By James Drennan, Advocacy volunteer at the Refugee Council
The past year has been a year of challenges for asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. According to the UNHCR, nearly 34 million individuals are currently considered as not having the full protection of their state. Many are at risk of torture, armed conflict or direct persecution from the authorities that should be defending them.
Taking these numbers in the context of growing global socioeconomic unrest, the climate for those seeking asylum has become increasingly volatile. In the UK, pressures on domestic protection systems have resulted in a growing movement to curtail funding for a number of asylum-based programmes, putting some of the most vulnerable people in our population at increased danger of finding situations upon arrival little better than the ones they were fleeing.
That being said, there have been victories. Campaigns to highlight refugees’ significant, positive contributions to – for instance – finance, innovation and culture have resulted in an enriched awareness of the need for the UK to continue to offer protections for individuals and families seeking asylum. Organisations and individuals are being increasingly proactive at finding new, progressive ways to ensure that the right of asylum is not forgotten in an atmosphere of economic uncertainty.
The following is a snapshot of some of the major events with regard to asylum in the UK over 2012:
- King’s College London publishes a report detailing unforeseen costs resulting from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) [then] bill, stating that if its measures were implemented, government agencies would incur £139m in extra costs to agencies such as the NHS.
- The European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and Save the Children release research highlighting the need for further investigation into the government’s involuntary return of minors to their country of origin.
- An Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR) report concludes that media reporting about asylum seekers and refugees is ‘sensationalist and inaccurate’.
- The Ay family, detained for 13 months starting in 2002, are awarded damages nearly eight years after their release. The length of detention, as well as the ages of the children, resulted in widespread condemnation and calls for and end to the detention of children from celebrities such as Colin Firth and JK Rowling.
- On International Women’s Day, the Refugee Council draws attention to its concerns with regard to women seeking asylum in the UK by publishing a briefing. One third of those seeking asylum in the UK are women, who are under a disproportionate threat of violence, poverty and exploitation.
- Renewed calls for investigation into shortfalls created by LASPO, this time with regards to children’s access to legal aid, are made via the Refugee Council and Law Centres Federation.
- The Children’s Society publishes a report focusing on the numbers of child asylum seekers living below the poverty line in the UK. At least 10,000 children in the asylum system are estimated to live in an environment of extreme disadvantage.
- The Refugee Council launches a campaign asking candidates in the London Elections to sign a pledge to make London a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers if they are elected. Several candidates sign the pledge, including former mayor Ken Livingstone.
• The Refugee Council releases ‘Not a Minor Offence’ , detailing the continuing incidence of children asylum seekers facing detention upon arrival in the UK. Among its recommendations are calls for independent assessment of age-disputed claimants.
- In celebration of the protections offered by Britain to those seeking refuge from persecution, the Refugee Council hold a party in Brixton to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee – a letter is drafted, signed by many MPs, and published in the Times to highlight the many contributions refugees have made to British Society over the past six decades.
- Organisations across the sector, individuals and businesses come together to celebrate Refugee Week 2012 www.refugeeweek.org.uk
- A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England highlights the need for further reform in ‘age disputed’ asylum cases. Children are often treated as adults, verified only by tests that are alarmingly inaccurate.
- Published Home Office statistics show that the number of children in immigration detention has doubled since 2010. This figure includes dozens of children held in special wings of facilities which also house adults.
- An unannounced visit to Dover Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) finds that areas such welfare support, freedom of movement inside the facility and length of access to work were still inadequate, despite moderate improvements as part of the UKBA’s plan to reform IRC facilities.
- The Refugee Council launches a new edition of ‘Tell it Like it is’, outlining basic facts about refugees, with the intention of refuting many of the misconceptions about asylum seekers often supported by mass media.
- Young Refugee Council Clients give evidence in a major child sex trafficking case. It has been suggested that that, according to government figures, the number of individuals trafficked into the UK is rising, with hundreds being brought into the UK for purposes of exploitation every year.
- A report from John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, accuses the UKBA of allowing massive backlogs to build up in the asylum system. Of the nearly 450,000 ‘legacy’ asylum cases that were unresolved at the introduction of the New Asylum Model (NAM) in 2006, nearly 147,000 have yet to be cleared.
- To honour the Refugee Council Children’s Section’s 18 years of service in direct support of asylum seekers, Penguin books and the Refugee Council release Turning 18, a series of audio stories written and read by refugees. The stories seek to raise public awareness on the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers, and to explain where they are from and why they are seeking asylum in the UK.
- An article in the Guardian highlights the work of organisations like Detention Action, who work with individuals – many of whom are failed asylum seekers or asylum seekers in the process of filing a fresh claim – that are still at risk of being indefinitely detained in the IRCs.
- The Refugee Council publishes Between a Rock and a Hard Place, substantive research focusing on the plight of failed asylum seekers in the UK. Failed asylum seekers comprise 80 percent of all destitute asylum seekers, and remain some of the most vulnerable individuals in UK society.