KEEP THE DOOR OPEN?
Sullivan on asylum seekers
Between June 1999
and June 2000 I worked for Eurotunnel on the Channel Tunnel site. Immediately
after I graduated, it was a summer job that stretched out for a little
longer than I had originally intended. For several reasons it certainly
was an eye-opener and was my introduction to the world on the asylum
'Hackwriters' asked me then if I'd write a piece about the situation
as I saw it. Fortunately I held off. I knew then that our collective
reactions were being hysterical, just as when the West Indians and the
Asians came to Britain decades previously. If you watch television footage
up even to the 1980's where 'the general publics' reaction is being
gauged, then you find yourself cringing at the
unashamed bigotry that is being spouted, be it in the guise of concerned
'liberalism', trade unionism protecting white jobs or just racists wishing
to keep our country 'pure'.
News Aug 30th 2001:
'More than 40 illegal immigrants have been caught after they broke
into the Channel Tunnel and tried to cross from France to England
by foot, Eurotunnel said on Thursday. Spokesman Francois Borel said
the immigrants forced their way through a security fence and entered
one of the main tunnels on Wednesday night, but were quickly detected
by guards. A team of police officers and Eurotunnel officials used
the service tunnel to get ahead of the group, which had managed
to walk seven miles'.
'In a separate incident, British coastguards picked up five would-be
asylum seekers off the coast near Dover who had paddled from France
in an inflatable dinghy'.
Coming from Folkestone I have always taken a keen interest in the subject
in the asylum seekers issue, mostly because it was taking place on my
doorstep. I can remember clearly the weekend when the first waves of
gypsies arrived. We were so completely unprepared for it. As it turned
out, the roots of the problem lay somewhere else many years before.
When the state of Czechoslovakia split in two the new Czech government
classed all the gypsies as Slovak citizens. Naturally the Slovakian
government wasn't to thrilled at this prospect and barred them entry
to the new state. Unfortunately for the gypsies, as they were no longer
classed as citizens of the Czech Republic, they were denied all access
to education, health care and everything else provided for from the
welfare state. Anyone who was in Prague in the mid-1990's could not
have failed to notice gypsy beggars hassling tourists for money.
The Czech government needed a quick solution to this problem. So in
1997 they screened a documentary on their national television channel.
The programme showed how Britain had the most 'welcoming' asylum laws
in Europe and then proceeded to explain how to apply and receive Britain's
'generous' welfare pay-outs. Not surprisingly Dover was full of gypsies
the following weekend.
People seem to forget that up until the 1980's the asylum system was
viewed as an institution that made Britain great. Individuals fleeing
persecution from Communist states were welcome here. It made us feel
that we were the good guys during the Cold War. The Soviet Union and
East Germany can't be that great if everyone was jumping over the wall
at every given opportunity.
However, this system was only geared to accept individuals, not thousands
in one go. Both Conservative and Labour governments had no clue how
to deal with the problem. It was taking years to process applications.
Nearly all of the asylum seekers were kept in London and the South-East,
with the council tax rates in the coastal areas rising to pay for it
all. At the same time the press were running headlines painting a picture
of Britain as a country under siege from invaders who were here to bleed
us dry. It's very sad really, as everytime it appears that that people
and the press are calming down and are about to deal with the situation
rationally, quite the opposite happens.
A Kurdish man was murdered in Glasgow recently and another man was brutally
attacked in Hull for no other reason than that they were asylum seekers.
The Labour government, masters of spin doctoring, say that they were
going to create an 'asylum Czar'. Why didn't they sort it out when they
came to power in 1997? If this new creation is anything like its equivalent
for 'drugs' then he will just be a government stooge spouting out the
Prime Minister's policies. In other words he will not be independent
and therefore rendered powerless.
I: Here are some simple facts to do with asylum seekers: they receive
£36.54 a week to live on. It's given to them in vouchers which
are only redeemable in certain shops (which unbelievably will not give
any change for them). Only 10% of the amount can be exchanged for cash.
Britain actually gives out less than other countries, such as Ireland,
Belgium and Denmark.
2: The majority of asylum applications to this country are accepted.
Many of the refusals are then overturned on appeal. Overall there are
very few 'illegals' living in Britain as a percentage.The majority of
people coming to this country are from places where human rights abuses
are common- place, such as Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia, Afghanistan,
Sri Lanka or the Balkans.
3: If someone travels to Britain from their country via what we would
deem a 'safe' democracy, it does not make their claim any less valid.
France and Germany (hardly countries anyway with a history of racial
tolerance) regularly refuse asylum to Algerians and Tamils. Under the
1951 UN Convention on Refugees, anyone has the legal right to come to
Britain (or any EU state), seek asylum and stay here whilst their case
is being assessed. As Europe tightens it's immigration laws though,
it has become virtually impossible to reach a 'safe' country through
legal means. Most people seeking Britain don't actually flee to Britain.
4: Our country is ranked 6th in Europe and 78th in the world. It is
the poorest and / or neighbouring countries that take the strain. Also,
contrary to popular myth, a report by the Association of Chief Police
Officers states that there is no evidence of increased criminality amongst
asylum seekers. Quite often the opposite is true: it is they who are
5: What I find the most ridiculous thing about our asylum laws is that
individuals are not allowed to work. We had 76 000 accepted last year,
but we have skills shortages in the UK of over 200 000. The Treasury
believes that if they worked they would pay back at least 10% more than
it costs to keep them. Instead if they want to work they have to do
it illegally and the state gets nothing. Also it becomes neigh impossible
to integrate these people. I don't want to really state the obvious,
but aren't all these Kosovars, Afghans or Kurds human beings? People
are people, no matter what anyone else says or tells you. Does it really
matter if your neighbour is black or white. If we concentrate on integration
then we can all get along. Also, do you think a seagull flying from
Calais to Dover sees any difference in the country? It's simply a mental
thing where someone draws a line on a map. How can you criminalise someone
for crossing that line simply because he wants a better life? Who does
that line benefit: us, them, or big business who need cheap labour who
*Afghan Refugees on the Norweigan
ship awaiting Australia's decision
We have to
ask ourselves what would happen if there was free immigration.
There is a bigger picture out there and we are just pawns and
puppets. As I finish this article I am glancing over to the television
news and I can see that Australia is illegally refusing entry
to refugees fleeing Teleban persecution in Afghanistan. Have Australians
forgotten how their country was built? Every criminal and refugee
the British Empire had to offer. Never mind the fact the there
is an election at the end of the year and Prime Minister John
Howard wants to appear 'tough'. It's not that there is not a lot
of available space in that country either. We're not talking about
South-Eastern England here. However, John Howard has been cited
by the UN as leading a genocidal policy against the Aboriginies.
I could write about this forever. Don't just take my word for
it. Check out the facts for yourself.
There is little
sign of either Australia or Indonesia giving in.
Both countries have refused to accept the boat people, who were
picked up by the cargo ship, the Tampa, on Sunday when their ferry
began sinking. Anyone remember the 'Ship of Fools'?
refugeecouncil. to begin with. Form your own opinions. Don't let
yours be manipulated anymore. Be fair, be tolerant, embrace these differing
cultures, after all this has been going for centuries and each new wave
has enriched our culture for the better. Think about it.
© Dermon Sullivan