Asylum seekers flee horrific conditions only to be criminalised by unfair UK policies

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The media rhetoric surrounding asylum seekers is almost universally negative.

Inflammatory headlines indicating a supposed ‘influx’ of immigrants to the UK demonise those seeking asylum and overshadow the truth of their plight.  

By cultivating the idea that asylum seekers come to the UK solely to benefit from our welfare system and to apply for social housing, the press is responsible for a huge amount of misinformation about the nature of the process. There is often little mention of the reasons that they come to the UK to seek asylum in the first place.

Why do people seek asylum in the UK?

The criteria are clear – an individual may come to the UK to seek asylum if they have come from another country, have a legitimate fear of persecution based on their religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. If their own government will not or cannot provide support or protection from such persecution, then they are entitled to seek asylum elsewhere.

How does the UK assess asylum seekers?

Even families who have faced war and/or violence still have to meet incredibly stringent criteria set out by the UK government in order to be granted refugee status.

Those who cross the border and do not immediately tell an immigration official that they are seeking asylum find that this is often used against them during the application process. This can discredit any future application for British Citizenship which includes a ‘good character requirement’ that can be tainted by an accusation of entering the country illegally. This is just one way in which the UK government immediately strives to incriminate asylum seekers.

The Home Office has used inconsistencies in an asylum seeker’s story against them even when they have been explained satisfactorily. This has been found to be happening even when inaccuracies have been identified as simple mistakes, which are understandably common given the circumstances under which one might be requesting asylum.

The damaging public image of asylum seekers

The Migration Observatory found that the majority of those whose asylum claims are rejected initially launch successful appeals, suggesting that the initial inclination to refuse claims is not evidence-based. This is a facet of the process which can be attributed to the ‘hostile environment’ policy of 2012 which stigmatise asylum seekers and actively encourage UK officials and residents to view them with suspicion and fear.

One particularly harrowing example of criminalisation is the detention of asylum seekers. The UK provision for vulnerable individuals is informed by expert advice which is routinely overlooked, seeing asylum seekers detained for excessive periods of time. This is despite detention costing significantly more than the entitlement to support that most asylum seekers would receive.

There are a number of human rights’ groups, immigration support charities and other organisations campaigning for a review of the way the UK treats asylum seekers. The current climate, in which blanket criminalisation of those who come to the UK for refuge has been normalised and actively supported by the public on the back of media bias, is costly and counterproductive.

The safe-haven offered to asylum seekers should be a source of pride for British citizens. As one of the richest nations in the world, our commitment to upholding the policies set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights should not be a reason to condemn those who are entitled to seek asylum here. We must eliminate our hostile approach to immigration and stop treating those who are exercising their right to refuge as criminals. 

Jo Smith is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration lawyers providing free advice and legal support to asylum seekers and victims of abuse

Jo Smith is a specialist commentator covering news for the Immigration Advice Service.

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Refuge and asylum seeker support across Greater Manchester

Salford Forum for Refugees and People Seeking Asylum  
Raising awareness of the needs of refugees and Asylum Seekers

Asylum Seeker Mental Health Consultation Service
Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

Revive UK
Free practical support services and advocacy for Refugees and people seeking Asylum

MRSN
Grass roots organisation led by refugees for refugees

Refugee Action in Greater Manchester
Asylum seeker voice Asylum justice, gateway resettlement programme

RBSAB
Greater Manchester Refugee Support Partnership 

British Red Cross
Help with urgent needs, clothing, toiletries, food parcels and more 

Manchester Refugee Employment Partnership
Manchester Refugee Employment Partnership work together to tackle unemployment of refugees in Greater Manchester.

Other
Author: 
Jo Smith, Immigration Advice Service

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