Asylum Seekers in Britain

Article excerpt

THERE are some 50 million displaced persons in the world today: of these, some 38 million remain in their own countries but have been driven from their desired place of residence. Twelve million have left their countries, though most of these continue to live in the same region, often in a country immediately adjacent to their own. Only a small proportion come to Western Europe and a smaller proportion still to the United Kingdom. Most leave as a result of continuous harassment or even persecution within their own countries: once here, however free they might be of immediate physical danger, they usually find their problems are far from over.

Their first step after arrival in this country is to become legally accepted. This involves an application to the Home Office to be granted either full or temporary refugee status, ILR or ELR respectively. The former grants a person indefinite leave to remain, the latter exceptional leave to remain and, after some 3-4 years, the Home Office reconsiders the position, either granting the refugee leave to remain indefinitely (ILR) or deciding that he/she must be deported. The refugee may successfully appeal against a deportation order if he/she can prove that his/her life would be endangered, through political or religious persecution, were he/she to return to his/her own country. Of the 70,000 applications for political asylum in the UK in 2000, some 20,000 were accepted and 50,000 refused. A considerable time often elapses before the Home Office makes a decision on individual cases, and it is on these that this article will primarily focus.

Many, indeed most, of those seeking political asylum arrive in this country with little by way of resources -- or perhaps even nothing. Upon arrival they have to convince an immigration officer that they have 'a reasonable case' for being admitted to this country for a temporary period, in other words that they have endured significant persecution or harassment in their own countries. Assuming that they achieve this, they become the responsibility of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), which is an agency of the Home Office. Unless they have relatives or friends to accommodate them, they will be directed by the NASS to an area whose local authority has housing for refugees. This tends to be of a low quality and over-crowding with families of three or four in one medium-size room is not uncommon. The refugees themselves will have no choice in the matter and, all too often, will end up in a place which has no multi-ethnic population and with which they have no personal links whatever. This leads to a si tuation in which they are extremely likely to become lonely and alienated from the community which they have just joined.

This situation of alienation is made worse by the 'voucher system' which applies to all refugees who, having no friends or relatives, are compelled to accept public housing. Though due to be phased out during 2002, it has been the cause of much difficulty and indeed resentment. Under it, refugees receive a [pounds sterling]10 per week cash grant and are allocated vouchers worth [pounds sterling]26.54 per week for the purchase of food - and food only. These vouchers cannot be used for the purchase of clothes, fuel, energy or transportation. This situation is very grievous for the refugees, who tend to come from tropical climates and find Britain distinctly chilly by comparison. To live reasonably, they need to be able to buy warmer clothing than usually they have. If they are diabetic they need special food which is often not available in the supermarket stores prepared to participate in the voucher scheme. Moreover, the refugees are obliged to collect their vouchers at specified post offices which all too ofte n are situated at a considerable distance from where they live. Even taking a bus to the relevant post-office makes significant inroads into their precious [pounds sterling]10 cash allowances. …