The Conservatives and asylum seekers

Anti-immigrant feeling is one of the oldest prejudices in the book. We have rightly come to expect to hear it with wearying regularity from the right-wing press and certain parts of the Conservative party.  But there is something different about the latest round of comments and policy proposals from Theresa May and co – something darker and altogether more troubling.

Until now, even the Conservatives, who have attacked ‘economic’ migrants (including students) with every kind of financial and regulatory penalty imaginable since 2010, have maintained an attitude of respect towards asylum seekers and refugees. ‘Britain has a proud and historic tradition of providing sanctuary to the persecuted’, we are endlessly told, as the next raft of legal aid cuts or high visa fees come in for other migrants.

But the mask has slipped in recent weeks. Are we, as I suspect, now witnessing the actions of a peacetime-educated conservative elite who no longer understand or appreciate the importance of providing refuge for people feeling war, persecution and dictatorship? There were early signs in 2012, when G4S were hired to manage housing for asylum seekers cheaply and did a botched job.

Now, asylum support – the tiny amount of money given to those awaiting a decision on their asylum claim – is being cut drastically, even for children. Section 4 support, offered to failed asylum seekers who have a clear plan to return home, is to be withdrawn. Many of these people will still have fled their country of origin due to perceived threats to their safety, even if their cases do not meet the legal requirements for asylum. Just as significantly, we have taken a pitiful number of refugees from Syria- the worst conflict of recent times- just 143 compared to 30,000 in Germany and 15,000 in Switzerland.

These things aren’t just part of the same package of anti-immigration measures we’ve seen in recent years and it is vitally important we do not see them as such. They cross a major line and show a failure at the heart of government to hold true to the principle of respect for asylum seekers which they tote around so freely when it suits them. Government must be reminded that respect for refugees is non-negotiable.

* James Harper works for a Liberal Democrat MP specialising in Asylum and Immigration casework. The views expressed are his own.

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38 Comments

  • Richard Stallard 11th Aug '15 - 3:36pm

    “Government must be reminded that respect for refugees is non-negotiable.”
    Says who?

  • Richard Underhill 11th Aug '15 - 3:41pm

    James Harper: Good article, but not new, a continuing process of salami tactics.

    A major change of attitude came in with the 1993 Act and the subsequent pressure from ministers on caseworkers. A right of appeal was granted, but there was inadequate funding of staff to present the appeals before what are now called Immigration Judges.

  • When so many are having their tax credits cut, the bedroom tax imposed is it any wonder that there is anger when reports of illegal migrants being housed in hotels, given three meals a day and pocket money are in the media? Of course those queuing at the food banks and unable to pay their way even when they are working will be angry. If the government show no respect for us then why expect them to show it to asylum seekers? Of course these attacks since 2010 you talk about were supported by the LibDems or they would not have gone through.

  • Please stop with this nonsensical *asylum seeker* tag. Once on the coast of Europe, they are free to access help without fear, because their persecutors are behind them, a Mediterranean Sea away. And having reached the EU coast,..*migrants*, who *choose* to continue their journey freely, unfettered and safely, through Greece, Italy, and France, can in no logical way be classed as asylum seekers.? By repeatedly calling them asylum seekers detracts from any credibility the article might have, because it starts the commentary from a glaringly obvious, false premise.

  • What Richard Underhill said.

  • John Tilley 11th Aug '15 - 4:57pm

    Good article, James Harper.
    You ask the question –“..Are we, as I suspect, now witnessing the actions of a peacetime-educated conservative elite who no longer understand or appreciate the importance of providing refuge for people feeling war, persecution and dictatorship? ”

    The simple answer is – Yes.
    It is the classic mix of racism with Conservative Party old-school prejudices and a Hayek-inspired view of society. What those of us who remember the nightmare know as ‘Thatcherism’. It is the opposite of everything we stand for.

  • James Brough 11th Aug '15 - 6:52pm

    My experience of working for the UKBA may shed some light here.

    I left the UKBA in 2011. At that point, the vast majority of cases at appeal did not have a Home Office representative to argue their case as the department was very understaffed. The Home Office case relied on a letter written by a caseworker with no legal experience or training. My own training for the role was two days with a colleague reading through hand-outs with me. It should have been 2 weeks, but most of the training department had been made redundant.

    On the basis of the two days training I was expected to be able to analyse any evidence the applicant presented – this might have been written evidence or might have been gathered at a formal interview I was expected to conduct – to decide whether or not to grant asylum on the basis of whether the applicant had a genuine fear of persecution, and if refusing asylum, to produce a legally watertight defence of the decision which would stand up in court. When I started in 2004, I was expected to deal with one such case a day, by the time I left, this had moved to 3 per day. Under qualified , ill-trained workers with increasing demands of productivity meant that the standards of work were dropping.

    And Mr Stallard – I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else, so I’ll limit myself to – says me.

    Refugees are people who’ve been uprooted and forced to flee to another country, often in danger of their lives. I see no reason why respect should be optional.

    You are of course at liberty to disagree just as, if you do, I am at liberty to hold you in contempt for that.

  • David Evershed 11th Aug '15 - 6:57pm

    Africa and the Middle East have an inexhaustible number of potential economic migrants

    There is a practical limit to the number of economic migrants that any country can take. Greece already seems to have reached that limit.

    So declining to accept economic migrants is not a moral issue, it is a practical issue.

    Furthermore, the fit, young males with the cash to get to Europe are the very people who should be staying in their own country to improve its governance and the conditions of the weaker members of the population who don’t have the means to travel to Europe.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Aug '15 - 6:59pm

    Not justthe COnservatives but the Conservative press, to. Consistent as ever:

    The Daily Mail’s reaction to those *actually fleeing Hitler* in the 30s was to blame them.

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CLJBCQvWIAAdzdp.jpg

  • James: *applause*

  • Mr Evershed, you are right in that if stability could be obtained in so many areas where civil war reigns the fit ,bright men and their families would be those who we could look forward to taking leading roles in those countries development
    But they arent and whether they are economic migrants or those seeking asylum, they should be afforded respect.If we can isolate economic migrant from asylum seeker then the processes could be acted upon speedily. But at the same time as the government steps up its rhetoric it reduces the support to get the job done. For me I have nothing but admiration for those who have risked life and limb to get to Europe May God grant that my family are never in the position of these desperate people.

  • Phil Beesley 11th Aug '15 - 9:22pm

    James Harper: “There were early signs in 2012, when G4S were hired to manage housing for asylum seekers cheaply and did a botched job.”

    Contemporary government uses the social contract so that citizens delegate limited powers of violence and restraint to state bodies (police, armed services) in return for protection. Those bodies and their employees should be held to account for their actions, and most of the time it works. For most of the 20th century, government abhorred private security services and certainly would not have worked with UK-managed mercenaries to pursue foreign policy. Somehow, private security services have transformed themselves into enforcement/management agencies for prisoners and immigrants.

    Current practice needs to be turned around. If government uses laws to detain people, government employees should do the job. The citizens’ social contract is with the state, represented by government, which should not be delegated further to private companies. Let’s bring all prisons and migrant detention centres under government control and ensure that inspection works. Prisons and migrant detention centres can be rowdy places so the people permitted to use limited violence and restraint should be accountable as government employees.

    BTW I am not opposed to third party provision of public services in general. I just think that legal violence and restraint are a special government responsibility.

  • Richard Stallard 11th Aug '15 - 9:47pm

    “Refugees are people who’ve been uprooted and forced to flee to another country, often in danger of their lives. I see no reason why respect should be optional.”
    I have respect for those who follow the rules and seek sanctuary in the nearest available safe haven. Traipsing through several of countries to reach the one of choice (for a multitude of reasons, not all of them commendable) doesn’t command the same respect from me.
    Now, I have no problem with sharing the burden with those unfortunate states that find themselves swamped, so long as it’s organised and fair to all the nations involved.
    David is quite correct in that the line between genuine refugees and economic migrants is all too often blurred. A sob story doesn’t make a refugee, particularly when there is a very lucrative business to be had in coaching them in their stories and facilitating their illegal entry into the country.

  • James Brough 11th Aug '15 - 10:33pm

    Richard Stallard – Not sure how you interpret David Evershot ‘ s reply as saying that economic migrants and refugees are easily confused. The definition of a refugee used by UKBA when I worked there was of a person fleeing persecution in their home country. Economic migration was never seen as the same as being a refugee and was never a sufficient reason for a grant of asylum. And no, a sob story doesn’t make a refugee – I’m not sure you understand how difficult it is to get a grant of asylum. Asylum interviews when I was a caseworker were extremely detailed, including several hundred questions and could last five or six hours.

    Yes, some people would present fake stories at interview – they tended not to be very detailed and multiple applicants would be coached in the same story, making them easier to spot. The people providing fake stories and documents did not have any real incentive to provide high quality work – once an applicant had paid for their documents, they were no longer of interest to traffickers, so it didn’t much matter to them whether the applicant was granted or not.

    As for your complaint about people who “traipse through several countries” – in many cases, refugees are not able to leave their home countries legally. If you have to rely on people traffickers for this, then you’re not always going to have any control over which country you end up in or how you enter the country.

  • Richard Stallard 11th Aug '15 - 11:00pm

    We’re not that far away from each other, you know. I, too, worked for UKBA as part of the police management team after the then Home Sec, Charles Clarke, got the chop for not deporting prisoners at the end of their sentences. I saw it from the enforcement side, leading arrest teams to round up the overstayers and failed asylum seekers who refused to leave.

    That was a job and a half – rarely leading to removal due to the endless appeals, Judicial Reviews and HRA applications, (although I believe those loopholes have been tightened up on somewhat nowadays?).

    The most efficient way was (and still is) to make use of the Identity Cards Act – obtain evidence of them using false i/d and then get them imprisoned, with deportation added at the end of the sentence. In many cases, the best result all round was when the threat of imprisonment led to them suddenly remembering their nationality and finding their ‘lost’ passport, and thus being persuaded to leave without fuss.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Aug '15 - 12:25am

    Richard Stallard 11th Aug ’15 – 11:00pm ” … Home Sec, Charles Clarke, got the chop for not deporting prisoners at the end of their sentences. ”
    Actually the cause of issue was about money. There were long queues in several parts of the government including hospitals, schools, etc Immigration was only part of it.
    Numerical targets were set for the reduction of the length of the asylum queue as the number one priority because it was unacceptable that applicants were able to use an asylum claim as a method of overriding immigration control for maybe a year without the asylum claim being considered and decided.
    During that time they could claim benefits and develop UK ties, etc. The priority came from the PM. The money was negotiated with the Treasury. Where criminal cases were also asylum claims it would have been possible to use some of that money, but there were very few. After Charles Clarke departed there was a change of priorities and staff were re-allocated to criminal casework with crisis levels of overtime, recruitment, etc. Deportation of criminals and administrative removal of illegal immigrants and overstayers still depended on obtaining or creating travel documents for them and on these documents being accepted when they arrived on return.
    In a small percentage of cases there is an alternative destination, most commonly caused by a marriage to a national of another country.
    The word “sanctuary” should not be used. It is a religious term which is not part of immigration law. One Sri Lankan sought sanctuary in a cathedral in Manchester after his asylum claim failed and his appeal was dismissed, but he was removed in a well publicised case.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Aug '15 - 12:34am

    James Brough 11th Aug ’15 – 10:33pm “Richard Stallard – Not sure how you interpret David Evershot ‘ s reply as saying that economic migrants and refugees are easily confused.”
    This depends on whether the receiving country grants permission to work while the asylum claim is being considered.
    If that happens it is argued that some people will be attracted to make an asylum claim when otherwise they would not.
    The consideration of an asylum claim is more complex and takes more time than most applications under the Immigration Rules

  • While I agree with the concern you express, there is nothing new about G4S’ involvement. It was already widespread at the turn of the century when I worked on asylum casework for people detained at Camspfield House. I’m afraid the Conservatives are not the only ones not to cover themselves in glory on this front.
    The way refugees are made to feel here is shameful. I work with a young Syrian man who was involved in peaceful protest / pro-democracy videos / social media campaigns etc and saw his friends imprisoned while here studying for his masters. He told me: “I’m not proud but I claimed asylum”… He feels guilty about not going back to face a similar fate and daily is subjected to a barrage of language in the media which only makes him feel worse.

  • John Dunn 11th Aug ’15 – 4:28pm …………………Please stop with this nonsensical *asylum seeker* tag. Once on the coast of Europe, they are free to access help without fear, because their persecutors are behind them, a Mediterranean Sea away. And having reached the EU coast,..*migrants*, who *choose* to continue their journey freely, unfettered and safely, through Greece, Italy, and France, can in no logical way be classed as asylum seekers.? By repeatedly calling them asylum seekers detracts from any credibility the article might have, because it starts the commentary from a glaringly obvious, false premise……………………

    Perhaps, having lost their *asylum seeker* tag, you might explain what they do next? As they are miraculously transformed into *migrant workers* your post implies they should stay put (or at least stay away from the UK)….

    I’d suggest that Greece/Italy might feel rather upset if Cameron’s ‘iron curtain’ mentality was used by the rest of Europe. I’d suggest that, if the UK were the first point of entry for these people, it would be us expecting others to shoulder some of the responsibility.

  • To develop a country of course is no small undertaking and cannot be seen as an immediate answer to those who seek a better life whether they are called economic migrants or refugees.
    Britain has direct responsibility for destabilising Iraq and Libya and must therefore be prepared for the consequences.

  • Manfarang 12th Aug ’15 – 9:05am……………..To develop a country of course is no small undertaking and cannot be seen as an immediate answer to those who seek a better life whether they are called economic migrants or refugees.
    Britain has direct responsibility for destabilising Iraq and Libya and must therefore be prepared for the consequences….

    Even more so as, after the ‘removal’ of Gadhafi, Cameron twice visited Libya arguing that it was a “complete fiction” to think Gadhafi’s overthrow made the west more vulnerable and promising that, “In building a new Libya you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom. We will stand with you every step of the way.”…..

    Sadly, like most of Cameron’s promises, it was short lived….

  • Instead of calling them asylum seekers lets call them “people who would get their heads blown off” if they chose to remain in the war zone their homes have become. Greece cannot bear this burden alone other EU counties must help.

  • Thank you Tony Dawson for providing a link to the Daily Mail Article – I was about to do the same. The tone of a number of recent articles and headlines has been sadly reminiscent of the hostility to Jewish refugees from the Nazis in the 1930’s. Many who were not allowed into Britain during that period were left to the mercy of the perpetrators of the holocaust.
    I do take issue with those who think we have a proud history of taking refugees and recommend some summer reading.
    Bloody Foreigners – the Story of Immigration to Britain by journalist Robert Winder (2005) shows how we have been enriched by waves of immigrants over 2000 years, that they have not generally been welcomed and only grudgingly tolerated.
    Dominion (2012) by C.J. Sansom is a chilling historical novel of the second world war in London. A deal is struck with Hitler and a quisling government installed with the then Lord Beaverbrook as PM. Jews are rounded up and the Senate House is the Gestapo HQ. It could have happened.
    Unexploded (2013) by Alison MacLeod is anovel of love and prejudice (against Jews) in wartime Brighton. Jewish refugees were locked up with most other Germans in internment camps. The criticisms of the Yarl’s Wood Detention centre on the Today programme this morning made it sound like the war time camps where we interned Jewish refugees to our shame all those years ago.

  • expats 12th Aug ’15 – 9:15am
    “…after the ‘removal’ of Gadhafi, Cameron twice visited Libya arguing that it was a “complete fiction” to think Gadhafi’s overthrow made the west more vulnerable ”

    He was aided and abetted on this foreign adventure in Libya by his Deputy Prime Minister. When people say “History will be kinder to Nick Clegg and the Coalition” they seem to hope that historians will overlook Libya amd Syria.

    The record shows that the supposedly internationalist Liberal Nick Clegg had policies identical to those of Cameron and William Hague. For all I know he still wants to bomb and undermine Assad in support of the Saudi backed Salafists.

  • @ expats and others :
    To be perfectly honest, the real take away I get from this ‘asylum article’ and similar stuff on these threads is that the nature of some liberals is evidently ‘hardwired’, and refuses to countenance change where it’s manifestly needed, or adapt in the light of increasing (and real!), voter concerns.?
    I genuinely thought you’d get it, after the May 2014 EU elections,.. but no chance!. And May 2015 hit you like a tsunami, and whilst I can tell from some comments that some here are shifting their thinking, there are still many who are still convinced that ‘We just haven’t got the liberal message out there clear enough and loud enough”,… ” We need to be more clear about what we stand for”
    Seriously? You mean like the Jehovahs’ witness that bangs on my door for the sixth time, wasn’t clear enough the first time, when I told him thanks but *NO* thanks?
    I’m coming to the conclusion that some of you here are simply nice well meaning liberal evangelists, but cannot be considered as serious political thinkers. You have the unshakable, but ultimately impossible, aim of “Saving everyone on the whole planet, from anything and everything that might be perilous or injurious to them”
    I’ve got some crushing news for you. There is not the money, nor resources to undertake your well intentioned, liberal crusade. And many voters who are trying to get through their day with some semblance of dignity, are way ahead of you in understanding this basic fundamental reality.
    My real conversion to Red-Ukipism, is in reading the ‘economic Runes’, and understanding this fundamental point. That,.. In an increasingly resource constrained economic environment, unwelcome priorities have to be made, because, as much as we would like it,.. you simply cannot,… Save the World. I don’t like this anymore than you do, but at least I’m willing to bite the bullet of reality, and grudgingly accept that the whole of our UK policy, ‘To Do List’, is going to have to go through some process of *Triage*?
    Are you even willing or ready, to row-back on some of your unaffordable liberal ideals?

  • David Evershed 12th Aug '15 - 11:03am

    The comment that

    “If I’d had more time I would have written a shorter letter”

    is variously attributed to Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Cicero, and Woodrow Wilson.

    But who ever said it was correct. Writing a comment of 2,500 words or more is unlikely to stand much chance of being read let alone having any influence. Take the time to distil the argument to its essence.

  • John Dunn 12th Aug ’15 – 11:01am…………… @ expats and others………..

    Winning elections are pointless if, in the end we all pretend to believe the same ‘popular’ policies…..Post 2010 we tried to be ‘Tory-Lite’ and look where that got us….

    The British public strongly support the UK sending troops to northern France to stop migrants entering the channel tunnel and ferries, according to a new poll. A survey by YouGov found that people support deploying the British Army to Calais by an overwhelming margin of 67 per cent to 19 per cent…….

    Ah, well

  • James Brough 12th Aug '15 - 2:42pm

    Richard Underhill –

    While I worked at UKBA, asylum seekers were not allowed to take paid work while waiting for a decision on their application. At the time, we worked on what was know as the “2+4” system, meaning that the application should be decided within 2 months and then the appeal heard within 4 months.

    In 2006, I moved from asylum work to working on the backlog of immigration cases – non-asylum applications for extension of leave to remain in the UK. For the first year or so, I was working pretty much exclusively on applications which had been made the previous century. On the one hand, the actual time taken by a caseworker to work on an immigration application is less, on the other hand, immigration decisions are more likely to fall through the cracks in the system and left to pend – often for years.

  • James Brough 12th Aug '15 - 2:44pm

    Richard Stallard –

    Interesting to hear about your background with UKBA. I do remember how rarely forced removals took place for a variety of reasons – not least being the fact thast there tended not to be the budget for it!

  • Suggest folk look up the ‘news’ article in the Daily Excess about Songs of Praise being broadcast from the Calais camp.
    It’s a vicious attack on the BBC. Well done J.K. Rowling for taking them on.

    Folk should also look up the owner of the Excess, one ‘Richard Desmond’ – UKIP funder and owner of TV interests including so called ‘adult’ sites. Nice friendly pic of said Desmond with Osborne in wiki.

    Fact is there is a real attack going on to undermine the BBC by nasty vested interests are are not one bit cuddly. Time to wake up. There’s nasty stuff going on.

    Norman Baker’s article in The Independent yesterday also worth a look.

  • Simon Banks 12th Aug '15 - 4:15pm

    David Evershed – why when the post is specifically about asylum seekers, do you comment purely about economic migrants? This is precisely the sort of deliberate confusion the worst kind of right-wingers enjoy. It’s bound to be true, of course, that some people claiming asylum status will really be economic migrants, but that’s what the investigation process is about. As for respect for refugees being non-negotiable, (says who?), it’s non-negotiable among Liberals. There are of course plenty of non-Liberals. John Dunn’s point is reasonable in a degree, but first, many asylum-seekers’ first landfall in Europe is the U.K. Secondly, it seems harsh to say that those countries like Italy, Spain, Greece or Turkey that border on war-ravaged or poor areas should take all the economic migrants (or seaborne asylum-seekers) and countries like Germany, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden should take none. or far fewer.

    Yes, this is all depressingly familiar. In the 1930s the Daily Mail was raising the alarm about stateless Jews flooding in to Britain.

    Finally, just a reminder that payments to asylum-seekers are payments to maintain people who our state bans from working. The vast majority would love to have the chance to work and not a few are qualified in fields where we need people.

  • John Tilley 10:13
    There was some hope at the time of the Arab Spring that these countries could move towards liberal democracy.

  • John Tilley 12th Aug '15 - 4:57pm

    Manfarang

    Yes I remember and I shared that hope.
    But I never considered that the Arab Spring involved the RAF bombing people into freedom and democracy.

    You might have thought that after Iraq and Afghanistan that lesson would have been learned.
    If I recall correctly Nick Clegg did not share the views of the majority of the party when we marched against the invasion of Iraq so I suppose he has consistently been in favour of militaristic solutions. Being consistent is not the same as being wise.

  • John Dunn
    “And many voters who are trying to get through their day with some semblance of dignity, are way ahead of you in understanding this basic fundamental reality.
    My real conversion to Red-Ukipism, is in reading the ‘economic Runes’, and understanding this fundamental point. ”
    The lump of labour fallacy is that, a fallacy not reality.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Aug '15 - 7:21pm

    David Evershed 12th Aug ’15 – 11:03am and Sir Winston Churchill. I agree about brevity.

    All: Please use precise language. “Recognised refugee/s” is useful. “Sanctuary” is not useful in UK law nowadays.
    “asylum seekers” is vague. Te correct word is “claimant” but if they have not yet made a claim it does not apply.
    It is possible that asylum claims have been made in several countries , but been refused, or the claim abandoned, for instance when new arrivals talk to other migrants.
    A key difference between countries is whether someone whose claim ahs been refused and appeal dismissed is flown out. In the UK that happens, but not in some of our neighbours.
    “Deportation” is a word that even the BBC misuses, although they should know better. A deportee cannot return without permission, which is unlikely to be granted. It applies to convicted criminals. Others are removed, but can seek legal entry.

  • John Minard 12th Aug '15 - 7:46pm

    No country should walk away from the repercussions of its foreign policy mistakes, least of all this one!

  • Colleagues may like to know of an effort to provide more than just talk which is being organised by four students at York University. You can read all about it if you put the following in you search engine :

    Please help with York to Calais, Support For People in the “Jungle”

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