The slippery, cynical politics of asylum

The slippery, cynical politics of asylum


Written by: John Grayson

At the start of the run-up to the 2015 election, John Grayson, a campaigner in South Yorkshire, examines the main political parties’ line on asylum.

‘The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need it.’
A Home Office spokeswoman on Channel 4 News after the disclosure that the Home Office had deported over a hundred asylum seekers, in the past three months, from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone back to their ‘safe’ countries. (Channel 4 News, 16 October 2014)

‘I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea’.
Survivor from the Mediterranean (Guardian, 20 October 2014)

‘We have the right to claim asylum in England but how do we get there? There is not a legal way to cross.’
Part of a statement from a group of Syrian refugees blockading the Calais port administration in October 2013.


The New Statesman described August 2014 as ‘the summer of blood’, with wars across the world. 2014 was also the year when 3,000 refugees died in boats in the Mediterranean fleeing from those wars and carnage. On 2 October, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, himself a child refugee of the Korean War, told the annual meeting of the UNHCR that: ‘Never before in United Nations history have we had so many refugees, displaced people and asylum-seekers.’

Campaigners in Yorkshire have found that in the midst of a xenophobic and racist political debate on ‘immigration’ the principled, humane politics of asylum are in retreat.This summer, asylum rights campaigners in South Yorkshire have been organising and lobbying with Syrian organisations, and the Refugee Council, to resettle Syrian refugees in the region, and to resettle thousands in the UK now rather than the ‘few hundreds’ over three years agreed by the coalition government. The campaign coincided with a general increase in numbers of ‘dispersed’ asylum seekers in asylum housing (a few of them from Syria) coming to South Yorkshire towns and cities, and the rapid escalation of toxic political discourses unleashed by the emergence of Ukip as a political force in the area. The growing number of asylum seekers was used as an issue by Ukip in its successful campaigns in the European and local elections in Yorkshire. The party held its annual conference at Doncaster racecourse, next door to Ed Miliband’s constituency. (Ukip also contested (unsuccessfully) the Police Commissioner post in South Yorkshire.) All this has had its effects. In Rotherham hate crimes have dramatically increased over the summer, and in Barnsley hate crimes, the majority of them racist, are up by 100 per cent – with around 150 reported in the first eight months of the year. For the first time for many years in Yorkshire  ‘asylum seekers’ is again a term of demonisation alongside ‘illegals’ ‘migrants’, ‘foreigners’, and ‘immigrants’.

Only the mantra is left

symaagAlso over the summer, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) like many other support organisations started to develop our lobbying strategy for candidates in the 2015 general election. It became obvious while campaigning for Syrian refugees, that British politicians’ and mainstream parties’ policies on asylum rights have been reduced to vacuous repetitions of a mantra about a ‘proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need it’:

  • David Cameron at the beginning of Refugee Week in June 2014: ‘The UK has a long tradition of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. I am proud that the UK offers genuine refugees and their children an opportunity to build a new life.’
  • Deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg: ‘The UK has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge to people at a time of crisis. I am proud that this legacy continues.’
  • In April 2014, Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary setting out the party’s immigration policy claimed the party: ‘Believe it is right to offer safe haven to those escaping rape, torture, genocide or the midnight knock on the door from the secret police. That’s always been the British way.’

In fact, the mantra, if it ever had substance, is long out of date, replaced by the soundbites of ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘evil traffickers’ in the narratives politicians use to define asylum policy. And of course, this current narrative has its origins in earlier electoral moral panics about ‘bogus asylum seekers’ constructed before the June 2001 election. Tony Blair, for example, talked in 2001 of ‘the horrors [that] illegal immigrants endure at the hands of people-traffickers’ and ‘the catalogue of death’ in the Mediterranean, proclaiming that ‘we must not allow such tragic loss of life to continue’. (Observer, 4 February 2001) Within a few years though, his anti-asylum policies[1] included the establishment of FRONTEX (the EU agency funded to keep the borders of Fortress Europe secure from ‘illegal’ migrants) and his government used the agency for controversial mass joint deportation flights to Iraq, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

The political mantra about ‘our obligation’ is trotted out by home secretary after shadow home secretary – but it is a lie. Our obligation has long gone, scuppered by a secure borders policy with steel fences and riot police at Calais; and a lethal sea and land border in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. The familiar sound bites and the media and political discourses have been repeated over the last ten years to cover for this vacuum in asylum policy.

So what passes for ‘asylum policy’ these days?

Aside from the gesture of the UNHCR Gateway Protection Programme (through which ‘very vulnerable’ refugees from UNHCR camps are ‘resettled’), two key principles dominate contemporary asylum policy making:

  • ‘Strong borders’ – in recent years a fortified UK border at Calais and a FRONTEX land and sea border around Fortress Europe; and
  • asylum procedures and institutions designed as a deterrent to future asylum seekers.


The Red Cross set up a centre at Sangatte near Calais in 1999 to accommodate refugees from Kosovo and the Balkans who were attempting to gain asylum in the UK. On Christmas Day 2001 500 refugees stormed the Channel Tunnel entrance. Eurotunnel then spent more than £6m on security measures to protect the 1,700-acre terminal site, including 20 miles of outer fencing, six miles of razor wire and 300 video cameras. calaisFor fifteen years, the Calais situation has been characterised by this pattern of protest and organising by refugees and migrants followed by evictions, police brutality and increases in security. David Cameron recently offered the French authorities £12 million to strengthen security at Calais port and the high security fence erected in Newport for the NATO summit. This was in response to events in September 2014 ‘where 250 illegal immigrants recently stormed the ferry terminal’.[2] Refugees and migrants had earlier in the summer produced a manifesto of demands and sought negotiations with British and French authorities, or as the Sunday Express put it ‘Hundreds of illegals demand the French send them to Great Britain’… Once in Britain they will claim asylum and all the social security and other benefits that entails … which is why the migrants continually try to sneak aboard lorries headed here’[3] – asylum seekers as benefit tourists. The image of asylum seekers ‘sneaking in’ by Britain’s ‘back door’, if they survive the Mediterranean crossing has become embedded in media and political narratives.

When thirteen children were discovered alongside twenty-two adults, one of whom had died, in a container at Tilbury on 17 August the media were puzzled by what to call them – the i newspaper settled for ‘Afghan stowaways’, although the piece appeared in the ‘Crime’ section and was covered by their crime correspondent. The Daily Mail decided on ‘cargo stowaways’ although they were described as ‘migrants’ later in the piece.[4] Other editions of the Mail quoted officials describing ‘these poor people’ as ‘victims’. The Telegraph fell back on ‘Illegal immigrants in Tilbury shipping container’ and put the story in its crime section.[5] The Guardian followed with a more guarded ‘35 suspected illegal immigrants’.[6] By Monday 18 August Channel 4 News was reporting ‘Afghan Sikhs claim asylum in Britain’.[7]

The Tilbury container death and the fact that there were thirteen children involved did, as direct contact with asylum seekers always does, evoke human sympathy; and press reports settled into this vein. Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail cut through the sentiment:

Basic humanity requires that we give them medical treatment and temporary accommodation … There were 13 blameless children among those packed into what has been described as a “metal coffin” … Why didn’t they seek asylum in Russia, or Turkey, or any of the countries that they crossed en route to Zeebrugge? … I know there is supposed to be free movement within Europe, but surely that privilege applies only to EU citizens not illegal aliens … However heartbreaking some of the stories, we can’t go on giving asylum to all the world’s waifs and strays.[8]

The views of Ukip’s politicians, and their policy on refugees gathering at Calais, is very much in line with the Littlejohn view of the world. Janice Atkinson, a Ukip MEP visiting Calais, thought that the ‘French authorities might start to think seriously about repatriating the thousands crowding around the Euro Tunnel entrance rather than tolerating the countless attempts to violate our borders’.[9] Her Ukip MEP colleague Steven Woolfe agreed: ‘The people being thrown out of the camps are not going to give up … It is essential the UK Government makes it absolutely clear we will return illegal migrants to their ­countries of origin.’[10]

The fact is, of course, that many of the thousands of refugees and migrants who have gathered at Calais over the past two years are Syrians and Eritreans often with family or friends in the UK. Already in October 2013, sixty-five Syrians blockaded gangways on ferries and forty staged a hunger strike. The Daily Express recognised their protest as one from ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’.[11] The Guardian described them clearly as ‘Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the UK’, and quoted a statement they had prepared: ‘We have the right to claim asylum in England, but how do we get there? There is not a legal way to cross.’[12]

Labour, Calais and after

When in April 2014 Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper set out the party’s immigration policy she turned to the mantra that sanctuary for asylum seekers has ‘always been the British way.’

Labour’s ‘new’ smart and progressive policy on asylum claims to distinguish between asylum and other types of immigration. Refugees (not, of course asylum seekers) along with university students will not be included in caps and target numbers – for asylum seekers it will be made even more difficult to enter the UK to claim. Cooper spelled this out looking at Calais:

We need stronger controls at the ports where the most problems arise. Particularly in Calais, [my emphasis] where we’ve seen not just abuse but tragedy. Awful cases of young men camping by the roadside then leaping onto the wheel arches of passing lorries, only to be crushed and killed. So yes, it is progressive to call for much stronger enforcement at Calais. And we will bring back finger printing for illegal migrants caught stowing away at Calais – something the Government has refused to do.

At a fringe meeting at the Labour conference Cooper pledged to ‘take back the immigration discourse from the right wing’ and, presumably responding to lobbying on Syria, said that Labour policy on refugees would create ‘a more flexible system for when major international crises like the current situation in Syria happens again.’ Cooper is careful to distinguish between refugees and ‘asylum seekers’. Moreover campaigners have found, in their present attempts to resettle a handful of Syrian refugees, it is mainly Labour councils, nervous before an election, who are unwilling to resettle them.

In any event, the near defeat in Heywood and Middleton has meant another new strategy on Ukip. Labour now seems to be returning to its default positions on asylum and ‘strong borders’. Ed Miliband’s response to Ukip delivered in Chatham on 23 October, as part of the by-election campaign in Rochester and Strood, certainly suggests this. The banner headline for the print edition of the I following the speech was: ‘Deportation, Deportation, Deportation: Miliband toughens Labour’s immigration policy to counter Ukip’.

Labour’s ‘groundhog day’ on immigration continued with David Blunkett’s outburst supporting Tory minister Michael Fallon in his assertion that immigrants are ‘swamping’ communities. Blunkett, in his article for the Daily Mail, looked back to the times when he had used the term ‘swamping’ before:

This storm [over Fallon’s outburst] echoed the experience I went through 12 years ago when I, too, used the word ‘swamped’ to describe the anxious feelings of people who were facing the dispersal of large numbers of asylum seekers into their own hard-pressed Northern communities.[13]

But Blunkett himself obviously realises why the term is offensive: ‘That is because the term ‘swamped’ is so loaded with political history. It was famously uttered by Margaret Thatcher in a World in Action television interview in 1978, when she was still Leader of the Opposition.’

Labour, having abstained on the coalition’s 2014 Immigration Act, is also apparently determined to start a Miliband government with a new Immigration Reform Act. Last time it was in office Labour managed six immigration acts!

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats’ policy on immigration ‘Making Migration Work for Britain’ was passed at their recent annual conference. Of the forty-five ‘Policy Points’, only one obliquely deals with ‘strong borders’: ‘Liberal Democrats propose to accelerate the delivery of full monitoring of all UK border entry and exits’.[14]

The Lib Dems see ‘illegal immigration’ as a criminal activity, and want more deportations:

Liberal Democrats propose an intelligence-led approach to tackling illegal immigration, with more investment into investigating criminal gangs, the black market, and others who support illegal migration with a robust returns policy.

In the main document the issue of asylum is dealt with by restating a commitment to the 1951 Convention: ‘Liberal Democrats want an improved asylum system which both strongly upholds the UN Convention and minimises the potential for abuse’.

The ambiguities in this position are hinted at in other sections. Falling numbers of asylum claims from ‘people arrived in the UK claiming asylum’ to just 5 per cent of total immigration is seen as a good thing … ‘Nevertheless it is still an area of public concern’ [bold in original] (p.44).

There is no analysis of extensive ‘strong border’ policies and EU border controls which brutally breach the UN convention and have, to a large extent, produced the fall in numbers. In fact EU asylum control measures are praised in the document – apparently the ‘Eurodac Regulation’ on fingerprinting ‘has led to the removal of 12,000 asylum seekers from the UK since 2004’ (p.47).

The Green Party

The Green Party divides its ‘Migration Policy’ (revised in September this year), into Principles, Medium and Short Term policies. Amongst the principles: ‘The Green Party is opposed to’ both ‘forced migration and forced repatriation’. The short-term policies include:

  • ‘Migrants illegally in the UK for over five years will be allowed to remain unless they pose a serious danger to public safety’
  • ‘Transport providers must not be penalised for bringing people without the required visas, etc. to the UK.’

And under ‘Immigration and the EC’, and perhaps ten years too late:

  • ‘We will resist all attempts to introduce a “barrier round Europe” shutting out non-Europeans or giving them more restricted rights of movement within Europe than European Nationals.’

Political silence on deaths in the Mediterranean

SeaApart from the Greens the other mainstream parties’ indifference to the scale of the deaths in the Mediterranean speaks volumes. Handwringing and rhetoric about evil traffickers and criminal gangs seem to be the limits of politicians’ interest. In her speech to the September Labour Party conference Yvette Cooper failed to even mention the tragedy of 500 asylum seekers (including 100 children) mainly from Syria and Palestine dying only a few days earlier off the coast of Malta.

This time the mantra mentioned Syrians – but only the handful the coalition had agreed to admit over three years: ‘We will never turn our backs on those fleeing persecution and I’m proud our party forced the Government to accept vulnerable Syrian refugees.’

At present (November 2014), there are around fifty Syrian refugees in the UK, under this scheme, most of them accommodated by a housing association in West Yorkshire. There is a commitment to taking around 500 Syrians over three years. Germany has committed to around 24,000 over the same period, and unlike the UK where ‘irregular’ Syrians wait months for interviews, Germany accepts the UNHCR view that Syria is manifestly unsafe, and was accepting Syrians a few months ago without interviews, simply on application.

In the same speech Cooper returned to familiar territory: ‘That’s why a Labour Government will bring in stronger border controls to tackle illegal immigration’ and ‘To stop the growing crisis at Calais.’

We should note that ‘our’ EU border force FRONTEX describes all migrants crossing the external borders and the Mediterranean as ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’. The problem is that a large percentage of those crossing and dying in the Mediterranean, as recent analyses[15] have demonstrated, may be ‘irregular’, they may have used ‘traffickers’ but they are most definitely refugees seeking asylum in the EU, some aiming to join relatives and émigré communities in the UK.

The chilling verdict of Frances Webber in a recent Statewatch article on EU programmes and law, should be compulsory reading for politicians and their special advisers. As she states:

EU migration policy is ever more firmly anchored in the imperative of exclusion, causing the deaths of thousands at its borders and subjecting migrants to ‘institutionalised detention’. This quasi-criminal framework for migration empties of meaning the ideals on which the EU claims to be founded.

The images conjured up when we think of migration to Europe are of boats – drifting, leaky and overcrowded; bodies – drowned, washed up on beaches and caught in fishermen’s nets; fences topped with razor wire; camps – squalid places of misery and desperation. They are images of exclusion and death.

Deterrence at Calais and in the Mediterranean

Underpinning the political silence described above is a philosophy of deterrence, now firmly embedded in asylum policy-making. Matt Carr recently reported on the police actions and the evictions in Calais and argued that:

The result is an unacknowledged policy of deterrence in which both the British and French governments are complicit. It is intended to make life in Calais as harsh for migrants as possible, without actually killing them, in the hope that they will stop coming.

It has also now emerged that British policy on the Mediterranean border means that the Italian navy’s Mare Nostrum rescue programme which rescued most of the 85,000 refugees who landed in Italy from January to July, will not be continued or supported; it did not deter refugees effectively enough. This policy was ‘quietly spelled out in a recent House of Lords written answer‘ by the new Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay:

We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean,’ she said, adding that the government believed there was ‘an unintended “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.

Tony Bunyan of Statewatch called the government’s attitude ‘cynical and an abdication of responsibility by saying that not helping to rescue people fleeing from war, persecution and poverty who are likely to perish is an acceptable way to discourage immigration.’

David Cameron in the House of Commons on 27 October spelt out this crude philosophy of deterrence arguing that the search and rescue approach ‘almost encouraged people to get on the boats’. And it should also be noted that Conservative deterrence strategies apply not just at sea, but also at ‘home’. In May 2012, Theresa May told the Telegraph:

The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration… Work is under way to deny illegal immigrants access to work, housing and services, even bank accounts. What we don’t want is a situation where people think that they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need.[16]

The ‘Go Home’ vans campaign followed in the summer of 2013, and the Immigration Act in 2014.

Labour policy on asylum for 2015

Labour has said little about how it would reform the asylum system – after all it created most of its abusive institutions and practices. Mehdi Hasan has pointed out that Labour is:

Willing to apologise only for being too soft on immigration and immigrants, not for being too tough … Enough with the apologies. Week after week, senior Labour figures queue up to express regret over the party’s record on immigration … If Miliband and his pals are bent on apologising for their record on immigration, there are better places to start … Why not express regret or remorse for the pernicious rhetoric around immigration and asylum during the New Labour years? … Then there is child detention, perhaps the most obscene domestic legacy of the New Labour era, rightly described as ‘state-sponsored cruelty’.

Chris Bryant when he was appointed Labour’s shadow immigration minister in 2011 said the first thing he wanted to do was ‘treat migrants like human beings’. Bryant publicly criticised Labour’s record on asylum housing along with current abuses by G4S. Yvette Cooper in her April 2014 policy speech gave one sentence to the brutality of the asylum system: ‘And when deportations are needed, they should be conducted according to proper standards of respect and humanity so we never tolerate the awful abuse seen by staff at Yarl’s Wood.’

Chris Bryant was replaced in 2013 by David Hanson. Hanson has recently contributed a chapter to Why Vote Labour 2015, where he fails to mention the asylum system at all – it is all part of the Labour way of moderating markets:

Labour believes in making markets work, and that free and unlimited markets don’t work well. This is just as true for the labour market, and free movement of labour … There is nothing in Labour history, values, or traditions that require us to be in favour, in principle, of unlimited immigration. We are not and never have been, we have and always will be for managed immigration. (p86)

Liberal Democrats

In office, the Liberal Democrats have supported all the legislation and regulations in the field of asylum passed by the coalition they have been part of.  Nick Clegg is currently calling for even stronger borders and accelerated deportations as part of the election rhetoric and ‘debate’ on immigration.

In contrast the Liberal Democratic policy ‘Making Migration Work for Britain’ has been influenced by the efforts of Lib Dem MPs like Sarah Teather and her campaigns to get parliamentary scrutiny and reform of the asylum system. Teather was a leading opponent of the coalition’s Immigration Act and one of only sixteen MPs of all parties to vote against it. With the Children’s Society, she promoted a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people. She is currently working with two All Party Parliamentary Groups on an inquiry into immigration detention supported by the Detention Forum which has already gathered an impressive amount of written evidence critiquing immigration detention regimes.

The Liberal Democrat policy on asylum ‘support’ and detention is a call for a radical overhaul of the whole system, including the abolition of Section 4 (where ‘failed’ asylum seekers are given reduced support) and the Azure Card; and an end to destitution and homelessness by continuing to provide support to those who may have had their claims rejected but cannot be returned.

After six months waiting for the resolution of claims asylum seekers should be able to work, and in these six months policy should ‘make sure that appropriate training and volunteering opportunities are made available so they can make a contribution to society and be better prepared to find work’.

The policy argues that ‘Serious problems also persist around private companies that hold outsourced contracts for the delivery of enforcement and asylum services.’ And citing the case of Jimmy Mubenga: ‘Liberal Democrats propose to restore deportation transportation and the accountability of enforcement functions to the public sector as soon as the current contracts permit.’

On detention they ‘propose to end Indefinite Detention for immigration purposes’ and to ‘end the inappropriate use of the Detained Fast Track’; and implement ‘community-based alternatives to detention’.

It will be interesting to see how these proposals survive in the Liberal Democrats’ actual manifesto for 2015. Andrew Stunnell who chaired the policy group chose to stress at their conference that ‘the Lib Dem priorities on immigration will firstly be to count everyone in and everyone out and secondly to discuss immigration in parliament yearly’, which suggests that the policy will remain a paper policy.

But the influence of Liberal Democrats within the City of Sanctuary movement, along with other groups like Still Human Still Here, has meant that some of their proposals have emerged in the eight principles being debated at the Sanctuary Summit 2014: Standing in Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Refugees on 15 November, supported by almost all the ‘main’ refugee and migrant rights organisations including the Red Cross and UNHCR.[17]

The Green Party

Green Party policy calls for a new immigration law to ‘be based on the principle of fair and prompt treatment of applicants rather than on excluding dishonest applicants whatever the cost to the honest ones’. It calls for:

A thorough review of UK Immigration Practices and the UK Immigration Service to ensure that racist features are removed and immigration officers receive sufficient suitable training. We will encourage greater ethnic minority participation in the Immigration Service.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, has also attacked political discourses around immigration, citing ‘this nasty, stigmatising rhetoric’. She believes that ‘people who come to Britain, seeking to follow on our proud tradition of providing asylum, should be allowed to work if they can, should be given decent benefits equivalent to those of everyone else, and decent housing.’

Bennett is one of the few politicians who recognises that the asylum system has actually been constructed as a deterrent:

I tend towards the theory that messes are more likely to be the result of ‘stuff-ups’ than conspiracies, but when you look at the system for seeking asylum in Britain, the tortuous, incompetent, confusing maze that is demonstrably failing even in its own terms to deliver sensible decisions (25% of rulings that go to appeal are overturned), it can only be said to be a deliberate attempt to stop refugees from securing asylum, to which they are entitled under international treaties that we signed decades ago.

Campaigning for asylum rights in election time

DungavelThere is a rich array of policy proposals focusing on the asylum system and detention within the UK which groups like SYMAAG will be able to use in their local campaigns with candidates in the 2015 election. It is worth remembering that only a few weeks ago in Scotland the ‘Yes’ campaign was mobilising thousands of working-class voters on a programme of welcoming migration to Scotland, closing down Dungavel detention centre, and encouraging asylum seekers as an economic asset.

Unfortunately in the pre-election documents and speeches there seems to be little awareness, or maybe a refusal to be aware of, the political narrative which suggests that the inhumanity of the system is deliberate – it is meant to deter asylum claims. All eyes are narrowly focused on the UK and firmly averted from Calais and Lampedusa. There is an unwillingness to face the brutal reality that in the asylum system the British state, governments and civil servants have willfully developed policies based on xenophobia, discrimination and exclusion with regard to asylum. The state has used ‘our’ money to do this, and has also used ‘our’ money to outsource violence, racism and exclusion via contracts with international security companies.

Campaigning for asylum rights in the 2015 election in solidarity with refugees and migrant workers has to include developing public and political awareness of this central issue of state-led discrimination and exclusion in the asylum system. The campaigning has to confront the horrors of the Mediterranean and Fortress Europe. It needs to support refugees who have had the courage to resist EU asylum policies across Europe. School and university students in Germany and France have created a climate of solidarity with displaced Roma and survivors of the boats.[18]

Campaigns for refugees need to challenge what Michael Dierdren of the European Council for Refugees on Radio 4’s World at One on 28 October, called the ‘morally reprehensible’ position of Britain and EU countries on search and rescue in the Mediterranean. The argument that the UK is funding Syrian refugees in camps with £600 million of aid and, therefore, does not need to take further humanitarian action, unravels when you read what the camps are actually like. As the journalist Robert Fisk recently explained:

200,000 Syrian refugee children – some as young as five – working in Lebanon’s potato and bean fields, or picking figs in the Bekaa valley. Many of them are beaten with sticks in a situation perilously close to slave labour … sleeping in some of the filthiest camps in the land.

The real issue is that refugees become ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ migrants because the UK simply refuses to create safe routes and safe methods of claiming asylum. As Maurice Wren of the Refugee Council argues: ‘The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.’

As the UNHCR pointed out in July, in its commentary on the situation in the Mediterranean:

Legal migration routes could reduce the incentives for people to embark on dangerous irregular travel. They could also help boost local economies in the medium term and create labour opportunities in the longer run. The use of humanitarian visas, protected entry procedures and enhanced family reunification need to be further explored. In specific cases some Member States in the past have provided visas at embassies to enable people in need of protection to travel to European destinations. The potential to further develop such arrangements could also be considered.[19]

Now there’s an asylum policy to campaign for.


IRR News story: ‘The globalisation of indifference



Bibliography: [1] Malcolm Dean, Democracy under attack: how the media distort policy and politics (Policy Press, 2013), p. 223. [2] ‘UK will give £12m to Calais in a bid to stop hundreds of migrants reaching Britain’, Daily Telegraph (20 September 2014). [3] Peter Allen, ‘Hundreds of illegals demand the French send them to Great Britain’, Daily Express (1 June 2014). [4] ‘UK police identify cargo stowaways as Afghan Sikhs’, Daily Mail (17 August 2014). [5] David Barrett, ‘Illegal immigrants in Tilbury shipping container were “Sikhs from Afghanistan”’, Daily Telegraph (17 August 2014). [6] Mark Tran, ‘Group found in container at Tilbury includes 13 children’, Guardian (17 August 2014). [7]Afghan Sikhs claim asylum in Britain’, Channel 4 News (18 August 2014). [8] Richard Littlejohn, ‘Why the world is dying to come here’, Daily Mail (19 August 2014). [9] Janice Atkinson, ‘Calais: MEP reveals French Government didn’t use £12m UK money for Calais’, Breitbart (16 October 2014). [10] Giles Sheldrick, ‘EXCLUSIVE: Illegal Calais migrant camp to be torn down’, Daily Express (19 August 2014). [11] Peter Allen and Anil Dawar, ‘Refugees in Syria demand to be taken to Britain’, Daily Express (5 October 2013). [12] Angelique Chrisafis , ‘French police try to move Syrian refugees seeking asylum in UK’, Guardian (4 October 2013). [13] Jack Doyle, ‘Migrants really are swamping parts of UK, says Blunkett: Ex-Home Secretary backs minister rebuked by No 10 over TV comments’, Daily Mail (28 October 2014). [14] Liberal Democrats, Making Migration Work for Britain: For a stronger economy and a fairer society, Policy Paper 116. (Download it here, pdf file, 324kb.) [15] Amnesty International’s report in September 2014  Lives Adrift: Refugees and migrants in peril in the central Mediterranean made this clear: ‘The 400 victims of two major shipwrecks of 3 and 11 October 2013 were in the vast majority refugees from Eritrea and Syria. In 2013, FRONTEX stated that “It is undisputed that significant numbers of arrivals by boat originate from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia. There is a considerable likelihood that nationals from these countries are in need of international protection … In 2013, out of a total of 107,365 people detected while attempting to cross a border irregularly, 25,546, about 24%, were Syrians, and 11,298, about 10%, were Eritreans.’ In 2014 the top two nationalities of people landing in Italy were 28,557 Eritreans and 23,945 Syrians – over half of the total.  See also IOM (International Organisation for Migration) Fatal Journeys: tracking lives lost during migration September 2014. [16] James Kirkup and Robert Winnett, ‘Theresa May interview: “We’re going to give illegal migrants a really hostile reception”’, Daily Telegraph (25 May 2012). [17] These principles are: All asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to be treated with dignity and respect. Asylum seekers to be welcomed & befriended on arrival, and offered free language tuition so they can fully participate and contribute to the local community. Free access to healthcare for all asylum seekers while they are in the UK. Access to good quality legal advice and representation. Improved decision making, so protection is granted to all who need it. An end to destitution, by providing sufficient support to all asylum seekers to ensure they can meet their essential living needs while in the UK. Permission to work for asylum seekers whose case has taken more than six months, or who have been refused and are temporarily unable to return home. An end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants. [18] In November 2013, 20,000 university and school students marched through Paris to protest the deportation of a young Roma student, and teenagers barricaded schools (Telegraph 2013). In December 2013, thousands of school students in Hamburg walked out of lessons and demonstrated for better treatment of refugees in Germany (Snoek and Doll 2013). In February 2014, Berlin school students went on strike to stop the deportation of refugees who had arrived in Germany after crossing the Mediterranean to Lampedusa (Hansen 2014). It is perhaps no coincidence that Germany now grants asylum to more refugees than any other EU country. [19] CMSI Action Plan – UNHCR Bureau for Europe UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI) EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of refugees and migrants, (22 July 2014), p. 23.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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