How should we look on the asylum seeker (responding to “stop the boats”

Immigration control is the last resort of a government in difficulty.  Over the years, we’ve seen politicians from both sides of the divide ramp up the rhetoric, whether it was Gordon Brown promising British jobs for British workers or David Cameron telling us that he could reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Easier said than done it seems and so despite the rhetoric we rarely see any change in the numbers.  Increasingly the focus has been on asylum seekers with politicians and tabloid media systematically questioning whether or not the claimants are genuine.  We now frequently hear them described as “illegal asylum seekers” -just to be clear, it is not illegal to seek asylum.

Now, attention is very firmly on the South coast with many claimants arriving in small boats from France.  None of us wants to see people putting their lives at risk by taking to little unregulated boats not intended to be sea going, just as don’t want them giving their money and documents to people traffickers. However, if people are desperate, if they can see no other option and if there is even a small chance that the risk will pay off, they will take it. If your true objective is to stop the people smugglers and if you want to “stop the boats”, if your genuine concern is for the safety and well being of those using them, then, there’s a simple answer to that. You need to offer safe routes for people to come into the country and get asylum.  You need to make it possible for them to get onto an aeroplane, train or ferry, claim asylum at that point and be given safe passage to the UK.  That’s assuming that your aim is to protect the asylum seekers.

That’s one reason why I find current approaches to the problem concerning.  I wish that the government would be up front and make it clear that their sole purpose is to stop people arriving in the UK, that they do not believe we should be offering asylum at all. I would still disagree with them but at least, we would be able to have an honest debate.

The most recent initiative to “stop the boats” includes proposals for new legislation which would enable the UK to decline any responsibility for those who arrive on our shores by small boat. It’s been accompanied by poster messaging along these lines.

Now, there are a few problems with such posters, I wish that the Home Office would at least get someone to check and proof-read their messaging. This particular poster seems to suggest that the UK is intentionally running a modern slavery system and that people coming here are looking for the opportunity to become slaves.  A strange thing to be proclaiming.  What I think they meant to say is that anyone arriving here at risk of slavery, anyone who has been trafficked but doesn’t arrive by an approved route is going to be denied help escaping slavery.

This means that if you have been trafficked for sex, or sold into domestic servitude then you won’t be able to get help. The English Legal system will not care about you.  You will simply be returned back to your home country and back into the hands of the traffickers again. Remember that those who have been trafficked are the least likely to have arrived through accepted safe and legal routes.  They are likely to have been smuggled into the country, penned up in trucks or on small boats by the traffickers. That should tell you everything that is wrong with the proposals.  

This Sunday, at church, we were looking at these words from Isaiah:

his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear.”

Isaiah 11:3

Here Isaiah is prophesying the coming of Jesus.  The proposals made, mean that asylum seekers will be judged by first impressions about whether or not they conform to expectations that the Home Office has. If the asylum seeker does not conform to our expectations of how they should act, then they will be automatically denied justice and mercy.

We need an asylum system that follows the example of Jesus, where decisions are not made at first glance for shallow reasons. We need a system that is genuinely concerned with asking the right questions, searching out truth and ensuring that those who are seeking to deceive, who don’t really need help who are not the victims are identified but that those who are truly in desperate need find safety and refuge.

I would encourage readers in the UK to write to their MP and encourage them to take a firm stand in Parliament on this matter.

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