Something that is in the news a lot is the subject of immigration, and our porous borders. There are a whole lot of what the press term “immigrants” in the area that I work, though these can be broken down into economic migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers, and illegal immigrants. Whilst they all seem the same to many people, there are subtle differences that we should all be aware of, at the very least so that we don’t believe all that we read in the press. The following is how I understand it, and my experiences of the various groups. It’s not necessarily the most accurate interpretation.
Economic migrants are those that come to the UK in search of work, generally from the EU. There can’t be a town in the UK that isn’t staffed to some large degree by eastern European workers these days. Recently I’ve been to the Lake District, Abersoch and Buxton and found that the restaurants and gift shops in these places are almost entirely staffed by Polish and Lithuanian workers. There are currently no controls on economic migrants from the EU. The Government have vastly underestimated the numbers of economic migrants entering the country. My local doctor’s surgery has a “sign yourself in” computer screen. There are 3 available languages on the introduction. English, Welsh, and Czech, which I think speaks volumes for the local demographic. Where I work it’s predominantly Poles that I encounter. One issue we have is that they are often the focus of “hate crimes”, be it simple verbal abuse, or more serious targeted damage and violence. Language barriers make an already difficult recording process even harder. I generally find that the adherence to UK driving rules and regulations (with regards to Licensing, Insurance, Construction and Use) is somewhat lacking from many of these workers. They do generally try to fit in though, and many do speak English very well (certainly better than my Polish).
Asylum seekers are simply those people that have entered the UK (much of the time illegally) and requested asylum. They hope to be granted leave to remain and given “refugee status”, but many applications are rejected, resulting in “Failed Asylum Seekers”. Asylum seekers going through the process have access to emergency housing (with food and basic necessities provided) and get a small income to cover essential toiletries, clothing, milk allowance etc. They are not permitted to work. Rather than this be anything to do with the welfare of the people involved, this is purely to do with money. Until they get accepted and given an NI number, the Government would be unable to reclaim any taz or NI contributions, therefore it’s easier to ban them from working, despite the fact that many are able bodied and skilled and actually want to work (in effect all that happens is that they work for cash in hand on the sly). They are generally housed (certainly in my area) in dedicated asylum seeker accommodation (be it a centre that is run by a private company that may contain hundreds of flats, or terraced houses that are owned by private landlords). Whatever style of housing is provided it is generally of a poor quality or condition. Asylum seekers will have other restrictions placed upon them. They will need to provide contact information to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) and it’s subdivision the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). They have to live at an address registered with NASS and they will be given an identity card. These people are generally from very poor countries with no educational background, can’t speak English, and can’t read or write in their own language. This makes interpreting more difficult, but the asylum process must be a nightmare. Again asylum seekers generally receive more trouble than they cause, being the victims more often than the perpetrators.
Refugees are those that have come to the UK seeking asylum, and have been granted it. Refugees are then entitled to everything a UK citizen would be, medical treatment, housing, education, employment, housing benefits, and all the other provisions of the welfare state. When an asylum seeker is granted refugee status, they then have indefinite leave to remain in the country and all immigration restrictions or requirements against them cease. Indefinite leave to remain used to be the standard status for successful asylum seekers. This has changed in the not so distant past to a specified period to remain e.g. 5 years.
Failed asylum seekers are simply those people that have had their applications rejected. NASS support ends 21 days after the application being rejected (no more accomodation/food/provisions supplied) – unless they lodge an appeal, which as far as I can see just means that every single failed asylum seeker puts in an appeal. A failed asylum seeker will often be subsequently deported but there are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, the failed asylum seeker has to be given notice of deportation. This often results in the failed asylum seeker going on the run, failing to re-register, and then becoming an illegal immigrant. Secondly, the county of origin might be such a place as for it to be unwise to send the asylum seeker back to. China is generally deemed to be one such place, as the ramifications of someone being deported to China with the notice “Failed Political Asylum Seeker” are generally more serious than general conditions in the country would dictate. In these instances people are given “Discretionary Leave To Remain”. So, they have failed the asylum process, but cannot be deported. They are then in a sort of limbo where they still have to register and notify the authorities of their place of abode in order that the political situation becomes such that they can in fact be deported. Again, many of these people just disappear at this stage. NASS support ends for failed asylum seekers and they have to leave NASS supported accommodation, but they can then apply for normal housing benefits and welfare benefits.
Finally we have illegal immigrants. The Government has no idea how many of these there are in the country. The last figures I remember the Government stating was something like 300,000. At the same time I was told by someone knowledgeable in the intelligence business that it was more like 2 million. That was a couple of years ago, and I have no idea what the current figures from either side may be. Although some of the illegal immigrants will be failed asylum seekers that have gone underground (people that the Government actually know and can count), these only number a few thousand. There are many more thousands arriving monthly in the back of lorries. We have no idea who these are, or how many of them there are. It is a very common thing to find a dazed and bewildered looking foreigner who doesn’t even know what town they are in. We arrest them as illegal immigrants, and immigration take over. They generally get registered and then remain as an asylum seeker rather than being deported for the same aforementioned reasons. Illegal immigrants also include those that come on student or travel visa’s and overstay their allowed period.
That’s it in a (rather large) nutshell. Our main problem in this county is the underground wholesale importation of illegal immigrants. Asylum seekers make up a tiny portion of immigrants into this country, yet the press vilify them. Economic migrants seem to be lumped in with the whole “immigration” issue yet really they are nothing to do with it. My personal belief is that the asylum process needs amending to allow those people awaiting a decision to work – that way they pay tax and NI which will go someway to offset there NASS provided accommodation. Failed asylum seekers facing deportation should not be given any notice and placed into some sort of secure centre (this may happen in other areas) awaiting deportation. Illegal immigrants should be returned to the last country they were in (if safe). Asylum according to the Geneva convention must be sought in the first safe country. France, Holland, Belgium etc are perfectly safe in these circumstances, so anyone entering via lorry from these countries should be returned immediately and told to seek asylum there – again this is probably done in some areas.
Finally we need to get control of our borders back. Not just for the case of immigration, but also smuggling. Firearms and drugs are flooding into this country from Europe. My nearest airport, whilst International, for a long time had no customs officers based there. So it didn’t matter what you had in your suitcase, as it would never get inspected. This thankfully appears to have changed in recent times.
I guess the moral of this post is not to believe everything you read in the press about “asylum seekers”. There are distinctions between various groups that the press gloss over, and sometimes these distinctions are very important. Immigration is a very important issue on the political agenda at the moment, and it does cause us issues as far as policing goes, but much of the time you need to take a step back and look at the lives these people have left behind and ask yourself what would you expect from others in the same circumstances.