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How Britain’s cruel asylum system deprives refugees

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Some 300 refugees in Glasgow were threatened with eviction last week after ‘failing’ their asylum applications. Tomáš Tengely-Evans explores the grim reality of Britain’s asylum rules
Issue 2615
Protesting in Glasgow last week after 300 refugees were threatened with eviction
Protesting in Glasgow last week after 300 refugees were threatened with eviction (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Refugees fleeing war, poverty and dictatorship face barbed wire, batons and death to make it to safety. But racist immigration rules mean the horror doesn’t end for those who manage to get into Britain.

The process of applying for asylum is deeply racist. It robs asylum seekers of their dignity and security—as the case of 300 “failed” asylum seekers now facing homelessness in Glasgow shows.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in Britain—and are given barely enough money to survive.

People applying for asylum for the first time are given a pitiful £37.75 a month for each person in a household.

And even what they can spend it on is restricted, because the money is loaded onto a special “Aspen” debit card.

Sometimes it’s possible to top up this meagre amount. The Home Office boasts of its generosity, “You’ll get money to buy healthy food if you’re pregnant or a mother of a child under three”.

It amounts to £3 a week if you’re pregnant or have a child aged one to three or £5 a week if you have a baby under 1 year old.

Pregnant women who are due in eight weeks or less and women with babies under six weeks old can apply for a one-off grant.

If you’re a first time asylum seeker its £300—but only £250 if you’ve been refused.


Some 39,132 people were receiving this support, under Section 90 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, in the first four months of 2018. Refused asylum seekers who are appealing decisions have it even worse. They can apply for help under Section 4 of the Act.

But the criteria is much stricter and only 2,890 were receiving it at the beginning of this year. And the money drops to £35.89 a week.

At the same time, asylum seekers have to live in squalid, often unsafe homes. Even MPs on the home affairs select committee had to admit that the accommodation used to house asylum seekers—run by private contractors—is disgraceful.

Hunger for freedom at Yarl’s Wood
Hunger for freedom at Yarl’s Wood
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Vulnerable refugees have described having to live in rodent-infested, damp and mouldy houses, sometimes with doors that don’t even lock properly.

And all the while they have to contend with a long, complicated and bureaucratic process for claiming asylum that’s designed to be difficult and off putting.

While this is going on, asylum seekers have to report weekly at an immigration office or police station.

If they fail to attend a reporting meeting, they can be detained in immigration removal centres.

And that’s just one of the reasons the state can give for locking people up who’ve committed no crime.

Left poor and isolated—refugee Haile tells his story

Haile Ghebre

Haile Ghebre

Since coming to Britain from Eritrea, Haile Ghebre has been locked in a detention centre, slept rough on the streets and been separated from his children.

He arrived in Britain as a 13 year old in 1997 and was placed in the care of his local authority. But he claims that in 2008 the Home Office asked for his documents—and he never got them back.

Haile couldn’t work and was homeless until he was arrested for burglary.

“After my arrest I served all of my sentence in Wandsworth prison, but I was then taken to the Verne detention centre,” Haile told Socialist Worker.

“I remember others like me in detention who would help me to write, but after a while they couldn’t even write.”

Haile lost his right to remain but was allowed to appeal. Now he has to live on a meagre £35.39 a week—and can’t choose which city he lives in.

Instead he was moved to Middlesbrough, some seven hours’ journey away from his children.

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” said Haile. “I’m not allowed to work, I’m not allowed to do anything.

“They have separated me on purpose from my kids. They knew that sending me to Middlesbrough would mean I’d hardly get to see them.”

Haile’s experience is not unique or some sort of aberration. It’s the direct result of the British state’s racist immigration system.

“Everything is made difficult for you by the Home Office,” said Haile. “Sometimes I feel like killing myself.”

Set up to fail by the system

The process of applying for asylum sets up people to fail.

In 2017 some 26,350 people applied for asylum seeker status in Britain, but of those only 5,957 people were granted asylum.

That’s compared to 14,512 people whose applications were refused.

And in the first four months of 2018 the number of refusals had risen to 74 percent from 66 percent in the same period last year.

Mirwais Ahmadazi came at the age of 15 to West Dunbartonshire in Scotland in 2006.

After initially being taken care of by the council, he was recently refused asylum for the second time in 12 years.

He cannot return to his village in Logar Province in Afghanistan because it is a Taliban stronghold.

Mirwais’s older brother was murdered after Mirwais left Afghanistan and he doesn’t know the whereabouts of his family.

Yet the “Home Office say that Afghanistan is safe” Mirwais told Socialist Worker.

And Mirwais explained that Home Office questioning in the asylum process has taken a severe toll on his mental health. “I’ve got psychological problems and had flashbacks from the past,” he said.

“And they constantly ask the same questions about my past.”

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