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Go to: spiked-central spiked-libertiesMick Hume

Column
10 August 2001Printer-friendly versionEmail a friend

Asylum: the immigration laws are mad


The murder of a Turkish asylum-seeker in Glasgow has re-ignited the debate about how to resolve the UK's asylum 'crisis'. The answer always seems to be the same: tighten the rules, close the loopholes, raise the bar, shut the door.

This ignores the fact that the real problem is not asylum-seekers, but Britain's immigration laws. The only possible solution is to create a climate in which we can open the borders and welcome the free movement of people, as readily as the authorities now champion the free movement of trade and investment.

In a sense asylum is a non-issue. Despite one newspaper's ridiculous front-page headline today - 'ASYLUM: WE'RE BEING INVADED' (1) - statistics reveal that there were 76,040 applications for asylum in the UK last year. Even if they had all been allowed to stay, it is hard to see how they could have 'swamped' a rich nation of almost 60million, where around 78,000 will fit into one Cardiff stadium for a football match on Sunday. In fact, less than 20 percent of applications are currently accepted, according to Home Office figures.

True, there has been an increase in applications for asylum in recent years. But that only illustrates the underlying problem. There would be no such thing as asylum-seekers were it not for the UK's terrible immigration laws.

Since Britain's restrictive rules on immigration were tightened further at the start of the 1980s, it has been impossible to gain entry to the UK to live unless you already have immediate family here, or are marrying a British citizen, or have 100,000 to invest (a rich man can always pass through the eye of this particular needle). At the same time, as fewer people have been able to emigrate to the UK through normal channels, more have applied for asylum.

The asylum system insists that only 'genuine refugees' can stay in the UK. Applicants are subjected to an intensive 'show-us-your-scars' style interrogation, in which they have to satisfy the authorities that they have truly been persecuted.

Those who do not meet the exacting standards of victimhood are deemed to be mere 'economic refugees' and branded 'bogus asylum-seekers'. Those who are allowed in are assumed to be so desperate that they should accept any degrading conditions - such as living on food vouchers worth just 70 percent of income support, and compulsory 'dispersal' to impoverished inner-city estates like Glasgow's Sighthill.

Since there are no categories of 'real' and 'bogus' human beings, all surely deserve equal treatment
By marking these refugees out as alien scroungers, then dumping them in the middle of hard-pressed communities where being given a second-hand fridge looks like privileged treatment, the asylum law invites the kind of violence and tensions that exploded there this week.

After the murder, one Glasgow newspaper revealed that the Turkish victim was not a 'genuine refugee' at all, but a poor fruit-and-veg seller who had come here under false pretences in pursuit of a better life. Under UK law, that is an offence. But why should you be treated like a criminal because you are attempting to escape from poverty rather than persecution?

If we want a bold solution to the problem, let's try getting rid of the immigration laws. Since there are no categories of 'real' and 'bogus' human beings, all surely deserve equal treatment. And let them work when they get here.

Despite the scare stories, there is no danger of developed societies being 'overpopulated' through immigration. As the home to 34million people, many of them immigrants, California is the most populous state in the USA. Yet the US immigration authorities admit that its economy could probably sustain around twice as many people.

Indeed, studying the declining birth rate, some demographers are now coming to the conclusion that economies like the UK will need more immigrant labour in the future. Yet even this hard-headed capitalist case for immigration is not enough to shift the political class from their close-the-door attitudes. A combination of prejudice, lack of nerve and a contemptuous fear of 'the mob' prevents the politicians from daring to break free of the stultifying 'how can we keep them out?' debate on asylum and immigration.

The paradox today is that, while the etiquette of anti-racism has become compulsory among the New Labour elite and their allies, nobody wants to appear 'soft' on asylum. The upshot is, as we have noted on spiked before, that you can treat asylum-seekers like dirt, so long as you don't use any rude words like 'bogus' in front of the Commission for Racial Equality.

This poses an important test for those of us who want to make a consistent stand in defence of liberties during New Labour's second term. We should challenge all attempts to impose censorship and conformity under the banners of anti-racism. At the same time, however, we need to oppose the divisive asylum system and the immigration laws that underpin it. We cannot have a free society so long as people are not free to come and go.

Read on:

The 's' word, by Josie Appleton

Asylum: a bogus debate, by Josie Appleton

Asylum: enforcing discrimination, by Rob Lyons

Long arm of the Straw, by Josie Appleton

The new etiquette on asylum, by Brendan O'Neill

spiked-issue: Race

(1) Daily Express, 10 August 2001



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