The Refugee Council has just issued a top ten list of facts about asylum in the UK which draws on the government’s own migration statistics for 2014.
All of them bother me for a variety of reasons. Are we really only rich enough as a country to offer safety and a new start to 143 of the 4 million Syrians displaced by the ongoing conflicts in that country? Why all the anti-asylum rhetoric when we only got half the applications France received last year and a mere 31,000 to Germany’s 166,000? Are we to accept that the Home Office got more than a quarter of initial asylum decisions wrong (the percentage of appeals granted in 2014). Since I personally know of at least one appeal that was refused last year that is back in the appeals process for 2015 – and I’m guessing it’s not the only one – then we might assume the 28% is likely to be an underestimate. And I surely can’t be the only one appalled to learn that half of all asylum seekers can expect to find themselves detained under lock and key at some point during the process? And what kind of country are we to be locking up 99 asylum seeking children in 2014, 40 of whom were under 5 years old?
All of this horrifies me, but doesn’t surprise me, given that I engage more or less daily with asylum seekers, and am supporting some through the lengthy Home Office process of claims, appeals and appeals against appeal decisions.
But it was number 7 on the list that really caught my eye:
“The backlog in cases waiting a decision rose to 34% to 22,974. According to the Home Office, this was due to a lack of staff.”
That certainly doesn’t surprise me. According to my diary, I was to spend yesterday morning at an asylum appeal tribunal with a teenage member of one of the parishes where I minister. Late afternoon the day before, the session was cancelled, due to lack of staff. The hearing has been rescheduled for mid-April. Meanwhile a vulnerable young woman will spend another six weeks in Home Office accommodation far from anyone she knows in the UK and in a state of constant anxiety and fear, not to mention extreme poverty and hardship.
Her £5 a day living allowance is piled onto a card each Monday, just enough for the next 7 days, and only usable in certain shops. It is a ridiculously small amount of money in a country where the Living Wage for her part of the country is currently £7.85 an hour. Even the minimum wage there amounts to £6.50 an hour at the moment. And yet that £5 a day for each government-supported asylum seeker, banned from seeking work, soon adds up with almost 30,000 people being supported at the end of 2014. Yet they wait months or, more typically, years, while decisions are being made – very slowly, by an understaffed department, who are getting a worryingly large proportion of these initial life/death decisions wrong.
The cost of support comes to around £150,000 a day or some £54 million a year and it is these figures that land us back in the midst of the anti-immigration rhetoric. Yet the asylum seekers I know would love to find work, any honest work, simply to have more meaningful lives and make a positive contribution to society while their applications are being considered. They are not scroungers. In my experience, they are desperately vulnerable people being treated abysmally by a system that is not fit for purpose.