Sunday, June 15, 2008

Treatment of Asylum Seekers

The following is a letter to my MP (Kali Mountford) about the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK. The article that prompted it (link below) is available for free online, and I'd urge you to read it.

Dear Mrs Mountford

I have just read an article in today's observer magazine about the treatment of asylum seekers in this country. I know that you have other constraints on your time, but I would urge you to read it - it's available for free from The Guardian's website (see

I am sure I don't need to recount to you the fact that, in 2007, there were 23,000 refugees seeking asylum in the UK. This reprents less than 0.04% of the UK population[1], and even less that a fifth of immigration as a whole[1].
That various newspapers have set about highlighting this tiny faction of the population, and attribute all of them with the crimes of a few, seems disturbing, xenophobic and, very probably, racist.
That the Government have taken action on these such lies and distortions is downright outrageous.

The plight of a refugee is distinct from that of an immigrant, and this distinction is rarely made apparent by the xenophobic press. Papers such as The Sun, The News Of The World, The Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror, who have the highest circulation rates[2], regularly group asylum seekers with illegal immigrants.

Most, if not all, of the people who arrive in this country as refugees have left their homes, and sometimes family, as they are in real danger, often danger of death. Why else would people pay large sums of money, travel in demeaning circumstances, and declare themselves to officials when they arrive?
Yet, rather than offer these people shelter and safety, they are treated as though they are liars. Not only do rape victims have to prove that their horrific ordeals are part of "a sustained pattern of or campaign of persecution directed at [them] by the authorities", but, if they are unable to prove such an abstract and, frankly, impossible thing, they are not allowed to work, not allowed to claim benefits, and expected to live on a £35 weekly voucher for food and essentials. I don't know who much you spend on food and essentials per week, but I strongly suspect that it's more than £35. Then they are forcibly returned to the countries they have fled.

There is also the case of Detention Centres.
Amnesty International "has long been concerned about the detention of people who have sought asylum in the UK"[3]. These have been likened to high security prisons[4]. We, as a country, are locking people up who's only crime has been to seek protection for themselves and their families. That spaces in these centres are allocated on an arbitrary basis[3] seems to be almost as demeaning as the situation that detainees are kept in.

As an electorate in your constituency, I would urge you to take action in the following areas:

  1. Highlighting the poor conditions in which refugees are kept throughout the United Kingdom.
  2. Providing decent treatment to refugees for the full time they are in our care.
  3. Review of the current asylum policy and the need for refugees to prove "a sustained pattern of or campaign of persecution directed at [them] by the authorities"
  4. Requirement of the press to distinguish between asylum seekers and other immigrants, and to present an accurate and balanced picture of the situation.
  5. Providing legislation that will prevent the return of refugees to war zones or to countries where there are real concerns over the treatment of returned refugees (despite any guarantees that may be provided by these countries).
I cannot place enough emphases on this. This is a case of my country sanctioning the maltreatment of persecuted and vulnerable people. Thankfully, I can only imagine the horrors that these people have been through. I would hope that if I ever needed such help, I could find a country that would willingly provide it. As it stands, the UK is not one of these countries.

Yours sincerely

David Kemp
[Address removed]

[1] figures from the CIA World Fact Book []

[2] Average net circulation from 28 April 2008 to 25 May 2008, according to Interactive Analysis National Newspaper Selection [|newspdata|nationalnews2]


[4] "The security devices being installed at Yarl's Wood include microwave detection units and pan-and-tilt dome cameras, of the kind normally found only in highest-security prisons. The centre will be ringed by chain-link fence two and a half metres high topped by three lines of barbed wire. According to the Government, this prison is not a prison."
Arun Kundnani, Institute of Race Relations, February 2002 [$366686.htm]