Four pieces of legislation in nine years, each with the shameful
intention of drastically reducing the numbers of asylum seekers.
The introduction of targets is not only illogical – particularly on
the eve of a war which is likely to cause an explosion in those
seeking refuge – it also erodes the right under international law
to be assessed individually.
Integration may be the theory but the practice, too often, is
hardship and hatred. Destitution is a real threat. The media, in
the main, deal not in case histories that engender empathy but
propaganda. Radio Four reported in a disgracefully unbalanced
manner that 4,000 male asylum seekers would be housed in a former
naval base at Gosport, Hampshire.
Assumptions were broadcast from residents – young women at risk,
fear of crime – with no corrective viewpoint.
In Australia, a new movement is challenging the press and the
politicians. After hunger strikes and suicide attempts at the
Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia, Rural Australians for
Refugees was recently established. Local families are volunteering
to take in asylum seekers while their claims are being processed. A
similar organisation – Spare Rooms for Refugees – has also been
established in Melbourne. Bonds which are bound to aid social
The UN refugee agency, UNHRC, says 90 per cent of the world’s
refugees remain in their home regions – where it has only $50 a
year to cover each individual’s needs. One plan is to create
properly funded protected areas where asylum seekers will be
assessed. UNHRC will then organise a managed flow of refugees based
on fear of persecution, not an ability to pay traffickers.
Sadly, corruption is bound to creep in but at least the semblance
of a system might act as an antidote to the tabloid message that
every “foreigner” is a freeloader. As would a British network of
support within the community on the Australian model, backed by
professional social care help.
The results of the 2001 census published last week revealed that
only 7.6 per cent of the population come from ethnic minorities. A
recent Mori poll found that a majority of people believed the
figure is 22.5 per cent. As a country, we are in real danger of
forgetting that asylum is just another word for sanctuary, not a
cause for further persecution.