Playing today: England (already covered: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal, Panama)
Home. The country where I was born and have lived most of my life. I love so many things about this place – its hills and woodland and coastline, its musicians and writers and artists. I love the NHS which has seen me and my family through so much. I love its diversity – the culture formed through the influx of so many different peoples (invaders, migrants, refugees) and so much richer for it. I’ll be rooting, of course, for its football team.
But there’s the rub. My relationship with the England national team is tainted by so many disappointments, that can feel like betrayals. And that mirrors how I feel about my homeland too. When other nations treat refugees like dirt, I can feel righteous anger and solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility, but not quite the same degree of disappointment, not quite that same sense of betrayal, not quite shame.
I so want to not feel that shame. But with Windrush and Brexit and the ‘hostile environment’, with the rhetoric of ‘citizens of nowhere’, I can’t avoid it.
But as always, there are so many people who not only care, but are working incredibly hard to challenge the misinformation, defend those who are being treated so shamefully, campaign for changes to the law.
One of those organisations is Refugee Action. They support refugees, to put it simply. They stand up for asylum seekers. They’ve campaigned about how failed asylum seekers are left in destitution, about how people within the system are denied the opportunity to volunteer, about the rule that if people wanted to make a fresh asylum claim, they would have to do so in person in Liverpool, no matter where they lived and with no help for those who couldn’t afford the journey. And so much more. And they work with individuals too, providing advice and support, and guidance through the labyrinth of the asylum system.
One of their current campaigns is to change the system.
We believe a future is possible where those forced to flee the homes they loved receive compassion, a fair decision, essential support and help to rebuild their lives.
Our new report exposes the asylum process as one of long delays, poor decisions and a total lack of information. It is a system that disempowers, dehumanises and damages people.
If you believe that everyone who comes to Britain in search of safety should be treated with fairness and compassion, that they should be given sufficient support to make sure they don’t face homelessness and hunger, email your MP to #StandUpForAsylum and call for change now.
The report sets out how things could change for the better. How the asylum process could be fairer, and more compassionate.
An asylum system that might look something like this….
The Home Office gathers the right information from asylum applicants during interview, and uses this to make correct decisions the first time around.
The Home Office provides accurate and timely information to people seeking asylum.
The Government ensures a comprehensive and public review of current legal aid provision.
The Government achieves the targets it sets for the time taken to make decisions.
People seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, have the right to work after 6 months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. They have access to education – including free ESOL classes – from application.
If people have to wait 12 months for a decision, they are granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.
The Home Office listens to people seeking asylum and acts upon their feedback.
The Home Office carries out regular audits of interview practice, which include consultations with people seeking asylum.
The information given during screening is not used in credibility assessments made further down the line, given that most people are unable to access any advice prior to screening interviews.
People are given adequate notice of their substantive interviews in order to allow them to prepare this with their legal representative.
There are safeguards to ensure that poor interpreting does not have a negative impact on a person’s asylum claim, including better training and quality control of interpreters.
All interviews (screening and substantive) are recorded by default, and shared with the applicant and their legal representative.
The Home Office ensures that people receive information about their rights as soon as they apply for asylum, including the point of claim leaflet in a language that they understand.
People are told of the importance of accessing legal advice at the beginning of the process.
Asylum support decisions are made as quickly as possible in order to ensure that people are able to access a solicitor as early as possible.
Nobody is forced to wait more than six months for a decision on their initial
Asylum support rates are at least 70% of mainstream benefits.
The report is a tough read. The voices of the asylum-seekers themselves tell how they’ve faced scepticism, carelessness, callous indifference and bureaucratic incompetence. And above all, how they’ve waited, waited in darkness. But surely it doesn’t have to be like that? Surely we’re better – kinder, fairer, more generous – than this?
Refugee Week is all about seeing those who seek asylum, wherever they come from and wherever they seek refuge, as people. People who are fundamentally just like us.
Those of us who were born British citizens and whose right to that citizenship has never been questioned, whose families go back for generations here, might find it hard to imagine that we might find ourselves one day hastily cramming a few possessions into a rucksack and taking to the roads, handing over all our funds for the sake of a precarious journey across the sea with no guarantee of a safe landing or a safe haven. But it could so easily have been us, not so very long ago – if Britain had fallen to the Nazis, we could have been faced with those choices, like so many of our fellow Europeans. It didn’t happen here, but it could have done, and we have no guarantees for the future.
Refugees over the centuries have contributed so much to our culture. Who knows what the latest arrivals might offer us, if we give them the chance?
So, come on England! Come on UK!