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Punitive Policy & Brexit: The Plight of Asylum Seekers in the UK

Holly Barrow writes on the plight of asylum seekers trying to navigate the UK’s hostile immigration system.

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    Despite the right to asylum being enshrined within international law, asylum seekers in the UK are often incriminated by hostile immigration policies and a vicious Right-Wing agenda. Whilst all migrants are burdened with myths surrounding their circumstances, asylum seekers face a particularly brutal form of marginalisation.   

    Scapegoated by influential media publications and politicians who knowingly misrepresent their desperation for survival as a threat to national security, those making the perilous journey to the UK are often labelled ‘illegal’ immigrants; criminalised by the very people from whom they seek refuge.   

    A crucial aspect of asylum law frequently omitted from this mainstream narrative is that, to claim asylum in Britain, the individual must do so from within the country’s borders. Those who arrive to the UK by whichever means possible – with the risk of death looming at every turn – should not, therefore, have their character smeared by politicians set on demonising them. They are simply adhering to the legal process; trying to reach the UK border in order to register their asylum claim.   

    Instead, anger ought to be directed towards those in positions of power who have blood on their hands. In depriving asylum seekers of safe passages, the government leaves those fleeing persecution or humanitarian crisis with no choice but to attempt life-threatening routes to the UK. This is just one way in which the government continues to fail asylum seekers, treating them as a problem to be passed elsewhere – whilst funding inhumane measures such as the ‘Great Wall of Calais’.  

    And this callous mentality has only become further normalised since the EU referendum of 2016. It’s no secret that the Leave campaign played a prevalent role in disseminating a hostile narrative on immigration, from those seeking asylum to low-skilled workers and beyond.   

    Even those born in the UK, both living and contributing to society as law-abiding citizens, have fallen victim to hate incited by a divisive campaign; a campaign which built its foundations on the misconception of extraditing these very citizens. Since Britain’s controversial decision to exit the EU, a ‘stark increase’ in xenophobic hate crimes was widely reported, with BAME individuals often conflated with migrants. Asylum seekers are just one of many stigmatised groups to suffer the consequences of such intentionally antagonistic political scheming.   

    In the current political climate, it seems essential to reinforce the legalities of asylum law and to dispel its surrounding myths; myths which have a destructive impact on the lives of those they tarnish and that have been further reignited by Brexit.  

    According to Refugee Council, the UK is home to a mere 1% of the 25.9 million refugees forcibly displaced across the world. This puts into perspective the miniscule efforts made by the UK government in comparison to its neighbouring countries. And yet, leaders of the Leave campaign and prominent political figures, including the current Prime Minister, are determined to propagate an inflated and distorted version of reality, issuing inflammatory – and unlawful – warnings to those seeking refuge.  

    From the ban on working during the processing of their claim to the negligence they endure whilst being held in detention, those claiming asylum are continually criminalised by a system purported to help them. It seems the government is determined to deter the arrival of asylum seekers at all costs. 

    The irony is, upon leaving the EU, Britain is predicted to face a higher intake of asylum seekers since the Dublin Regulation will no longer apply. The Dublin Regulation currently allows the Home Office to return asylum seekers to the first safe EU member state entered prior to claiming asylum in the UK.  

    The UK has taken full advantage of this system due to its geographical location since asylum seekers more likely than not must travel through other EU member states to reach the UK. As a result, this has allowed the Home Office to return a portion of asylum claims to their entry point in the EU. When no longer in the EU, however, the UK cannot rely upon the Dublin Regulation to avoid responsibility of asylum claims.  

    It is essential that this is therefore not presented as a matter of crisis to the British public. If the government is to finally take more responsibility of those seeking refuge post-Brexit, it must cease to circulate harmful and degrading false narratives. The focus should instead be placed on social integration and aiding those who are simply searching for safety to build a successful future. The criminalisation of asylum seekers must end; it is time for the government to prioritise rather than chastise those who seek our help. 

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