Goodbye to cohesion

If there was one message that came across loud and clear from last
week’s London conference on the UK’s asylum policy, it was that
integration needs to start on day one of arrival. It stands to
reason of course. If you lock people up, shift them from pillar to
post, starve them of resources, threaten to deport them and
generally make them feel like unwelcome pariahs, you can hardly
expect them to fit in when, up to two years later, you finally
grudgingly agree they have a right to stay. By then resentment has
built up to such an extent that those people are never going to see
the UK as home even though they are unable to return to their
country of origin.

The government has said it is committed to promoting integration
and community cohesion, pledging to tackle what the Cantle report
described as “communities living in parallel lines”. Yet this week
the High Court heard that the withdrawal of benefits from asylum
seekers was leaving people destitute on the streets, denied food
and shelter with increasing numbers falling prey to mental health

So where are the moves to provide a bridge between the parallel
communities? The government seems oblivious to the widening gap
which is storing up huge problems for the future. Meanwhile, many
local authorities have spectacularly failed in their attempts at
integration thanks to a combination of lack of leadership from
local politicians and community leaders, and lack of funds from
national government.

The popular myth is that the UK is a land of milk and honey for
asylum seekers but the fact is that other countries such as Canada
are streets ahead of us in their treatment of refugees. The High
Court heard details of an official letter to asylum seekers living
in telephone boxes and car parks telling them to register with a
local post office so they can receive official communications.

Some argue you cannot legislate for a feeling of belonging. But you
can at least treat people as human beings.

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