Self-inflicted damage

One of the aims of our Right to Refuge campaign is to encourage
professionals and politicians to highlight the valuable
contribution asylum seekers and refugees can make to the community.
Although many professionals have been willing to speak up for
asylum seekers, the number of politicians willing to do so is still
disgracefully low. Politicians firmly believe that demonising
asylum seekers is a vote winner and the faintest murmur of support
a catastrophic vote loser. Yet a new survey, commissioned by
Community Care as part of our campaign, shows that public
attitudes are often more tolerant than politicians pretend.

As home secretary David Blunkett hatches plans to reduce asylum
seekers’ rights of appeal and introduce identity cards to catch out
illegal immigrants, our survey reveals that the UK’s liberal
credentials are not entirely in tatters. Most eye-catching of the
statistics to emerge from the survey was that eight out of 10
people thought asylum seekers should be allowed to work where there
was a skill shortage. The figure suggests that, far from being an
electoral liability, lifting the jobs ban would open the way to a
fairer, more rational view of asylum seekers.

Many asylum seekers have skills which are scarce in this country –
health care, teaching, engineering and social care, to name a few.
Given that asylum application procedures can take a year or more to
complete, permitting applicants to work in the meantime would have
considerable social and economic advantages. They would pay tax,
stop receiving benefits, fewer would vanish into low-paid, black
market jobs and public perceptions of them would improve as a

The picture painted in the survey is not entirely rosy. While
two-thirds of respondents claimed to be tolerant of asylum seekers,
only 45 per cent would encourage their own employers to give them
jobs and only 47 per cent would be happy to have them housed on
their street.

Blunkett remains convinced that the asylum issue is politically
damaging. If true, it is because the government has set itself on a
course where it is bound to be so.

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