Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

The government ran into a storm of controversy
last week when it announced its plans for accommodating asylum
seekers in various rural locations. There was a predictable outcry
from local villagers and anger from the government’s critics, who
accuse it of barbarism. Gurbux Singh, who heads the Commission for
Racial Equality, was chided by the government when he took issue
with the initiative. Up to 3,000 asylum seekers are set to be
accommodated in at least four of these centres scattered across
Britain. In explaining the move, Home Office minister Lord Rooker
gave much the same rationale as was given for the much-despised
dispersal policy: dealing with asylum seekers is a national matter,
the burden of which should not fall unduly on London and the South
East. He denied that local people would object, although this
appeared to be in stark contradiction to some of their initial
reactions in the media. The government is applying for planning
permission to build accommodation on surplus land in Oxfordshire,
Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire.

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering
“The government simply has to be braver in confronting
media and public ambivalence about asylum seekers. We must welcome
and support highly vulnerable and disadvantaged people who come
into our country. Applications for asylum should be assessed fairly
and speedily. It is not good enough to place marginalised, unwanted
people in isolated ‘camps’ in the middle of rural areas without
access to the vital support of their own communities and cultural
links. I do not know the answers but I know that the ones currently
provided are not good enough.”

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“Seventy children took the government to ‘court’ on 18
May, bringing evidence of its abuses of children’s rights under the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Prosecutor Steven Allen,
of the Young People’s Rights Network, which put on the conference
in which the simulated court hearing took place, took evidence from
young refugees. Their feeling was that the government has isolated
refugee children and that it has created a huge gap between them
and children born here. Any guesses on the jury’s verdict?”

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,
“I don’t envy the government its need to rapidly develop
policy related to asylum seekers. With thousands of people pouring
into the country, there is no simple solution in respect of
providing these people with accommodation. Housing people in
accommodation centres is a short-term solution, as in the long term
it will only serve to enhance the far-right policies of

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow,
Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“The centres look frighteningly like 21st-century
workhouses, especially with the rules banning nights away and
requiring education on the premises. It looks like ‘modernisation’
for asylum seekers amounts to institutionalisation – the very
incarnation of Victorian values. The premise is that asylum seeking
is synonymous with crime, yet this is the very case that has been
exploited so worryingly by Le Pen and others on the far right.
There are some short-term logistical problems to be addressed, but
more fundamentally the government needs to challenge the argument
that immigration destroys a nation.”

Julia Ross, social services director
and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of Barking
and Dagenham
“The centres may be logistically a better way of
organising the very chaotic and unhelpful way we receive asylum
seekers at present, but the trouble is that they’ll create all
sorts of other problems. I worry about our children, who are
perfectly happy to make friends across cultures, but the danger is
that they now grow fearful of difference and diversity as asylum
seekers are increasingly set apart.”

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