Treating refugees like burdens is folly – we should support their aspirations

Britain is keeping refugees in limbo without the support they need


Over the past few years, this government has repeatedly proven its capacity to close doors. First came the flagrant rejection of EU-led refugee resettlement quotas.

And now in a post Brexit world the termination of the Dubs amendment – a scheme designed by Labour Peer Alf Dubs with the intention of helping some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children scattered throughout Europe, who are hoping to find some semblance of a home in the UK.

Yet, as another door swings shut in the face of the world’s most vulnerable, it’s not only those left out in the cold that deserve our attention and concern.

Disturbingly, even for those who do manage to squeeze through the cracks of Theresa May’s fortress Britain, the Odyssey is far from over, their roads are seldom paved with gold and their nightmare simply continues.

In a recent expose by The Guardian, treatment of refugees within the ‘Big 5’ European countries (France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK) was thoughtfully laid out in stories and articles, each with their own array of lashing statistics against claims of British compassion for those it has begrudgingly welcomed.

Of the five countries under the microscope, the UK was found to be the only country with no set limit on the holding time for asylum seekers in detention facilities.

It is also the only country which does not sanction the reunification of unaccompanied children who arrive and claim asylum with their parents.

Moreover, for those trapped in the hellish purgatory between arriving and waiting to hear about their asylum claim, it is this country which boasts the strictest restrictions on their right to work, combined with one of the lowest living grants to those waiting on the continent.

When confronted with the issue of right to work for asylum seekers, Home Office spokesperson Sarah Newton cited the avoidance of a ‘pull factor’ as the primary reason behind governmental restrictions.

Yet, when the push factor is a tumultuous war and the brutal circumstances which accompany it, surely all forced exclusion from the workforce is preventing is the peaceful, prosperous assimilation of refugees into the economy.

Appallingly the situation does not seem to improve when a claim is eventually accepted. Most are welcomed into the UK not with a hand but with a fist.

Upon formal admittance to the country, a refugee is given approximately 28 days to vacate the property in which they were lodged during the application process, find new housing and apply for benefits.

Unsurprisingly many are unable to do this and are thus rendered homeless and destitute.

Warsan Shire, celebrated Somali writer and poet, points out that ‘No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land’.

Yet the minimal provisions for refugees in the UK continue to treat them like criminals. We need to start realising that accepting immigrants really does mean accepting immigrants. This means providing them with the same care and welfare as people who live and work in this country.

While governments in Spain, Germany, Italy and France have ensured the right to work for all those seeking asylum, within and before nine months of their claims being processed, the UK traps its refugees in limbo.

Whereas Germany, France and Spain provide in excess of £50 week in grants for food and other maintenance costs, the UK allows or only £36.95.

Furthermore, once granted asylum, refugees are essentially abandoned. Presented with very few avenues for assimilation in the form of language classes or work based schemes, their position on the periphery of English society is solidified by the limited opportunities for progression.

As well as the obvious detrimental effects this has on the affected individuals, systematic exclusion does nothing to reframe migrants as an asset within a public narrative desperately in need of reform.

Treating refugees like burdens and charity cases by not facilitating proper opportunities for them to flourish in host countries fuels a damaging rhetoric – the very kind that has allowed for the cancellation of the Dubs amendment and further shrinking acceptance rates for asylum claims.

Though Theresa May might boast of the UK’s position as the ‘second-biggest bilateral donor helping and supporting refugees in the region’, efforts to ‘plug’ the source of the flow should complement, not stand in for, a domestic commitment to those already haemorrhaging from the world’s most dangerous countries.

Crucially, allowing refugees to fail within the fortress will only fortify the resolve of those who wish to strengthen its walls.

Amy Fallon is a Campaign Volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights 

See: Brexit is not all about immigration – why has Theresa May made it her overriding priority?

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