Asylum seekers get some bad press in the UK. However, most reasonable people (and even some that you really wouldn’t expect) think that escape from oppressive and dangerous regimes is fair, and that we should give ‘genuine’ asylum seekers refuge.
However, the bureaucracy and target setting that’s needed to show that the Blair government is tough on asylum and immigration (as though reducing asylum seekers is right – surely it depends on how unstable the world is) is throwing up some weird cases. It’s now possible to be a failed asylum seeker, but allowed to stay because it’s too dangerous to be send back.
A case in my local paper (which for some reason isn’t on their online version) is headed ‘Jail term for ID fraudster’. It turns out that Dawit Mussie, 23, came here from Eritrea claiming asylum. The state has turned him down but won’t return him ‘because of the current political situation there.’ As a non-citizen/failed asylum seeker he can’t work, and nor can he claim benefits. Funnily enough, he had to get money and so ended up using fake ID, and as his lawyer pointed out, not by resorting to other (more serious) crimes.
Now this guy is doing 6 months inside at the expense of the taxpayer. It would have been so much easier and cheaper to have let him work in the first place!!! If he’s allowed to stay because it’s unsafe to go back, to me that implies asylum. Even if we don’t want to make it permanent (it may be safe in the future) we should still let people carry on with their lives – there’s obviously work to do here as he got a job, and he could do some studying too.
Who knows, his experience here might have made him think fondly of the UK, support our ideas in international affairs and so on. He may have gone back and helped rebuild his country in ways we would approve of. But instead he’ll see us as uncivilised and unfair. This is not the way to win hearts and minds.