Opinion: 3 real life reasons why we need a fair asylum system and 3 chances to argue the case

I am going to write about 3 people who sought sanctuary in the UK.  All people I know well.

K came here, fleeing from the terror on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. She is a strong determined person, passionate about democracy, and held a good responsible job in administration and had children. She fled here, in fear of her life, leaving job and family behind.  She has not been given permission to stay here, but as we all must know by now, Zimbabwe is not a safe place to return to.  So she had no job, no benefits, and no home. She does voluntary work, but has to live on the charity and goodwill of others, and does not know if she will ever see her children again. Surely the least we can do in our country is to allow her to use her considerable skills and enthusiasm to be able to work to support herself ?

P came here, fleeing from Kabila, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had 2 university degrees, was a high ranking civil servant, had a nice home, a wife who worked in public services, and children who went to school.  Here his story was not believed, and he was refused asylum, so he was working on getting more evidence to prove his case, and offered his skills as a voluntary worker. He had no money to live on, no home, and lived in constant fear of being removed.  He came to live with us for a while and we got to know him and his story well.  However he was tricked into meeting with UKBA officials, was arrested, and  taken back to DRC. There he was beaten. He lives in constant fear of reprisals and arrest.  He has no identity so he and his wife cannot work, they live in poverty and he is so grieved that his children cannot go to school. Despite proof well documented about returns to DRC in “Unsafe Return”, our country still thinks it is safe to return asylum seekers there. We are still in touch with him and know it is not.

C was a lady with 2 children who was seeking sanctuary in the US as she was being persecuted in her home country for being a Christian. I was given the opportunity to take a family with me to see a performance of an ice panto at a local theatre. I took her and her children and we had a wonderful time. However when we were about to leave, she suddenly panicked and hid behind a column in the foyer. She was shaking and sobbing. This was because she had seen one of the official from the theatre in a uniform, that looked like the police uniform of her native country. It took quite a while to reassure her that she was safe with me. The story has a happy ending in that she now does have permission to stay here, in safety. However, her behaviour on the sight of the uniformed person – surely that would give Home Office officials reason to suspect she should be arrested as a possible “illegal immigrant”, and it illustrates how frightened those genuinely seeking sanctuary with us can be.

These 3 stories are just three, from a multitude of others that I and others could tell. They led to the inspiration behind setting up Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary  (LD4SOS). At our fringe meeting at the Glasgow conference you will have the chance to listen to the voices of some asylum seekers, as well as hear from Gary Christie, Head of Policy and Communications, Scottish Refugee Council, and Lord Roger Roberts. The meeting is on the Monday 16th from 1 till 2, with a free buffet, at the India Quay Restaurant. Unfortunately this is on the first floor and there is no lift, but it is right opposite the conference centre, and we will do our best to arrange for anyone who cannot make the stairs to meet with some of the asylum seekers where it is more accessible.

Also we have our first AGM, on  Sunday 15th, from 1 till 2, with Tony Greaves addressing us, and hopefully time to discuss the way forward as well as the formal AGM. There is also, of course, the consultation document on “Immigration, Asylum and Identity”, and the consultation session at 10.00 on the Saturday morning in Argyll 1 in the Crowne Plaza.  Views are welcome on this in writing if you cannot attend.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • Richard Dean 11th Sep '13 - 11:57am

    While these three cases pull the heart strings, we actually do need principles on this matter – principles that will likely result in some asylum applications being rejected. There are a lot of dangerous places in the world. What principles are being suggested?

  • Richard Dean 12th Sep '13 - 12:35pm

    @Janet King.
    That’s not enough.

    There are varying degrees of danger, varying degrees of truth, and varying degrees of predictability about what will or will not happen. Principles are needed about how to make judgments on all of these. It’s perhaps the lack of such principles that has led to misjudgements in the past. Beating on about “danger” won’t change anything.

    Consider H, who you say was macheted by a government-sponsored mob. It’s worth asking whether and why this happened – last time I heard of a mob macheting someone the someone didn’t survive. And the why is relevant, and so is the question of whether it has a chance of happening again. Even in Zimbabwe, it takes a lot to organize a mob.

    Or the case of Maimuna Jawo. Was she the lady on Newsnight? While I appreciate that the Newsnight reporter investigated and found horrors, I wonder if we should automatically assume that it’s true that Maimuna will really be killed for refusing to cut? It’s certainly feasible that Maimuna believes it, but African people, even those in the Gambia, are not savages.

  • Richard Dean 12th Sep '13 - 1:04pm

    @Janet King
    Further to my previous post, the Newsnight (might have been Panorama) reporter found a charity in the Gambia that was successfully persuading cutter women out of that profession – setting them up in a different business for £100. So the evidence uncovered by the reporter suggests that cutters can refuse that work and not be killed for refusing.

  • Simon Banks 12th Sep '13 - 7:54pm


    Of course any fair system will result in some applications being rejected. Some applications will be ill-founded – some even untrue in parts.

    But the principle already exists in the UN Convention on Refugees – a well-founded fear of persecution. If you say that’s too vague, you’re confusing principle with detail, where, of course, there will be grey areas and marginal cases.

  • Richard Dean 12th Sep '13 - 8:32pm

    @Simon Banks.

    What a cop out that is! No., I’m not confusing principle with detail at all. If “well-founded fear of persecution” is a principle, it cannot be the only one. There have to be objective principles about what is meant by “well-founded” and what is meant by “persecution”. Even “fear” is subjective. The absence of such principles makes “well-founded fear of persecution” meaningless, and creates precisely the confusion in the Home Office that leads to the incorrect decisions being complained about..

    If I was a criminal I might say I feared the persecution of guards in my home country’s jail. Is that acceptable for asylum? Do we want the entire jail populations of the world applying for asylum? If I was an obese, manic-depressive New Zealander I could interpret the social ridicule and an unsympathetic health service in that country as “persecution” which could even drive me to suicide. Does that get me asylum in the UK?

    What about principles of compassion and realism? Compassion might mean that “persecution” would include to life-threatening actions, carried out by the foreign government or the culture, that would not be “fair” or “acceptable” in the UK. Realism might mean that “persecution” would be limited those kinds of actions. It might also have something to do with believability, and with the numbers of different types of immigrants we think we can handle.

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