One of the main objections to asylum seekers coming to the UK is that they will have often had to pass through several other countries to get here. Surely, they should claim asylum in the first “safe” country they come to. I think that this misunderstands how fleeing for safety and shelter works.
Imagine that you are being chased by an aggressive gang. You reach a house where you think that you might get protection. You go in through the gate. Do you stop there? Of course not, you keep on running until you get to the house itself and you probably are not going to just stand on the doorstep. Our instinct is to get further in and safer still. A world where people just head for the nearest safe country and stop is a world where we end up with large refugee camps on the boarders of tyrannical regimes. Are the refugees truly safe and sheltered there?
Asylum is not just about getting away from immediate physical danger. Asylum seekers have often been seriously psychologically traumatised by the things done to them, false imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape, threats etc. They need to find somewhere where they not only are safe from further threat but where they can recover from what has already happened to them. Not only that but just being out of the original country does not guarantee absolute safety, those who harmed them at home can still find ways to pursue them abroad. Asylum seekers need to find a place where the criminal justice system will effectively protect them from further harm.
So, do not be surprised when asylum seekers include the following calculations in their decision making about where to run to.
- What is the reputation of the country in terms of its welcome and provision?
- Do we already have friendly connections, family members, people from our own culture living there?
- Will I be able to quickly learn the language?
- Will the justice system offer me protection?
- Will I be able to access health care that will help me recover?
- Will I be able to settle and make a life for my family once we are there?
Now, those decision processes may not be run as logically as we would expect sitting in the comfort of our own homes and the choices may be based on faulty perceptions of life here. But please don’t claim that it is immoral to consider those things when on the run.