Everyone’s talking about immigration right now. Often asylum seekers and refugees get included in this debate, but for the wrong reasons. That’s why we’re asking the media to get the story straight – and give us facts, not fear.
Migration is the ‘hot topic’ of the moment. And one group caught up in the rhetoric is refugees and asylum seekers.
Every year, we help over 10,000 people in the UK who have fled trauma and persecution.
They deserve the facts – and so do you.
Here are three, for starters:
We’ve noticed the terms ‘migrant’,‘immigrant’, ‘asylum seeker‘ and ‘refugee’ are often rolled into one. But they’re not the same thing. You’re all busy people, so we’ll keep this quick.
An immigrant has deliberately moved to a new country. It was a choice.
There might be lots of reasons why: love, work, a change of scene. This can work both ways: you may know someone who’s hotfooted it to Australia, in search of sun, big skies and giant prawns.
Some migrants do so to escape terrible poverty and hardship – holding on to the hope of a better future.
But an asylum seeker has left their country suddenly, faced with persecution and lacking any protection.
To expand on that definition, let’s turn to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is part of international law. It describes an asylum seeker as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
It’s completely legal, under these circumstances, to escape and find safety elsewhere.
Once you’ve claimed asylum in another country, you will need to wait while the government looks at your case. They will decide what your legal status will be – a refugee or something different.
The number of refugees and asylum seekers goes up and down, depending on what’s happening in the world. For instance, the four-year conflict in Syria has swelled recent figures.
However, the UK has not been ‘flooded’ by those looking for safety. An estimated 64.6 million people currently live in the UK – and only 0.24 per cent are refugees or asylum seekers.
Even within Europe, we are not the scapegoat. In terms of asylum seekers per head, the UK ranks 16th out of 28 EU countries.
Most asylum seekers (86 per cent) flee over their nearest border to a developing country, where they’re likely to live in camps.
An asylum seeker has left everything behind: friends, family, photographs, job, home, clothes, favourite views or sentimental gifts… The list goes on.
To do something so drastic, anyone can see that you’d have to be desperate.
But ‘coming over here’ isn’t easy, either. The streets aren’t paved with gold and you’re not exactly welcomed with open arms.
We’ve spoken to people who were lawyers, doctors and teachers in their home countries: all keen to lend their skills here.
Yet 56 per cent of the asylum seekers we see are destitute: penniless and struggling to feed themselves. While they wait for a decision on their asylum claim (which can take years), they live in limbo: unable to work and living off a tiny amount from the government.
Time to act
As you can see, it’s a complex issue – which is why it’s tricky when the media muddles it more.
We don’t want to stop the debate. We just want everyone to have the facts first.
Together, let’s get the story straight.
Sources: Eurostat asylum statistics May 2015, Office for National Statistics, Home Office immigration statistics January to March 2015, UNHCR Global Trends report 2014.
Post updated 3 August 2015