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Sight Magazine – Essay: The UK asylum system is in crisis, but the government – not the refugees – is to blame


Kent Police are investigating an attack on a Home Office migrant processing center in Dover, after incendiary devices would have been thrown at the building on Sunday, October 30, 2022. The reports said that witnesses at the scene described the devices as petrol bombs, one of which was found in the car of the now deceased person believed to have carried out the attack.

A few days before the attack, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, Told Home Affairs Select Committee that he was left “speechless” after his visit to the Home Office’s short-term detention center in Manston. He described an “alarming” and “truly dangerous” situation of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

People hold a vigil calling for the closure of the immigration processing center in Manston, Britain, on November 2. PHOTO: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

Interior Minister Suella Braverman claimed the UK’s asylum system is ‘broken’, stating that she aims to stop “the invasion of our south coast”. That the Home Secretary is blaming asylum seekers for a broken system is concerning.

The Manston facility is a ‘processing site’ at an airfield in Kent. Inaugurated in February 2022, it is planned on paper to accommodate 1,000 people, each up to five days while they undergo security and identity checks. Neal, however, said he found the camp “to the point of being unsafe”, with 4,000 people now housed there in tents and for long periods of time. People – including children – sleep on the floor for weeks.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has claimed the UK’s asylum system is ‘broken’, saying she aims to stop ‘the invasion of our south coast’. ‘Interior blaming asylum seekers for a broken system is concerning.’

The facility quickly becomes a public health risk. There have been outbreaks of norovirus, scabies and diphtheriathe latter being a highly contagious disease and normally extremely rare in the UK.

In his report on Manston, published November 1, 2022, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, points out that healthcare processes are lacking, children have been detained for too long and staff are poorly trained. With another 700 people displaced from Dover to Manston after the Dover attack, we can expect the situation to get even worse.

It is the latest inappropriate and dangerous quasi-detention center used to detain asylum seekers in recent years. In 2020 the former Napier Army Barracks in Folkstone was used for a similar purpose.

A committee of the House of Lords warned overcrowding, fire hazards, ‘dirty’ facilities and buildings so ‘dilapidated’ that they were deemed unsuitable for habitation. In June 2021, the High Court declared Napier inadequate to house asylum seekers and found the Home Office guilty of employing illegal practices.

By law, with the exception of the small number of people selected for official resettlement from Ukraine or Afghanistan, to claim refugee status a person must already be in the UK. With no legal channels available, people seeking protection are forced to make dangerous journeys and enter the country illegally. Contrary to the language used by the Minister of the Interior, the 1951 Refugee Convention stipulates that no one shall be penalized for illegally entering a country to seek refuge there.

British politics prescribes that general migrant detention be used for minimum periods, as a last resort and only for (non-vulnerable) adults. Detention in short-term detention centers is treated slightly differently, but the systematic detention of thousands of asylum seekers, including children, for long periods of time is an aberration of an already problematic practice.

Disproportionate political attention
Routinely detaining asylum seekers is a new practice in the UK. It was born in reaction to the increase in the number of small boats crossing the channel and the lack of accommodation for asylum seekers caused by a huge backlog of cases at the Ministry of the Interior.

Small boats receive disproportionate and inaccurate political and media attention. This includes the misrepresentation of their occupants as “illegal immigrants”.

In fact, however, these people largely seek – and usually obtain – asylum. The majority of migrants arriving by small boat, including those from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Eritrea, turn out to have genuine protection needs justifying refugee status. This includes women and children. It is important to remember, as I pointed out that men are also legitimate refugees, despite the feminized imagery of the ‘true refugee’.

It is true that the number of people crossing the channel by boat is unprecedented. Five years ago, 300 people arrived here. In 2022, there have already been more than 30,000.

However, the UK only receives 0.5% of asylum applications worldwide and far less than many other European countries. Germany, for example, received almost 150,000 asylum applications in 2021. These figures, in turn, are dwarfed by those of more distant countries. Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria alone.

Small boat arrivals are also overshadowed by other groups seeking protection in the UK. The UK has welcomed over 133,000 people from hong kong and 195,000 from Ukraine.

Irregular arrivals by small boat or truck account for only a quarter of total refugee arrivals United Kingdom. Although the number of asylum applications has increased considerably since 2021, the figure remains close to half that of ten years ago.

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A system in crisis
The UK asylum system is indeed in crisis, but not because of those making dangerous journeys to seek protection. To suggest that the terrible conditions people face once they arrive in the UK is their fault is deeply dishonest. Like Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council put itit is a crisis “on the part of the government”.

The number of people forced to wait more than six months for an asylum decision has tripled since 2019. The backlog of people awaiting a decision is now 100,000.

People wait years for a resolution, during which they are held in a dependent vacuum of near destitution. They are prohibited from working, forcing them to depend on the Home Office for accommodation and subsistence. These sums are tiny: asylum seekers live on £5.80 per day. The overall cost of the asylum system is, however, £1.5 billion per year.

These people have the legal right to seek protection from persecution and they are rejected by the British government. The implications are disastrous for them and for the public purse.

And the requirements are clear. When the Home Secretary blames asylum seekers for the failings of the system, it not only diverts attention from the real causes, but also risks fueling communal tensions, normalizing xenophobia and ultimately account, to encourage extreme right-wing extremism.

Rather than ineffectual and cruel spectacles, such as the threat of send asylum seekers to Rwandathe UK needs a functioning asylum system.

Allowing people to live and work in the community while awaiting asylum decisions would benefit everyone. This would save the enormous human and financial costs incurred by overcrowded encampments and forced dependence on the government.

The government knows that providing safe and legal channels to reach the UK is the ultimate answer. He showed it in his response to the war in Ukraine.

The world is turbulent and will only become more so with the climate crises. Draconian immigration policies cannot stop people from crossing borders. They can only determine how dangerous these trips are.The conversation

Melanie Griffiths is Assistant Professor and Birmingham Fellow at the University of Birmingham. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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