I was delighted to hear last week that home secretary David
Blunkett is to allow up to 15,000 asylum-seeking families to stay
in the UK. But although I was surprised, I’ve learned to view
anything he has to say with caution.
After all, this is the guy who two years ago, following the murder
of Firsat Dag on Glasgow’s Sighthill estate, ordered an urgent
review of the controversial asylum dispersal system. Campaigners
thought that following the murder, Blunkett would put an end to the
inhumanity of forced dispersal. Instead, he began to phase in
accommodation centres, hiding asylum seekers away from the rest of
society in disused army barracks and ex-holiday camps.
In February 2002, we breathed a sigh of relief when the headlines
declared he was going to get rid of the stigmatising voucher
scheme. We thought he would let asylum seekers have cash, but in
Blunkett’s world this meant getting rid of vouchers and phasing in
Blunkett then said that Britain would no longer imprison asylum
seekers. Instead, there would be detention centres providing “basic
fairness and dignity for asylum seekers”. What a joke. These
detention centres are no less than category B prisons. Innocent
families and children who have not committed any crimes are being
locked up without a time limit or trial. Some have been there for
more than a year and a half.
I don’t think Blunkett has the vision to see the legacy of misery
he is creating. It is not an easy thing to uproot your family and
leave your loved ones, your home and your culture behind. To then
put people fleeing torture and persecution through further tests
here is beyond belief. Families are ripped out of communities where
they have spent years building up stability and security, picked up
in dawn raids, and put in prisons for months on end. There they
become institutionalised by the regime before being deported or
And so to this so-called amnesty for 15,000 families. These
families should be released from waiting for years to have their
asylum claims considered. Many will be relieved that there is an
end to their uncertainty.
But Blunkett is giving with one hand while taking away with the
other. He intends to starve out of Britain those families who
claimed asylum after October 2000 and failed, and whom the
government cannot remove by force. This will result in many more
families facing destitution and starvation.
Robina Qureshi is director of Scotland-wide anti-racist
organisation Positive Action in Housing.