Don’t they know there is a war on?

It is difficult for people in this country to appreciate what it is
like to be a refugee – it is just so far removed from their
experience. In my case I was fleeing from the civil war in Sudan,
which has already lasted 20 years. In the fighting 2.5 million
people have died with more than 4.5 million displaced.

When I sought asylum here in 1995 you were able to claim income
support and housing benefit – but now things are different and some
asylum seekers are facing destitution. There is also an issue with
the length of time people wait for an answer on their case – I had
to wait five years for a decision.

A friend of mine was detained for a year while the authorities
looked into his claim. His application was rejected and he was
deported to the Sudan and then Kenya. But the authorities in Kenya
rejected him. What becomes of people like that – where can they

The system in this country is neither fair nor effective. If you
don’t submit an asylum application straight away your application
will be automatically rejected because of “non-compliance” no
matter what the circumstances. In 2000, 26,000 asylum applications
were rejected on the ground of non-compliance. Is that

We need a better system to determine whether people are entitled to
stay here. And that system should be addressing the root cause of
people coming here to seek asylum. The fact is they come because of
wars or people abusing human rights in their countries.

The whole emphasis of the system is on deterrence. But what about
human rights? If people have a well-founded fear of persecution
then they have the right to be protected. That is international

The UK refugee integration strategy needs rethinking. As an asylum
seeker you are treated very badly. But once you are a refugee the
authorities start to be nice to you and want to integrate you.
Integration is important but there needs to be a better system to
achieve it. We are talking about people who are trying to be useful
and who are keen to contribute. A huge hurdle to integration is
unfair press coverage which portrays us as scroungers and

But refugees are just ordinary people who are struggling to
survive. They have their fears and their expectations like
everybody else. All they want to do is to be allowed to get on with
their lives.

Deng Yai is national policy and development adviser at the
Refugee Council.

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