Hard times for asylum

The government’s hardening attitude towards asylum seekers has been
thrown into sharp focus over the past week. First, we had the
unseemly spectacle of a former Labour minister delivering a speech
some of which would not have been out of place at a Conservative
party conference. MP Stephen Byers sought to blur the distinction
between asylum seekers and economic migrants, while suggesting we
ditch the Geneva Convention on refugees and reject out of hand
applications for asylum from people without documents.

Then on Friday the Home Office pledged to challenge yet another
High Court decision against its asylum policy, with judges ruling
that denying support to destitute people and forcing them to sleep
rough amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

But perhaps the most powerful indictment of the current
administration’s vindictive attitude towards those seeking refuge
here was the sight of Mrs Ay and her children being frogmarched on
to a plane at Stansted airport.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr and Mrs Ay’s case, here we
have four young children who settled in Kent, made friends, learned
English and were doing well at school. Then, after three years,
their Kurdish father had his claim for asylum dismissed, and he was
deported to Germany. The authorities there duly packed him off back
to Turkey, where he was arrested and has not been heard of since.
His traumatised children were incacerated in Dungavel, the former
Scottish prison, where they have been locked up for a total of 385
days. So much for the government’s claim that children are only
ever held as a last resort and for the shortest possible

The Home Office asserts that, as the family is being sent to a safe
country, it does not even have to consider the merits of the
children’s last-ditch claim for asylum in their own right. That may
be technically true, but it smacks of evading all moral obligation
towards them. The government was clearly determined to make an
example of the Ay family to demonstrate that it is not soft on
asylum. But the shabby treatment of those children was carried out
in our name – and it shames us all.

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