In letters to the York Press and in many other newspapers and social media outlets, references have been made to ‘illegal immigrants’ crossing the Channel during 2020 an2021 to claim asylum here. However, that is their legal right under International law. The UK signed the UN Convention on Refugees in 1951; therefore people fleeing war zones or in fear for their lives are free to seek refuge here. However, they must travel to the UK to do so and currently cannot apply from another country, apart from a few Government approved programmes. They have the legal right to be here while their case is examined.
Boris Johnson has called their activity, in travelling across the Channel, ‘criminal’. That word is either used in ignorance, or deliberate provocation; it is untrue. It is not a crime to seek asylum in the UK.
The UK Government could change the rules, so that asylum could be claimed at a British Embassy or consulate, in another country. That would lessen the need for dangerous journeys across seas and the English Channel, and diminish the threat of exploitation by those offering transport at extortionate cost. There are other options which have been used. For example, conducting interviews in refugee camps to identify vulnerable families and unaccompanied children, and arranging transport to the UK. Currently, that process was closed down by the Government in March 2020. It was one of the first ‘victims’ of the pandemic. However, it is clear that when the time time comes to re-open such programmes, a number of safe routes are needed to prevent more people dying in desperate attempts to reach the UK shores.
Media claims are made that ‘Welcome ashore’ is the reaction of UK border officials. That conclusion ignores actual Government policy. Since 2010, the UK has created and refined an environment hostile to immigration. A direct result was the Windrush scandal in which hundreds of people were wrongly deported from the UK to the West Indies which they had not visited since they were small children. A Government apology was made, and compensation was promised to the victims in 2017. It remains largely unpaid.
Under the ‘hostile’ policy, asylum seekers are not entitled to any public benefits, nor to rent houses, open bank accounts, apply for driving licences, or do paid work. They often live in destitution while the Home Office examines their case, which can take months or years.
If an asylum seeker’s case is rejected, they can be detained for an indefinite period. There is a limit on how long the Police may hold a person suspected of committing an offence without charging them. No such time limit exists for asylum seekers.
It costs around £30m a year to pay the private contractors who run detention centres. A number of these establishments have been subject to recent enquiries due to deaths and abuse of those held there and in transit to removal flights.
Does any of this sound like ‘Welcome Ashore’?
An enquiry into the UK’s immigration system, conducted by an all – party Parliamentary Committee, concluded that ‘the system appears designed to create un-necessary suffering.’ That is the reality.
In York, the recent arrival of asylum seekers who have been placed in temporary hotel accommodation, has caused some deeply offensive and threatening social media material to be placed in the public domain. Videos have been taken of the asylum seekers at their place of residence, violating their right to privacy.
The good news is that many people are providing generous help and support to those who came to a York hotel to be housed for a while. All the asylum seekers have their cases being adjudicated by the Home Office. All have documents to show that they are here legally and with permission from the UK Government. They should be treated with dignity and respect.
York is a nationally recognised City of Sanctuary. People can journey here and find a place of security and safety. A consortium of the York City Council, Police, Health Services, accommodation providers, Migrant Help, Refugee Action York, and York City of Sanctuary, have worked together with others to ensure that those staying at the hotel have their basic needs provided during the time that they are in the city.
Please share this information with the people you know. Help to educate the wider public and hopefully generate a greater degree of compassion, understanding and respect for other human beings here in York whose lives have been torn apart by war, famine and poverty.