On the misconceptions regarding asylum seekers pushed not only by anti-immigration activists and the media, but also the government. Reality is very different when you take the time to look at it.
First published in January 2021.
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Let’s address this, shall we?
Firstly, despite what some commentators like to claim, majority of asylum claims are successful, whether on first application or appeal.
That fact alone rather puts paid to the whole “they are economic migrants” argument, but for the sake of fully covering this let’s test the “illegal” claim.
Two points here. First, the Channel is covered by the law of the sea. It is not illegal to cross it.
What about the manner of entry though? Well, as per Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, an asylum seeker cannot be penalised for their manner of entry. So, once again, not illegal.
I am going to have to break the next line down into several parts.
Let’s start with, “travelling across multiple countries”. This is something which is not just guaranteed in the 1951, but is also reinforced in case law. It is essentially a recognition that safety is subjective.
It is fairly obvious that if refugees were not entitled to cross countries under international law they would potentially be trapped in unsafe countries neighbouring the one they have fled. So, let’s look at the next bit of “safe country”.
Safety is fairly obviously subjective. There are places where I would feel safe, but others where I wouldn’t. Just think about a football match for example and what happens if you drink in the wrong pub on match day in the wrong strip. The same applies to asylum seekers.
France was found guilty of violating refugees’ rights. Germany had more than 1,600 attacks against asylum seekers in 2019, Spain has forced them to sleep rough, Greece has towed them out into the middle of the sea on rafts, and on and on it goes. Not exactly “safe countries”.
So, we have given a brief covering why it isn’t illegal for asylum seekers to cross multiple countries, and why countries you or I may consider safe might not be for them. What about the whole “leaving their wives and children” bit though? This also ties in with another common argument, “young men of fighting age”.
Okay, setting aside that all young men are of fighting age, why would majority of asylum seekers be young men? It is actually pretty obvious, because being a refugee is dangerous, hard, and expensive. Families often have to save up to afford for one member to be able to make the journey to safety. It makes sense that they are paying for the person most likely to be able make the journey, get asylum, and be able to work to save up for other family members to escape.
Being a refugee is dangerous, hard, and expensive. | Pexels
This is not to say that all asylum seekers are young men. Currently for example there are hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees, with family members already living legally in the UK, who have been left in camps where they are at increased risk of abuse due to UK policies.
What about the “soft touch” part? Well, the UK provides a far lower allowance for refugees than France or Germany for example, £39.63 per week. This has to cover pretty much everything. They are also excluded from council housing. Instead they live in mandated accommodation. These are often substandard, or worse, for example at Napier Barracks asylum seekers are currently being housed in cramped conditions of 20+ to a room, despite the spread of Covid-19 in the camp.
As well as having to live off £5.66 per day, not exactly a substantial amount, they are also denied the right to work. Their movements are restricted and, in some cases, their access to communications. Not exactly a “soft touch” where they get everything “paid for them”.
I did say earlier that being a refugee is expensive. The “paying traffickers” comment exposes quite a deep rooted misconception though, the difference between “smugglers” and “traffickers”.
Smugglers tend to demand an up front fee for a transactional service. This is not to make them out to be purely businesspeople though. They are often run by organised gangs who force asylum seekers to pilot the boats in order to distance themselves from repercussions should one be intercepted.
Traffickers, however, take “payment” afterwards. This often involves forcing asylum seekers into modern slavery. They exploit them and prevent them from being able to seek assistance. Even when they can access that assistance though, the UK government then detains and deports victims.
You can see in the original message a whole host of the misconceptions regarding asylum seekers which have been pushed not only by anti-immigration activists and the media, but also the government. The reality is very different when you take the time to look at it.
Hundreds of asylum seekers are locked up in camps. | Pixabay
Just on a final note, if you read this and still think that asylum seekers come to the UK to have an easy ride, remember that right now 400 are locked up with no means to isolate while Covid runs rampant through their camp.
And it is not limited to one site. Others are already being investigated for failing to provide even the most basic of necessities, particularly during a global pandemic.
Even those who have been trafficked and exploited by criminal gangs are abandoned and denied support. Instead they are often deported to countries where they once again fall prey to the very gangs the government claims it is combating.
People are not risking their lives on dangerous crossings because they think about being locked in disused barracks, denied assistance or forced to survive on £39.63 per week. They are doing it because they have no other options if they hope to find some measure of safety.
With government resettlement routes “paused” and borders closed during the pandemic, asylum seekers have been left with no choice other than to make the channel crossing. This doesn’t mean they aren’t “genuine” refugees.
It means they have no other choices.
Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.