Is the popular uproar about failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants the last bastion of acceptable racism? I’ve only met one person that was, I later learned, an illegal immigrant and I bet none of the people making political capital from this serious issue would have minded his presence here one bit. He was a white, middle-aged American, fairly well to do with a pleasant personality and he came to work in the UK. He didn’t “sneak” into the country but entered through the normal channels as a visitor on a business visa. He didn’t stay long and was gone within a few months but by working without a work permit he was in breach of his conditions of entry and therefore an illegal immigrant, liable to removal. While he was working here he travelled in and out of the country without once being challenged as to his intentions or reason for entry. On the other hand I know that, a few months later, an Indian national of equivalent social and educational standing and doing a similar job was detained and questioned about his immigration status after taking an internal domestic flight between two UK cities. He had a valid visa and work permit and eventually managed to sort the matter out. But it makes you think. Doesn’t it?
It is arguable that the real victims of illegal immigration and the failure of the system to detect them are the illegal immigrants themselves. Many are forced to take employment on the black market. They often work for pitifully low pay and sometimes in dangerous conditions. Think of the Morcombe Bay cockle pickers. They may have intended to come to the UK as economic migrants but whether they deliberately chose to flout the immigration laws or whether they were conned by unscrupulous trafficers I don’t know – but they didn’t deserve to die. Failures of the immigration system not only enable scroungers to thrive but also allow the vulnerable to be exploited. It may have cost the the Chinese cockle pickers their lives.
Illegal immigrants who try to play the asylum card should be sent home but is our system up to determining the genuine from the bogus? Apparently 20% of failed asylum seekers are granted asylum on appeal. A system that fails one in five people when their lives are at stake is appalling. Over recent years the system has been tightened up to reduce the grounds for appeal. So let’s hope that the genuine asylum seekers who arrive here with no possessions, no money, no means of earning a living, frequently separated from loved ones, often unable to speak English and sometimes traumatised, disorientated and suffering the effects of torture are in a sufficiently robust condition to navigate their way through the legal system and deal with officials whose culture, language and expectations may be completely alien to them.
I read a comment recently that there were too many asylum seekers “and they weren’t even escaping from a war zone”. I presume the implication was that they therefore could not be genuine asylum seekers. I’m not an expert but as I understand it the fear of becoming “collateral damage” either through direct acts of war or because of conflict induced poverty and famine does not necessarily amount to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, without which an asylum claim will fail.
Fortunately for people fleeing war zones the conflict is likely to make the news and even without the help of the Human Rights law, it would create bad publicity and lose votes for any shade of government to be seen sending women and children back to a dangerous, war torn area from which they had just escaped. For people escaping less newsworthy persecution there may be no TV pictures to help them make their case.