How we respond to asylum policies is likely to depend on our presuppositions

Steve Kneale has argued here that we need a different type of blue-skies thinking to get to grips with the issue of asylum. He helpfully identifies a number of problems with the current situation and some of the suggested solutions. He then goes on to make some of his own recommendations.

The challenge with responding to the issue is that our approach is likely to depend on our presuppositions. If we assume that:

  • Most asylum seekers are probably bogus claimants
  • Life is generally ordered and tidy

Then we are likely to support approaches that require the asylum seeker to follow an orderly process, to turn up at the nearest “safe” country and to submit their claim with all the relevant evidence. The claim can then be processed quickly and they can have their answer in. 

Unfortunately, asylum claims are rarely tidy or straight forward.  There are a number of reasons why the next country might not be the best place for them to go. Sometimes the neighbouring country is safer in terms of the specific threat that the family are fleeing but there are cultural, ethnic or religious tensions between the two countries meaning that the asylum seeker will face other dangers.  Sometimes there are personal circumstances which mean it would be impossible for the asylum seeker to be allowed into the other country. For example, the country US government has policies in place that would make it very difficult for Mexican asylum seekers to cross the border.

Furthermore, crossing the border to another country may not guarantee safety. We tend to assume that refugees are only fleeing cruel tyrannical regimes and therefore if they get somewhere with a level of democracy and due process in the legal system then they will be safe. Often the threat comes from clans, powerful families, cartels, political rivals etc. The person is not being oppressed by their government but the situation makes it impossible for them to find protection and justice at home. Crossing the border and seeking asylum may not get them away from their enemies who can easily cross the border too and may well lead to them being alerted to where the asylum seeker is.

Asylum seekers do not leave their country with their life ordered and tidy.  They leave in a hurry wih few belongings. They leave suffering PTSD. It is not just physical threats that they have faced but psychological ones too.  I suspect that if I were in their situation I would want to get as far away as possible.

Cases are not necessary resolvable equitably through fast track processes. The person may need time to put together a case and assemble evidence. They may not be in a good place psychological and that will affect their ability to respond clearly and accurately to an interviewer’s questions and also to cope with the process.  Furthermore, those kinds of symptoms are not always immediately obvious to observers. I have met people who years after the trauma happened still struggle to respond to situations in a way I would consider rational and safe. Yet on a day to day basis they seem to be doing fine.  The scars are hidden but they are there all the same.

Sadly, stories start off inconsistent. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the person may struggle to tell the full truth because of shame. Secondly, they may well have made mistakes themselves along the way. Thirdly, language barriers can cause issues.  I’ve met people who have complained that they only found out later that their interpreter had misrepresented them. Fourthly, the claimant may get bad advice from legal representation about how to spin their story.

In my experience of working with asylum seekers, this often means that they started off on the wrong footing and no matter how much more evidence they find, it does not matter. They can appeal and they can bring fresh claims but they are doing so on a faulty foundation.  That’s why it takes so long. They keep going through appeal after appeal, fresh claim after fresh claim and the HO just keep repeating their original decision.

Often what needs to happen is that the original case needs to be struck down through Judicial Review. Then a good legal team can put together the case as it actually is with the necessary evidence. At that point you are more likely to see a successful outcome.

If my presupposition is that the asylum seeker is likely to be bogus then my primary concern will be an efficient process that keeps them as far away from the UK as possible and returns them home as quickly as possible. If my presupposition is that many claims are genuine, then my primary concern will be to see justice done.

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