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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.