We need to respect asylum seekers’ choice of a new home, and streamline access to safe routes

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It is quite easy to over-simplify the situation asylum seekers face. Learning from my foster child’s personal experience, I can see that complex nature, which I would never learn from my years of psychology training. Understanding refugees takes a combined effort from Westminster and the public to be in touch with the hearts and minds of the thousands fleeing to our shores.

We must accept refugees realise life challenges await in their chosen refuge even before they set off. Strange as it may sound, “a better place to live” is not the pulling factor for sanctuary. I realise my foster child is extremely perplexed each time one of her friends back home has a day in court. Self-isolating then dwells within the mind. It is why asylum seekers will try whatever means necessary to arrive at a country where they share distant relatives or a similar culture or simply an unexplainable innate feeling that they can become accustomed to the new place.

Accordingly, while it is easy to legally state a ‘safe country’ under the appendix of immigration legislation; the imposed definition could well be a vulnerable place to an asylum seeker. We need to allow refugees to state where they expect themselves to be safe. Besides, their journey adds to their life experience. The human mind does not mutually exclude each traumatic experience in life. When I accompany my foster child to sessions every fortnight, I can see that her childhood experience, then the changes in political situation in her home, her escape and, now, her school life each is a compounding factor to depression and anxiety. Each experience is a trigger and there is no cure. And she is in the more blessed group who can seek asylum via air routes. That is also a reason why there hardly is a documentary or book produced in the first person that we can easily access for our understanding. Asylum seekers suffer from traumatic experiences. Retelling their stories is to relive their trauma. Asylum seekers land on a shore that we perceive as a sanctuary, but they continue to face challenges in this place. There will be no other places where they perceive the ability to rebuild their lives.

In making sense of the above example, it is important to remember that each asylum seeker has their very personal story. And certainly, they go deeper than what can be printed.

From these experiences, I urge the government to kill off the so-called ‘New Plan for Immigration’ – the Borders Bill and, instead, place efforts in strengthening safe routes. People smuggling and modern slavery is indeed the focus, as we all know. There is no private enterprise methodology that can assimilate self, mind and place; and thus syndication usually is pure exploitation. However, the efficient action to end syndicates is to mandate safe routes now. As I mentioned, refugees have a valid reason to provide their definition of a ‘safe country’. We should not put them into a position where their escape is worsened by a frightening journey. Safe routes take away their vulnerability to syndicates acting as a messiah to their worries. Not only do syndicates involve high fees, binding asylum seekers for life, such organisations also manipulate minds, portraying themselves as a saviour and further torture refugees by not giving them a way out. Streamlined access to asylum claims and government support is the answer, rather than giving over unnecessary parliamentary time for revolting Bills.

And of course there is a lighter side. My foster child is now preparing for GCSE and wants to become a dietitian. Ever since she arrived, I can no longer find added sugar in anything in my supermarket trolley.

There is simply no ‘illegal asylum seeker’. Anyone in danger, who takes a frightening attempt to escape has a well-founded fear. Focusing on driving up conflicts in the society, Parliament or with foreign countries is certainly not providing help to the people who are escaping conflicts.

* Nicholas Chan is a Liberal Democrats member training in Criminal Law and working with Liberal Democrats Friends of Hong Kong. Questions on LD FdsHK can be directed to Founder – Larry Ngan: twitter @LarryNgan1.

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24 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 30th Nov '21 - 10:55am

    Who could disagree with the idea that there should be safe routes for Asylum seekers? I could imagine that this could be a scheme whereby anyone wishing to claim asylum in the UK could go to a UK embassy in any country other than their own and make their claim – if approved, the asylum seekers could then be provided with documentation to enable them to board a flight to the UK. This would be more humane, safer and far less expensive than them paying people smugglers to get them to the UK. Of course, this would not stop the flow of ‘economic migrants’ wishing to get to the UK, many of whom will remain willing to pay huge sums to risk their lives crossing the English Channel, but it would help genuine asylum seekers without helping economic migrants get round immigration rules.

  • John Marriott 30th Nov '21 - 12:56pm

    I have to confess to a certain unease about the phrase “We need to respect asylum seekers’ choice of a new home”. Back in 1969 my wife and I decided to go and work abroad, in our case Canada. We weren’t seeking asylum I admit. However, I at least had to find a job to go to first and then we had to go through a rigorous medical examination before they stamped “Landed Immigrant” on our British passports. We didn’t just rock up in Canada and say this was where we wanted to live.

    Yes, I am referring to what I suppose we should call “economic migrants”, because, in my opinion, that’s what many currently risking their lives crossing the Channel are. As for the rest, they should go through the correct channels. Of course they won’t for a variety of reasons. Relying on ‘faits accomplis’ is NOT the answer.

  • @Brad Barrows. In principle you’re right, no-one with compassion could disagree with the idea in principle that there should be safe routes.

    Unfortunately, the practice is a lot harder. Across the World, there must be hundreds of millions of oppressed and persecuted people who would, in principle, have a very strong claim for asylum – far, far more people than we could possibly admit to the UK if even – say – a tenth of those people actually did make a claim. At the moment very few people do actually claim asylum – and that’s clearly because the barriers to claiming are so high and (often) so cruel. But if we lower the barriers by providing safe routes, what do we do if, as a result, the numbers claiming far exceed our capacity to take in people? I’d suggest that’s all but guaranteed to happen if we provide sufficiently easy safe routes.

    Also, you say that safe routes wouldn’t help economic migrants, but how do you tell the difference between an economic migrant and an asylum seeker? After all, if economic migrants see that we only admit asylum seekers, then many of them will simply pretend to be seeking asylum.

    In practice, I can only see safe routes working if they are part of a scheme that a very large number of countries sign up to, in order to provide enough countries to distribute asylum seekers between. But that goes against the point of Nicholas’s article, which is arguing that asylum seekers themselves should get to choose the country they want to claim in.

    This is a horrendous problem to which there really are no easy answers.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Nov '21 - 5:39pm

    I get the impression that while other countries in Europe are taking in significant numbers of refugees the UK seems to be doing its level best to close off legal routes to refugees seeking asylum. Leaving them only illegal routes.

    i.e. the UK doesn’t appear to be taking it’s fair share of coping with a horrendous problem.

    @John Marriott – what evidence do you have for your assertion that most of the people trying to cross the Channel in small boats are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees?

  • john oundle 30th Nov '21 - 5:58pm

    ‘ what evidence do you have for your assertion that most of the people trying to cross the Channel in small boats are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees?’

    Take a look at the TV pictures of the boats,the majority of which are filled with young men.

  • John Marriott 30th Nov '21 - 6:55pm

    @Nonconformistradical
    Where in my post do I write that “most” of the people trying to cross the Channel are economic migrants? “Many” clearly are. It would be interesting to find out how many of the rest have suffered from persecution in their homeland. I could argue that, on the evidence presented in the media, many would appear simply to be hoping for a better life here. I’m prepared to give the majority the benefit of the doubt unless evidence proves otherwise.

    So, please do me the courtesy of reading precisely what I wrote before you draw your conclusions.

  • These poor, traumatized, displaced, desperate people seeking safety and freedom from persecution would be overjoyed to stay in the first safe country that they step foot upon.

    From a displaced persons’ viewpoint, that would be the nearest to their homeland, should the conditions there change, allowing them to return and help to build a future for their family and countrymen.

    The young, single men who have travelled through many EU countries to reach the UK, clearly do not match that profile. They are economic migrants who are seeking to enter this country illegally.

  • Decide what you wish for. The migrant “pull” is the perception that once they arrive in the UK they will stay in a hotel with meals, money, free health care, hot and cold running water, bathroom, shower, telephone, perhaps even room service. Truly, the UK must be like heaven on earth.
    If the current flow of illegal migrants cannot be stemmed, there will be huge pressure to reduce the benefits which, to be fair, must make our own lowly paid working citizens green with envy. After all, they pay taxes to provide illegal immigrants with these benefits, whilst perhaps not affording many of them, themselves. Cutting back on such benefits will no doubt provoke another outcry from those who believe that we do not lavish enough benefits on illegal migrants or who deny that such a category of migrant exists.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Nov '21 - 10:43pm

    @John Oundle
    “Take a look at the TV pictures of the boats,the majority of which are filled with young men.”
    So? Doesn’t mean they might not be intending to claim asylum. If they came originally from a conflict zone they could be fleeing from being coerced into fighting for one group or another. They could have been told by their mothers to leave for their own safety – I certainly recall reading in the media about such situations.

    Could it be that fewer women risk such a difficult and dangerous journey from somewhere in the Middle East, Afghanistan etc for fear of becoming victims of sexual violence en route?

    Could it be a survival of the fittest issue? Some older people perhaps starting on the journey and dropping by the wayside?

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Nov '21 - 10:51pm

    @John Marriott
    “Where in my post do I write that “most” of the people trying to cross the Channel are economic migrants?”
    In your posting you stated: “Yes, I am referring to what I suppose we should call “economic migrants”, because, in my opinion, that’s what many currently risking their lives crossing the Channel are. ”
    That’s potentially a lot of people you refer to as economic migrants.

    You also said “As for the rest, they should go through the correct channels.”
    Unfortunately the UK appears to have been doing its level best to do away with ‘correct channels’ – making it as difficult as possible – and that’s before getting on to the subject of the dysfunctional Home Office taking years to process an application for asylum.

  • Most refugees DON’T want to come to the UK. Those who do generally have connections here; family or friends already here, and/or they speak English as their second (or even first) language. Some will have been working with the British in their country of origin – especially those from Iraq or Afghanistan.
    Instead of trying to stop the flow (and failing), the Government should provide safe routes, including a few ferry trips to France to bring over those stuck in terrible conditions there. Then when they get here, all who can would be encouraged to work – and training provided for those who need it. Including temporary work for those waiting to have their backgrounds checked. The present rule that they cannot work is evil and stupid. Many will already have skills we need; most of the rest are young and willing to learn.
    Benefits to Britain:
    * At a time when we have a million job vacancies, these people can fill some of them. Companies are trying to recruit people from Africa, yet are not allowed to offer work to people on our doorstep who want to come here.
    * A step to looking less like pariahs to other countries, many of which already take FAR more migrants than the UK has.
    * Stop the huge money flow to the people smugglers.
    *Actually take control of our borders!

  • John Marriott 1st Dec '21 - 8:56am

    @Nonconformistradical
    Yes, “a lot of people”; but not MOST people! So don’t twist what I wrote to suit your own agenda!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 1st Dec '21 - 10:31am

    Lib Dem policy on such started with “Safe and Legal Routes” in 2015, https://ld4sos.org.uk/en/document/policies/refugees-and-child-refugees.pdf and earlier this year a radical policy on “Humanitarian Visas” https://ld4sos.org.uk/en/document/policies/humanitarian-visas-a-much-needed-lifeline-for-refugees.pdf This is what we have to say on taking in refugees.https://ld4sos.org.uk/en/document/policies/refugees-and-child-refugees.pdf
    Yes many arrivals are young men. They are the one’s fleeing from conscription to fight in unjust battles. They are the one’s the families choose to fund to flee to have a better chance of making the journey and making life. It is so heart wrenching for the goodbyes on both sides, and mothers in particular are missed. I know this from the asylum seekers I have met, but I haven’t met the family left behind and how they feel. But as a compassionate being I can imagine.
    Note this is only a part of why flee, and who flees, to address points made.
    As for why not stay in a country nearby, most do. In 2019 the stats, quickly looked up, were that 85% of those fleeing were in another “developing country”

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Dec '21 - 11:08am

    @John Marriott
    I don’t have an agenda. Perhaps you have the agenda – of making out that a – let’s call it significant – number of young men trying to cross the channel in small boats might be ‘economic migrants’….?

    If you believe that significant numbers of these people are ‘economic migrants’ then why not provide here the evidence on which your belief is based?

  • O.M.G….
    Healthy animals being culled, produce rotting in the fields, care homes and hospitals desperate for staff, trucks standing idle, etc. and the aged, on here, complaining how the young and fit, desperate enough to trek thousands of miles to come and work in the UK, should be banned; it would be laughable were it not so serious…
    There is no ‘immigration crisis’ in the UK ; we are the 17th in the whole of Europe as far as immigrant density per head is concerned’.
    The UK does not have a recent history of honouring it’s already meagre asylum promises and, as for comparing the ‘legal’ situation of going to Canada from the UK to ‘legally’ getting from Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya to the UK, words fail me..
    For those complaining that it’s mainly young men; these are those who may well have helped our service personnel in dangerous overseas areas and who have decided to face the hazards of ‘illegal routes’ rather than to risk their lives the UK government honouring their debt; they may be those selected by desperate families to earn a living abroad and send monies back, etc.
    BTW..for those asking why do men outnumber the young women, children and the aged…People don’t magically appear on the beaches of northern France; there is a long hard road long before Dunkirk/Calais and it’s toll is proportionally harder on the least strong..

  • John Marriott 1st Dec '21 - 1:00pm

    @Nonconformistradical
    So, it’s “significant numbers” now, is it? Not “most” then? Following your ‘challenge’ I did a bit of Googling and came up with these figures from Channel Four’s ‘Factcheck’:

    As of 2016 around 46% of young adult males had their asylum claim rejected, down from 81% in 2011. This is based on the claim from a certain Mr N Farage that “most” people who claim to be refugees are really found out to be economic migrants.

    Channel Four’s verdict : “If he had said that large numbers of migrants ….. have their asylum claims rejected, he would have been right”. So, my question to you is WHY are these claims rejected?

    So, we return to my original assertion that MANY of those crossing the Channel are not actually seeking refuge but rather a better life. So, if you feel unable to answer my question, why not just stop digging?

  • Peter Hirst 1st Dec '21 - 2:28pm

    When someone decides to live somewhere else and is prepared to do anything to get there all you can do is expedite it. Attempting to prevent them is just making it harder for them without stopping them. Tackling the cause is the real remedy and requires more coordinated action than this government is willing to perform.

  • @Peter Hirst: “When someone decides to live somewhere else and is prepared to do anything to get there all you can do is expedite it” So if I decide I like my neighbour’s house more than my one, and I fancy breaking in and living there without his permission, then no-one should prevent me and all the Government can do is expedite my decision, right?

  • David Garlick 1st Dec '21 - 8:21pm

    Wouldn’t it great if the EU together with the UK created a safe pathway system to assess an agreed number of asylum applications for each state. That at least would give some hope to refugees and reduce the numbers crossing illegally. The limits set would highlight the places that may not be the refugees first choice but would be a choice that is open to them. Targeting those making money from the horrible crime should continue.
    Who knows, other states might be encouraged to join in such a scheme especially if, like the UK, they are short of employees…

  • The set-up of a UK processing centre in Calais for refugees seeking entry to the UK seems one possible way of at least mitigating some of the issues.

  • John Marriott 2nd Dec '21 - 8:03am

    @Jo Bourke
    Short and sweet. Yes, I agree. After all, didn’t we used to govern Calais until Mary Tudor’s time? Coming from you, wonder whether Peter Martin might object to that as well? 😀

    I have to say that, had we still been EU members such a scheme might have stood a better chance of becoming a reality.

  • @ John Marriott. By ‘We’ I assume you mean England, John ?

  • John Marriott 2nd Dec '21 - 1:58pm

    Quite right, David. Scotland had its own king back then. Actually it was the other Mary (Queen of Scots), wasn’t it?

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