Tuesday, December 18, 2007 

165,000 asylum seekers sitting on the wall...

There's nothing quite like some humbug at Christmas. Both the Daily Mail and the Express today serve up some healthy servings of finest apoplexy, garnished with lashings of outrage sauce. It could only be both papers leading on how "165,000" asylum seekers are going to get an "amnesty".

See, that's two layers of bullshit just contained in the front page Mail headline. Before getting fully into it, let's have a look at James Slack's article in finer detail. (Those who read FCC probably find that name familiar: he writes most of the Mail's articles on immigration, and tends to pepper them with distortions.)

As many as 165,000 asylum seekers are to be granted an "amnesty" to live in Britain, it was revealed.

The vast bulk of the migrants are failed refugees whose files were left lying in boxes by bungling Home Office staff.

They have now been living here so long that officials have ruled that it would be a breach of their human rights to kick them out.

As said, we'll get to the 165,000 figure in a minute. Notice already that "the human rights" bogeyman has been brought up. As usual, this has very little to do with the Human Rights Act. Let's turn to the Grauniad for a report not laced with the usual dog-whistles:

More than 19,000 asylum seekers, some of whose cases date back more than 10 years, have finally been told they can stay in the country, the Home Office said last night.

They are among the first tranche of 52,000 cases that have been looked at as part of a Home Office "legacy" drive to clear a backlog of between 400,000 and 450,000 files.

Ah, so the actual figure at the moment is 19,000. It takes three sentences and 66 words before the Mail actually gets to reporting what has happened so far rather than what might happen in the future, whereas the Grauniad article gets straight to the point. Back to the Mail:

Ministers admitted that the first 19,000 have already been granted leave to remain under what the Tories described as a "stealth amnesty".

All will now be free to bring their relatives to Britain - and claim the full range of benefits.

As the Guardian article goes on, all those now given leave to remain, that's leave to remain, not British citizenship, have found themselves in limbo, in some cases for as long as 13 years because of Home Office cock-ups involving the losing of files, files that were found following the foreign prisoner scandal last year. As Polly Toynbee writes, "failed" asylum seekers are given hardly any benefits whatsoever - no housing, no access to schools and if the government has its way, no access to GPs. Most are handed £35 worth of vouchers that can only be spent at one store, with no change given, once a week. This Shelter page outlines the support that failed asylum seekers can claim, and the reality is if you're able-bodied and have no family that you'll receive almost nothing.

It's therefore a nonsense that this is any sort of amnesty. If it was, then all those who have been in limbo for however many years thanks to the original losing or forgetting of their files would have given blanket leave to remain. On the contrary, of the 52,000 of the files processed so far, 33,000 have either resulted in the deportation of the original applicant or have been found to be duplicates or riddled with mistakes. It takes 414 words before the Mail gets to admitting this.

How then has the Mail reached this magic number of 165,000? It's taken the percentage so far granted leave to remain from the initial cleared backlog and applied it to the most pessimistic estimate of how many files there are to work through. This is a ridiculous way to predict the numbers likely to allowed to stay: all it does create a handy figure for those opposed to asylum in the first place to bandy about which creates a completely false impression of the current scale of asylum, numbers of which have been dropping now for years, with the government getting ever harsher and more punitive, leading to genuine refugees like Jahongir Sidikov being refused permission to stay. This latest fiasco will do nothing to help the situation. Even if 165,000 were given leave to remain, that's still around 35,000 less than those traveling here every year from the A8 EU ascension states, and also a similar number less than those emigrating every year (PDF).

As it is, commentators like the ubiquitous "Sir" Andrew Green have no idea how many of those in these files have been refused asylum and how many were lost inside the system - seeing as 16,000 have been deported, that would suggest those were the ones already refused, with the others likely to have either been lost or been inside the system so long that it would be unfair and perverse to deport them now granted leave to remain. The cost of deporting them is astronomical, despite all the demands for them to be frog-marched on to planes, as if it was that easy. Far better that they become taxpayers and contribute to the actual economy rather than the hidden one. Claiming that they're now free to bring their families here is also wholly disingenuous: those that didn't in the first place either tend to not have any or were the only ones threatened. Believe it or not, those already settled aren't likely to up sticks just because a relative has finally been officially recognised. Also, as the number of illegal immigrants working in the security industry has showed, there's a shadow economy where cash is in hand and anything goes, while also making clear that the vast majority of migrants tend not to be "spongers". The policy ought to be to regularise them and reimburse the taxpayer rather than spending yet more money deporting them.

Slack and the Mail though have identified the real culprit:

The major reason why so many of the claims will be approved is the Human Rights Act.

Those who have been in the country for many years can claim it is now their home and they no longer have links to their homeland.

The legislation, passed by Labour, also prevents the removal of asylum seekers to countries where they could face torture or persecution, which is likely to apply to thousands of cases in the backlog.

A Home Office document on how the scheme - known as the Legacy Exercise by the department - will operate says "each case will be evaluated on its individual merits, with an assessment of any human rights factors that may be relevant".

Of course the Home Office document says that - just as every government department now has to take into consideration the HRA. The Mail is referring to the considerations that have to be taken under Article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life. This doesn't affect those that have no dependents or who are on their own, which already rules out plenty of single asylum seekers. As for the protection against torture or persecution, this doesn't seem to both worth the paper it's written on when deportations to countries such as Uzbekistan, the Congo, Sudan and Iraq are going on. In any case, the government would have had to taken both factors into consideration prior to the HRA as they are in the European Convention of Human Rights, which I've got tired of saying is what the HRA is based on. All the HRA has done is brought it into British law, whereas those previously had to go to Strasbourg to get their appeal heard. As ever, the HRA becomes the handy whipping boy.

Also, to clear up one of the misconceptions prevalent in the Mail's comments, those being allowed to stay are not being given British citizenship and so cannot vote until they apply, for which you now have to jump through numerous numbers of hoops in order to obtain. It, amazingly, isn't all a conspiracy designed to keep Labour forever in power on the back of immigrant and asylum seeker votes.

Indicative of the comments, with one or two slight exceptions, is this:

Isn't it against OUR human rights to have people in this country using our services when they have not paid for them? Isn't it against OUR human rights for OUR children to be in classes with pupils who cannot speak English, so the teacher’s time is wasted by these incomers? Isn't it against OUR human rights that immigrants get housing which is badly needed by English couples? Isn't it against OUR human rights that our Island is now so crowded with people who neither care nor want to be part of our country, yet want all the benefits? I could go on and on but what's the point. This government doesn't care about OUR human rights.

- Jan, London,England

Where on earth do you even start?

The reality on the ground is that there are two choices: either we continue to try to deport all those who are failed asylum seekers and/or illegal immigrants, the numbers of which could be anything up to around 600,000 or more, which has huge costs and which at the current rate will take decades, or we can implement the kind of selective policy that has been introduced here. An actual amnesty is attractive, but the lessons from Spain and Italy, both of which have previously implemented amnesties, is that it does little more encourage more migrants to come, waiting for the next "amnesty" to come along. There needs to be a carrot and stick approach, involving a very juicy carrot and a great big stick: either you become "legal", or well, you can get out. Afterwards, the points system currently planned, for all its faults, is probably the best option, with those with needed skills allowed to come. We certainly continue to need immigration, and if anything will need it more as our "indigenous" population ages. Those so furious in the Mail's comments would soon be gasping for the immigrants to return when the crops rot in the fields, the pensions of their children become worthless and the NHS withers. Then again, with some in those comments calling for a coup, perhaps that sort of thing is innately attractive.

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