Fact checking more claims about asylum seekers

Following on from my article fact checking the claims of Nigel Farage regarding the placement of asylum seekers in a hotel in Bromsgrove District, in various discussions on Facebook and twitter other questions were thrown up. Rather than reply to everybody who writes them, here are some further fact checks on those questions.

Aren’t asylum seekers supposed to seek refuge in the nearest safe country?

There is no legal requirement to seek refuge in any particular country nor to claim asylum in the nearest safe country. There are no such statements in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The EU does run a system, the Dublin Regulations, that a host nation can expect another EU country to take responsibility for an asylum seekers under certain conditions. Typically, the person must have presented for asylum in that country already and the regulations are aimed to stop asylum seekers from hopping between different EU countries. However, as the UK has now left the European Union, it is unlikely the Dublin Regulations will continue to apply here. Ironically, if you voted to leave the EU because you feel we accept too many asylum seekers, you have voted to remove the only legal means you had of sending them to another country.

Nevertheless, it bears saying that most people do flee to the nearest safe country. Turkey and Colombia currently take in the largest numbers of asylum seekers in the world because of their relative proximity to the Middle East and Venezuela.

Aren’t people simply able to come here unchecked on boats?

It is written into the 1951 Refugee Convention that people fleeing persecution will have to use ‘irregular means’ to access a safe country. That is understood to mean, legally, that those claiming asylum may well have to come on the back of a lorry or across the channel on a dinghy. There is no legal way to travel to the UK for the purposes of seeking asylum.

Similarly, there is no way to claim asylum from your home country. You cannot very well approach your own government, whom you are fleeing, for the purposes of gaining asylum. Given that the government themselves are the problem, you are not able to simply walk into an embassy and receive a visa nor can you jump aboard a vehicle leaving your country, with your own passport, and not expect to be picked up by the authorities.

However, this does not mean that there are no checks. Upon arrival, those seeking asylum must present themselves immediately to the authorities and make a claim. If they fail to do this, any future claim they may make will be jeopardised and (typically) rejected because they did not appear to claim asylum when they first arrived. The check on such people is the asylum process itself. It bears saying, again, that 48% of all asylum applications fail.

But won’t we be overrun if we keep letting asylum seekers in?

As I noted in my previous post, the UK currently has 44,000 asylum seekers. That is 0.07% of the UK population. If we also include those refugees who have received their right to remain too, it still only accounts for 0.26% of the population. These figures are vanishingly small.

Some have argued that it might ‘change our culture’. Imagine in a church of 400 people, 0.26% of the congregation had significantly different views to everybody else. To put that into hard figures, that is 1 person in the congregation. How likely is that one person going to impact the culture? Let’s think of a church of 1600 people, with 4 outliers. Will those four meaningfully manage to change or impact the culture? Similarly, 170,000 people in a country of 66,000,000 are not likely to significantly impact the national culture.

Some will argue that it might impact the local culture, but that is only likely to be true if all those people were placed in the same town and formed a significantly large minority. But, of course, they are not. They are dispersed around the country. Whilst some areas may have more asylum seekers at any given time, the numbers are not large enough to have a significant impact on the local culture. To take the specific example of Bromsgrove, are we seriously suggesting that 150 people, making up 0.15% of the local population, will have any significant impact on the local culture, let alone change it beyond all recognition?

Furthermore, it should be noted that asylum seekers are not all from the same place. If we had received 170,000 Eritreans, for example, who were all dispersed to the same small town, it might be possible to suggest that a local culture will undergo some change. But the truth is that asylum seekers come from a range of different countries, do not share a common culture and do not all land in the same places, making their ability to significantly impact local culture minimal at best.

Shouldn’t we be helping our own people first? What about all the homeless former soldiers, for example?

The short answer is, yes we should also be caring for our own folks including former veterans too. The Royal British Legion have estimated there are currently 6,000 homeless former soldiers in the UK. That is just under 0.01% of the UK population. Given how small the figures for asylum seekers are in the UK, these figures are even smaller and should be addressed too.

However, the reasons for the level of homelessness among former soldiers are complex. For example, alongside the 6,000 who are currently homeless, the Royal British Legion also estimate that 10,000 former soldiers are currently in prison. The reasons for this are complex. Nevertheless, the short answer is that, yes, such people should also be housed and cared for as well. These figures are so small, that there is no reason it cannot be done.

However, it bears saying that this is not a zero sum game. It is untrue to imply that we are caring for asylum seekers at the expense of former veterans. There is simply no evidence that this is the case. In a civilised country, the world’s fifth largest economy, there really is no reason we cannot support both groups well. These things are not at issue for lack of resources.

Why don’t other countries take these asylum seekers?

The bottom line is that they do. As I previously mentioned, ‘The largest number of asylum seekers live in the following 5 countries: Turkey (3.7m); Colombia (1.8m); Pakistan (1.4m); Uganda (1.4m); Germany (1.1m).’ To take the most generous European country as an example, Germany receive c. 24 times more asylum seekers than the UK.

Just within Europe, the top five countries receiving asylum seekers in 2018 were: Germany (29% of all European applications), France (19%), Spain (18.8%), Greece (10%) and Italy (9%). Between these top five countries, c. 86% of all applications were handled. The UK received only 6% of all asylum applications in Europe. The Migration Observatory at Oxford University report: ‘In 2018, the UK received 0.6 asylum applications for every 1,000 residents, compared to 1.2 applications per thousand residents across the whole of the EU-28. On this measure, the UK ranks 17th in the EU and 14th in the EU-15, with only Portugal receiving fewer asylum applications per person.’

Some further things to consider

As I noted in my previous post, it was notable that Nigel Farage made argument by inference, did very little to outline what the specific problem with the situation was for people locally and failed to provide any solutions to the issue he highlighted. In other discussions I have either been in or watched unfold, this seems to be a common thread. Many seem convinced this is a problem but provide no evidence as to why. They seem convinced that we shouldn’t welcome asylum seekers but cannot articulate what should happen to them instead.

Let me offer two specific examples:

One friend had started attending an underground church in Iran. He was driving to the church when, as he was driving past, he could see the police raiding the premises and arresting his friends. He carried on driving. His friends were duly imprisoned and tortured. His name was linked to the church and he was alerted by family that the police were looking for him. He left the country as soon as possible without being able to return to his home to fetch any documents. What do those who want to reject asylum seekers propose should happen to my friend?

One friend was involved in publishing. His offices were raided after he published a tract denouncing Mohammad. His business partner alerted him to the fact that his office was being raided and his wife said the police had come to his home looking for him. He had to flee the country without returning home or collecting any belongings because to return to either place would lead to his arrest. The penalty for such blasphemy in his country is death. What do those who want to reject asylum seekers propose should happen to my friend? When the Home Office first rejected his claim (it was overturned in the appeal court) my friend tried to take his own life because it was more palatable to him than being returned to his country to face torture.

To send either of these folks back to their country of origin would be to send them back to certain death, most likely preceded by imprisonment and torture. To simply wave them away and say ‘not my problem’ doesn’t help. What are we to do if every other country says the same? These are not just statistics or stories, they are real people with real lives and real families.

Given all of this:

  1. What is our proposal for those who are fleeing persecution, if not granting them the right to stay here? Given that something must happen, there needs to be a proposal. We need to get to grips with the reality that simply saying ‘send them back’ is to actively participate in their very likely imprisonment, torture and death.
  2. What grounds have we got for arguing that asylum seekers specifically are leading to overcrowding given the above figures?
  3. What responsibility does the UK in particular carry towards countries in which we have installed problematic leaders and/or started wars? Do we, morally, bear any responsibility for people who have been displaced as a direct result of our interventions in their countries?
  4. For my Christian friends, what Biblical grounds do we have for turning those seeking refuge away? Which Bible passage or verses can we point at that imply, suggest or mandate a rightness to rejecting those seeking asylum? There are lots of passages that would imply, or mandate, a clear welcome to such people.
  5. If you are making these claims without answers and have never met, spoken to, live amongst or befriended any asylum seekers, what makes you think that you understand whatever cultural impact they have?
  6. If you are making these claims without answers and have never met, spoken to, lived amongst or befriended any asylum seekers, what makes you believe you understand exactly what you are asking of them and insisting should be the case for them?

Unless we have credible answers for these questions, it is very hard not to conclude the alternative case is based on, minimally, national prejudice and, equally likely, overt racism.