Asylum seeker deaths documented in new report

77 asylum seekers have died in the last four years because of Britain's draconian policies.

A new report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has documented the deaths of 77 asylum seekers in the UK, painting a tragic picture of the human cost of Britain's draconian asylum system.

The deaths, which all took place in the last four years, are attributed to racist asylum and immigration policies. The number is rising, with one asylum seeker death each month.

The report makes bleak reading. Of the deaths, more than a third (28) were suicides following rejected asylum claims. Seven people died after being denied healthcare for "preventable medical problems". Seven more died in police custody, while 15 lost their lives during "highly risky" attempts to enter the country. Seven were killed in racist street attacks, four after deportation to a country where they feared for their safety, two as a result of destitution, and four because they had been forced into dangerous work in the black economy.

One 18-year-old Sudanese man hanged himself in prison after being wrongly told he was to be deported. A Ghanaian woman died after being deported while undergoing treatment for terminal cancer. You can read more detailed case studies here.

In life, asylum seekers are often invisible- - forbidden from working yet sometimes cut off from state support. If their claims are rejected, they can drop out of the system entirely and fall into utter destitution, or be vulnerable to exploitation by organised crime. So, too, in death: the IRR says that the figure of 77 is likely to be an under-estimate due to the difficulty of obtaining figures, particularly for those who work illegally in the so-called "shadow economy", or those who die coming into the UK. Some of the deaths could not be independently verified.

The popular characterisation of asylum seekers as "bogus" has gained currency in the last decade, and politicians have played into the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the mass media. This was evident in the televised leader's debates, when David Cameron repeatedly conflated economic migrants and asylum seekers.

This is the central point: seeking asylum is a basic human right, enshrined in international law. It is wholly distinct from economic migration, whereby people relocate to seek employment. For all the talk of Britain being a "soft touch", claims are frequently wrongly rejected the first time round because of an overly stringent interpretation of the Refugee Convention. A huge proportion of these cases are won on appeal, but for these vulnerable people - often isolated and suffering from post-traumatic stress - the strain can be too much, as the suicide figures in this report show. The introduction of fast-tracked asylum claims and deportations will only compound the existing failure to give people a fair hearing.

Rising unemployment and a shortage of housing have fostered anti-immigrant feeling. But to make asylum seekers -- some of the world's most vulnerable people -- suffer more to appease this rising tide of racism is brutal and unjustified.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.