospital, as a result of which he is now terminally ill and has at most months to live.

The 'critics' of this 'just' policy have drawn some logical conclusions from this, and are campaigning for the government to:

* Ensure that refused asylum seekers remain on the same financial support and accommodation as during the asylum process until their situation is resolved

* Grant temporary, renewable permission to stay in the country that allows refused asylum seekers, who cannot safely be returned to their countries of origin within six months, to stay in the UK, to work and to access medical care

* End the long-term limbo of refused asylum seekers still in the UK after several years, by granting them permission to stay in the country, as well as the right to work, to claim benefits and access medical care

* Ensure that the government’s asylum case-workers build in anti-destitution support measures as part of the so-called “New Asylum Model” where cases are managed from beginning to end

It's not like any of the above would lead to a flood of people coming to claim asylum in Britain, and it makes a mockery of social justice to have hundreds of thousands of people living here with absolutely nothing. Like Tom Harris says, what a shame that critics of the government's asylum policies aren't forced to follow their arguments to their logical conclusions, and what a shame that MPs won't support these arguments and stick up for the most vulnerable.


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