Ever since the end of the Second World War, the UK has always been known for its welcoming and supportive attitude towards those who have been displaced from their own countries. This tradition of accepting asylum seekers, however, is now being undermined in a number of different ways by the UK Government. According to official Home Office statistics, the success rate for asylum applications was 11% lower as of the end of March 2018 than in the previous year.
Fostering a culture of resentment and suspicion
Despite claims for asylum in general being significantly lower in the UK than in Germany, Italy or France, there is a rising feeling of hostility towards asylum seekers in Britain. Sajid Javid has taken a hardline approach since his appointment as Home Secretary and the tabloid media regularly suggest that Britain is overwhelmed by the amount of people arriving in the UK to seek refuge.
The Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy that was enforced in 2012 attempts to actively discourage illegal immigration and prevent those with no genuine right to claim asylum from remaining in the UK. The problem is that Javid has cast doubt on those with valid cases for asylum, as exemplified by his decision to depict the arrival of 200 small boats from France carrying asylum seekers over the Christmas period as a “major incident”. The Home Secretary publicly questioned whether people making this dangerous and desperate journey were actually genuine, which is a far cry from the UK’s longstanding stance of being a nation that openly accepts and accommodates those in need.
Red tape and “spying” claims
The Government’s continuing hostile agenda is also evident in the revelation that the Home Office is tracking asylum seekers’ whereabouts. Asylum seekers are currently entitled to £37.75 per week while their claim is being processed in order to buy basic items such as food and toiletries, which is allotted through Aspen debit cards. According to leaked information, the Government is using transaction information on the credit cards to monitor the movements of asylum seekers and subsequently penalising them if they travel beyond their ‘authorised’ city, even if their journey is absolutely essential such as a court date or attending a funeral. The Times Scotland reported on the issue and found in a report by the Home Office that 186 asylum seekers had their support halted last year “as a result of a referral regarding the Aspen card usage”.
Asylum seekers are also being subjected to “unacceptably high delays” in the processing period for their claim, during which time they are left in limbo and unable to build a new life for themselves in the UK. Official Government guidelines state that claims should be resolved within 6 months, but in reality, the waiting time is considerably longer, and it has been revealed that as many as 1,600 asylum children have been kept waiting for over a year before receiving a decision.
Amidst this administrative minefield, even asylum seekers who are ready, willing and able to contribute to the UK economy are not permitted to work and are being criticised for the additional strain they are putting on public services. This is despite the fact that it is the Government who imposes restrictions on their movements and activities, subjecting them to an inordinately long wait for a decision on whether they will be permitted to stay in the UK.
Post-Brexit changes to legislation
The Home Office relies on legislation otherwise known as the ‘Dublin Regulation’ in order to justify their hostility towards asylum seekers. This EU law allows member states to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered: Javid has asserted that “the widely accepted international principle is that those seeking asylum should claim it in the first safe country that they reach.” After Brexit, however, this particular law may no longer apply. This means the Government will have little choice but to accept every genuine asylum seeker in post-Brexit Britain because the UK will be bound by international human rights laws and will also be unable to return asylum seekers to any of its former European counterparts.
The UK Government’s current reluctance to accept asylum seekers is in complete contrast to the welcoming attitude Britain has previously adopted towards those fleeing danger and persecution in the past. The potential removal of certain EU laws after Brexit, however, could oblige the Government to alter its approach and be more open to asylum seekers. This in turn will hopefully see the return of a less hostile and more empathetic attitude: encouraging the Government to make changes to expedite asylum claims and place less restrictions on asylum seekers, allowing them to integrate and build a new life for themselves in a safe and welcoming environment.
This guest post has been written by Joanne Starkie who is a specialist content writer and commentator for the Immigration Advice Service – an organisation of leading immigration solicitors (@IASimmigration).