Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Are all asylum seekers in Britain here illegally?

Further to my post below, it seems appropriate to write a little bit more about asylum seekers. I have two reasons for doing so.
First, I can't let a comment like this one sit there without an answer, and I feel that the answer needs to be up here for anyone to read easily. Second, this is the kind of question that many representing asylum seekers try and fail to answer. Got to have a go then really haven't I...

So, the first answer is no. Asylum seeker is a legal right under international law - Article 14 in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution."

By definition, that means that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. In 2003, there was a Press Complaints Commission response to journalists using the term as it was considered 'inaccurate.'

Most anwers would end there. But the question that's being asked above doesn't really relate to legal definitions, which is why so many of the people who attempt to answer the question don't manage to do so. What people are really talking about, is whether anyone in fact, has a right to claim asylum in the UK given we are an island and said people must encounter several borders in the process of arriving into the UK.

This situation is protected against under the third country rule. Essentially this means that as an asylum seeker, you have to apply for asylum in the first safe country you reach, or you can and will be returned there. But people who are claiming asylum have are fleeing from harm or persecution, so that may not be easy to find either conventional routes or travel using real documents. Some people do put this in the hands of traffickers, and therefore have little control over where they end up. Others will jump on a ship or whatever and end up where they end up. Some (max 500 per year) are taken directly from refugee camps under a scheme called Gateway Protection Programme, under a UN/Home Office deal.

It's useful to remember, that in the UK we really don't get that many of the world's asylum seekers, the numbers hosted by neighbouring countries in the developing world are huge. It's something like 2% of that the UK takes in.

We need to stop thinking about immigration and asylum in the same context. Controlled migration from outside the EU, migration within the EU, and asylum are three very, very different issues, in terms of politics, economics, ethics and law. Migration for economic reasons is not the same as claiming asylum.

So right now, let's take asylum. Assuming that this issue just keeps on coming up (which you know, given that I write on this blog, it will) then let me for the first time present an argument that I will doubtless return to time and time again:

Just say for a minute that you and your family were at risk from harm, from persecution, thought that you might die. If you thought you were in danger, real danger, would you stand up, carry on and hope for the best? Or would you try to escape? To run? To remove yourself from the dangerous situation?

These situations, are so often analysed and talked about from a western perspective. When you've never had to worry about infringement of a particular human right, you tend not to hold it in such high regard. I'm not sure people would have the same attitude if it were them, in their country who was at risk. Wouldn't we want, expect, someone to take us in?

Well I would. And where would I go? I'd go wherever I thought I would be most safe. And somewhere I thought I could live a reasonable life, possibly try and continue the work I'd been doing that caused me to flee in the first place (assuming of course that it was my political leanings and not my ginger hair that was the reason for my need to seek asylum elsewhere). If I could speak the language and knew something of the culture, then probably that would be an advantage too. Or maybe I've never been anywhere and I just know the name of a country where there is freedom and democracy and the government don't try to have you killed when you speak out against them or because you're a particular religion, sexuality or ethnic group?
I might aim for one place, that's kind of reasonable I think. And yea, if I couldn't get there, then I'd just run, just go anywhere.

I've never met an asylum seeker who hasn't told me that given the choice, they'd rather be at home.
But when your life is in danger, that choice isn't always there.


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