Exploding Myths – The Truth About Asylum Seekers
Jonathan Cox refutes common myths about asylum seekers in the United Kingdom…
Asylum seekers don’t get a good press in the UK. Either they are depicted as economic migrants, cynically exploiting the system and stealing our jobs, or they are presented as a drain on scarce resources. If you read the Daily Mail, the Telegraph or listen to a Tory MP for long enough (I pity you if you have to endure all three!), you could be forgiven for thinking that our whole culture is threatened by a ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, and that their presence is draining the lifeblood from England’s mountains green. For too long the debate on asylum has been dominated by conflicting accusations of racism and treachery, with the facts buried under a sea of hyperbole. It is time that the facts about asylum seekers were established, and several of the most common myths exploded.
Myth #1: Asylum Seekers have ‘flooded’ in
If you go into practically any pub in the country and ask people how many asylum seekers they think live in Britain, you will probably hear complaints of hordes of foreigners ‘flooding’ in. Estimates will range from the thousands to the millions, although it is unlikely that anyone will give you an exact figure. If you follow up your initial question by asking if they have ever seen or met an asylum seeker, then in almost every case (unless you are in a pub in inner-city London or Kent) the respondent will say no. Indeed, it is an interesting question to ask yourself – I for one, despite living in a city with a high ethnic population, have never seen an asylum seeker. So where are these ‘hordes’ of asylum seekers living? The answer is that these ‘hordes’ do not, in fact, exist. The population of the United Kingdom is very nearly 60 million. The number of asylum seekers in the country up to August 2001 (when the latest government figures were released) was 90,000. That means that for every asylum there are 666 British citizens. Now, if I was Ian Paisley, I would make some sort of connection here between the asylum system and the antichrist, but I’m not. I will instead emphasise the actually quite small numbers of asylum seekers who apply in Britain – not so much a flood as a healthy trickle.
Myth #2: Britain is a soft touch
Having been shown that, in fact, Britain is not overrun with hordes of plundering asylum seekers, your average Daily Mail reader (sorry if you happen to be one who isn’t mad – I’d like to meet you) will say that Britain is still a soft-touch. Even if Britain was competely encircled by barbed wire, its ports manned by Marines ordered to shoot foreigners on sight and asylum seekers required to have visible bullet-wounds to be deemed legitimate, some people would call for tougher measure against asylum seekers. Britain is anything but a soft touch – only 17% of asylum applications are actually approved. Furthermore, although only Germany surpasses the UK in the number of asylum seekers it houses, ten smaller and poorer European countries (for example, Belgium) have far higher levels of asylum seekers per capita than Britain. Despite being (arguably) the fourth largest economy in the world, Britain still only takes 0.5% of the world’s total refugee population. Furthermore, the number of applications has dropped by 11,000 since 1988, a statistic not generally indicative of Britain being a soft touch! It seems that when it comes to assessing asylum claims, the government’s National Asylum Support Service is about as soft as Pol Pot.
Myth #3: They are all scroungers
Asylum seekers are often accused of being economic migrants, travelling to Britain only to take advantage of higher wages and benefits available here. However, the figures don’t reflect this assertion. If you analyse most asylum seekers’ country of origin, the reasons for their asylum applications become quite clear. In June 2001, the top four countries of origin were Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Sri Lanka. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that these are people fleeing from real danger, be it from the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or bitter civil war. All four of these countries are classified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as either ‘Extremely Dangerous’ or ‘Extremely Insecure’. The vast majority of asylum seekers are not bogus applicants, but oppressed people for whom we should show every sympathy, and indeed, gratitude for honouring our nation as a bastion of liberty – boy, have they got a lot to learn!
Myth #4: They take our benefits and steal our jobs
Despite the apparent paradox of this statement, it is an argument that is very frequently used. However, the current system (which the government is reviewing) denies asylum seekers normal state benefits. Each asylum seeker is given £36.54 of vouchers every week – that is 25% less than the government deems it possible to live on! The freedom granted to asylum seekers is also highly restricted. They have no choice of where to live, but are simply allocated accommodation. In one case, this has led to asylum seekers being impounded in Cardiff Prison! The total cost of asylum seekers to the British taxpayer has been reduced by £175,000,000 since 1999, standing at £375,000,000 for 2001 – a drop in the ocean, if you acknowledge that the majority of that is spent on administration and legal matters.
As for the asylum seekers’ pernicious tendency to steal our jobs – well since they aren’t allowed to work by law, this point is completely unfounded. Moreover, the unemployment statistics for August 2001 reveal it to be at its lowest level for 25 years, and average earnings are increased by 4.6%. Asylum seekers are not a threat to our economy, but a bonus. In years to come, Britain will reap the benefits of their contribution to society. Through the ages, asylum seekers, from the Huguenots to the Jews, have consistently played a leading role in the life of our nation.
Make up your own mind
As the government reviews the asylum system, the aim of this article is not to prejudice the reader to either extreme. Instead, it invites the reader to remove, temporarily, the raw emotion from the debate and ascertain the facts about asylum. Ignore the plaintive squeals of the Daily Mail or the Guardian, and make up your own mind – this is one issue that isn’t going to go away for a long time yet.