Facts about asylum
In recent years we have heard about the ‘migrant crisis’ affecting various parts of Europe, mostly far away, but also closer to home on the northern shores of France. We have been inundated with facts and misinformation about people seeking refuge, from the media, government ministers, humanitarian organizations, journalists and members of the public.
We have witnessed hardening attitudes and increasingly negative rhetoric from authorities. We have seen panic in some quarters in response to the arrival of small boats across the English Channel. This sensationalism in the press serves to dehumanise vulnerable people and to increase irrational fears in some communities.
Yet at RAMA we have learnt, through our contact with many wonderful individuals, just how much we have in common – as mothers, brothers, fathers, daughters – with those who have come to our town with hope for their future after months or years of living in limbo. We believe in a compassionate response, but we understand there are reservations and questions.
We hope these clarifications are useful:
In fact, most of the 551,000 who claimed asylum in Europe in 2021 went elsewhere. Germany received the most asylum seekers among EU countries: 148,200 applicants. This was followed by France (103,800), Spain (62,100), Italy (43,900), and Austria (36,700). The United Kingdom received 48,540 applications. This means the UK received 6 asylum applications for every 10,000 residents, making it 14th in the EU for asylum applications as a share of population. (House of Commons Library)
It is important not to conflate refugees and asylum seekers with other nationals in the UK. In 2017 there were close to 9.4 million foreign-born residents in the UK. Of these, an estimated 374,000 came seeking asylum, ie only 4-6% of the total foreign-born population of the country. People who join family (44%), who come to study, or for employment (29%) account for far higher percentages. (COMPAS 2019)
In fact, the UK asylum system is complex and tough, requiring people to produce evidence from their home country they often do not have, which results in many claims being rejected.
In the year ending March 2020, only 54% of initial decisions granted of asylum or other form of protection. Of the remainder, a further half got a positive outcome on appeal, demonstrating the inaccuracy of the asylum process.
More common reasons for people to come to the UK are: they may already have some English language ability; they have relatives here; or they have positive perceptions of Great Britain from textbook images or their country’s historical links with us.
It is NOT against any law to cross a border with the intention of claiming asylum. In fact, the only way to claim asylum in the UK is to do so on British soil; you cannot do it from abroad, even from an embassy or consulate. If this were possible, there would be no need for anyone to risk their lives at sea.
There are also refugees who have come to UK through an official resettlement programme – the case for the Syrian families in Colchester. In theory, such refugees should benefit from greater specialist support to help them access mainstream services, but unfortunately government provision is patchy.
Again there is nothing in international law to this effect. While the UK was a member of the EU, a European agreement (Dublin Regulation) allowed the UK, under certain conditions, to send an asylum seeker back to the first country he registered in. Outside the EU, we are no longer part of this scheme.
It is immensely difficult to make a life in a new country. People are seeking a place in which to live in safety with their families and to find community and employment. Some countries have not signed the Refugee Convention, meaning there is less formal support for asylum seekers in those places. Others offer fewer opportunities and less of a welcome.
In fact, asylum seekers are given a roof over their heads while they wait for their claim to be processed, but they have no control over the location of this provision, and they can be moved at short notice. This ‘dispersal accommodation’ tends to be in larger cities like Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool, although Colchester is now on that list. The shared houses on offer are generally far from high quality.
Individuals receive £37.50 per week, meaning most also need to turn to friends, food banks or organizations like RAMA to survive. Most asylum seekers are living in poverty and experience poor health and hunger, unable to afford basics such as clothing, powdered milk and nappies.
A positive outcome to an asylum claim means that within 28 days this support ends, and people are left to fend for themselves in finding accommodation, opening a bank account, finding a source of income etc. It is at this point that refugees are even more likely to face homelessness and destitution.
In fact, asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK.
Not only is this detrimental to their mental health, as they all want to make a contribution to the host society, but it also means the Exchequer is missing out on potential income in taxes.
When given official status to remain in UK, many refugees take jobs below their skill/experience level because of difficulties in proving qualifications, language fluency or PTSD induced by their history or circumstances.
Arrival in the UK does not mean an end to hardship.
Asylum seekers must negotiate a bureaucratic system seemingly stacked against them (the hostile environment); they are given very basic support and prevented from working. It takes months, if not years, for cases to be resolved, in which time lives are on hold. If and when they are granted the right to remain, they often struggle to find a job that recognises their experience or skills, or even to find work at all until their language skills improve. Without the right assistance they can remain trapped and unable to improve their lives or prospects.
At RAMA we feel it is in the interests of all of us to support incomers through this difficult transition, to enable them to live with dignity, to contribute their skills and knowledge where possible and ultimately to enrich this local community in the same way as previous generations of settlers.