Asylum seekers and Europe: the Conservative government’s pet hates
The Immigration Minister, Damien Green, yesterday announced that the UK will not be opting into the the two EU asylum directives.
This will hardly come as a surprise from a government not known for its cosiness with Europe, and seemingly determined to issue new hate-speech against immigrants on a daily basis, but the justifications given for opting out were fairly astonishing even by Home Office standards. One can only imagine what would have happened if we had opted in – asylum seekers and Europe? The Daily Mail would have had a field day.
While the statement begins by suggesting that the opting out was because a common European system “would have restricted [the] ability to run an asylum system which is both fair and efficient”, Damien Green fairly soon gives up the pretence of actually caring about asylum and reveals UKBA’s real objection was the belief the directives would “weaken our border”.
This appears to be on the basis that the Directive would have forced the government to allow asylum seekers to work after six months, “even if their claims had been refused and they were appealing against the decision”. The suggestion here being that if the UKBA has in their wisdom refused a claim, that person must be bogus and should definitely not be allowed to work. More on this in a moment.
The Still Here Still Human campaign, a coalition of over 40 organisations campaigning to end the destitution of refused asylum seekers in the UK, strongly advocates for the right to work for those whose cases have not been resolved with in 6 months. The rationale for this is not only the enormously damaging effect psychologically that not being able to work has on all individuals, let alone those who have experienced persecution, torture and rape in their home country and have been forced to flee. Allowing asylum seekers to work makes sense economically, encourages integration for those who are eventually granted refugee status, and above all – denying asylum the seekers the right to work DOES NOT discourage people coming to the UK. The number of asylum claims in the UK rose after the Labour government at the time withdrew the right to work.
The Home Office statement then goes on to object to the EU directives because they would have required all detention to be authorised by a judge. Detaining an individual is a legal action, and time and again UKBA ignores the legal provision that detention should be as a last resort. Time and again, UKBA has to pay out large sums of compensation money for unlawful detention because they ignore procedure, detain those for whom there are clear guidelines that they should not be detained (including survivors of torture and rape, individuals with severe mental health issues and other medical problems), and continue to detain those who they are not able to remove from the UK.
Despite (or maybe because of) this enormous waste of public resources, the Home Office seems very preoccupied with money. Judges having to authorise detention “would have placed a burden on our courts and been costly for the British taxpayer”. This from a department that is incapable of making good quality first decisions on asylum claims, which costs the British taxpayer £4000 every single time a case goes to appeal, and overwhelms the courts that cases that should never have been there in the first place.
The courts overturn a quarter of UKBA’s asylum refusals. For refusals of claims from Somali asylum seekers, this figure rises to nearly 50%. Home Office figures reveal that Eritrean and Zimbabwean refusals are overturned over 40% of the time, and Sri Lankan cases close behind on 30%. Despite consistent criticism from groups monitoring UKBA decisions, they routinely misuse country of origin guidelines (which are themselves deeply flawed) to the extent that reasons for refusal letters can no longer be taken seriously. Except for the fact they are decisions about life and death.
It is hard to imagine any other government department getting things so wrong, so often, and being allowed to continue to operate. Just as it is hard to reconcile the conflicted interests of UKBA being at the same time responsible for ‘enforcing our borders’ (preventing as many people as possible entering the country, and removing as many as possible once they have got here), whilst also making fair and accurate decisions on the cases of those seeking the protection of the UK from persecution and war.
This decision once again shows that the UK government is happy to partake in European initiatives when it allows them to merrily remove individuals to other European countries through which asylum seekers have travelled, but it’s quite another matter when it would require them to treat people seeking sanctuary with respect and responsibility.