Even when refugees do make it to British soil, they are treated appallingly

Allowing more refugees to seek asylum here is not enough when they are made so unwelcome once they arrive

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The Independent Online

David Cameron’s muted response to the refugee crisis is disgraceful. The number of people who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean has been on a steady rise since the start of this year; more than 2,500 people – children, women and men – have died so far in 2015. It is no big leap to suggest that many of these deaths were avoidable. Just months before the British Government were warned this would happen when they decided to withdraw support for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. They also ignored calls for them to advocate for a fairer EU asylum system. So, it is only right that British Government accepts more asylum seekers.

But for those who are rightly condemning Cameron and lobbying for him to change his tune, this is not the full picture: what’s also shameful is this country’s treatment of the asylum seekers who make it to British shores alive.

Asylum seekers and refugees that make it to this country alive are dehumanised and often treated appallingly. Stereotyped representations of asylum seekers and refugees as greedy, lazy or sub-human means society, for the most part, simply doesn’t care how these people are treated.

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Take Hasan, the son of Palestinian refugees who grew up in a Syrian refugee camp, he and his two sons waited seven years in the country’s asylum system for news on his case. In this time they say almost all the money they received went on basic food. Then, “without interview, court appearance or communication from the Home Office” they were made homeless and left without any support. This came as one of his son’s, Bassem, was being treated for cancer and his other son, Mahir, for depression.

Hasan is not alone. There’s also Seble, who fled persecution in Eritrea. After initially being housed in a hostel, Seble became homeless once her asylum claim was refused. She began sleeping in train stations, “I didn’t get any sleep at the station – I just sat there on a chair. It was bright all night, and there were many people around.”  These cases are not isolated ones; many asylum seekers and refugees are left to exist in destitution by a British state that simply doesn’t care whether they live or die.

We have created a xenophobic atmosphere that Daruish, an asylum seeker from Iran who became homeless and was forced to sleep in a graveyard, has described as “so much worse than you can imagine”.

 

Charities such as Refugee Action, who have provided support for all of the refugees and asylum seekers I’ve mentioned, are forced to fill a gap that the Government is leaving wide open. Last month the Conservative Government slashed the support payments going to asylum seekers with children by up to 30 per cent. Estimates suggest asylum seekers now receive 50 per cent less than British benefit claimants and it is thought this has affected over 27,800 already destitute asylum seekers.

If asylum seekers aren’t left in poverty, they could face indefinite detention or forcible deportation – even if they are fleeing persecution. There have been numerous reports of “state-sanctioned abuse” in centres such as Yarl’s Wood. While research shows that in the first three months of this year, 64 per cent of asylum cases were rejected and 1,429 people were deported (1,000 forcibly, and roughly 400 voluntarily). In July dozens of men with “strong family ties to the UK” were forcibly removed in the dead of night and in June Majid Ali a student in Glasgow was forcibly deported back to his home country Pakistan, where activists said he was in danger of “physical harm, and even death”. Although some people are able to make the passage from asylum seeker to refugee, the rules are so tough that many ‘genuine’ asylum seekers are not successful.

Britain’s xenophobic anti-immigration politics played a large part in creating this horrendous situation, in which the lives of people from abroad do not matter. So while we should urge the Government to let people seeking asylum into this country, we should also advocate for an asylum system that treats them as the human beings that they are.

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