Britain Is Great With Refugees

Lee Jenkins December 30, 2013 2
Britain Is Great With Refugees

The law, the facts, and our history make a compelling case for accepting refugees.

Following a somewhat confused and contradictory flurry of UKIP positions on Syrian refugees, Facebook and Twitter descended into their time-tested pattern of sweeping statements and tribalism. But what does the law say on refugees, and how has Britain treated refugees in the past?

The Law

Britain has signed and ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as the subsequent 1967 Protocol. Article 1 of the convention states:

‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’

An ‘asylum seeker’ is thus someone who has applied for asylum and is waiting for a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee. In other words, in the UK an asylum seeker is someone who has asked the Government for refugee status and is waiting to hear the outcome of their application.

In Britain the UNHCR provides guidance on refugee and asylum law and policy to many agencies, including the government, legal practitioners and NGOs. It can intervene in court proceedings, which are precedent-setting for the international protection of refugees.

In 1999, the EU Member States to create a Common European Asylum System to tackle the increasing asylum challenges at the European level. The Dublin Regulation determines which Member State is responsible for examining an individual asylum application. The Reception Conditions Directive sets out the minimum conditions for the reception of asylum-seekers, including housing, education and health. The Asylum Procedures Directive lays out minimum standards for asylum procedures, making an important contribution to international law as this issue is originally not regulated by the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Qualification Directive introduces the form of subsidiary protection, complementing the 1951 Refugee Convention, to be granted to people facing risks of serious harm. The EU has also set up a European Refugee Fund to provide financial support to the Member States to allow their asylum systems to work efficiently. Eurodac, a community-wide information technology system has been launched to compare fingerprints and to determine whether an asylum-seeker has already lodged an asylum claim in another Member State.

The Facts

With an estimated 70,400 asylum applications, the United States of America was the largest recipient of new asylum claims in 2012, accounting for 8% of all individual applications worldwide. Germany was second with 64,500 asylum applications, followed by South Africa (61,500), France (55,100), and Sweden (43,900). By comparison, the UK received 23,499 new applications for asylum in the year ending June 2013. Full report here.

Refugees make up just 0.27 percent of the UK population.

The majority of asylum seekers do not have the right to work in the Britain and so must rely on state support. Housing is provided, but asylum seekers cannot choose where it is, and it is often ‘hard to let’ properties which Council tenants do not want to live in. Cash support is available, and is currently set at £36.62 per person, per week, which makes it £5.23 a day for food, sanitation and clothing.

 History of sanctuary

Refugees are not new to Britain, even if the hysteria is. Below are some highlights we should all be proud of.

-Dutch and Walloon Calvinists arrived in force in Elizabethan England – there were over 15,000 foreign Protestants in the country in the 1590s

Huguenots from France in the 17th century. Such a flood of these new immigrants was washed onto British shores in the 1680s that a new word came into the English language at the time to describe them: ‘rés ‘ or refugees. Forty or fifty thousand crossed the Channel while Louis XIV sat on the French throne (1660-1714)

-In 1937 during the Spanish civil war, a group of almost 4,000 children was evacuated from Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain and given refuge in Britain.

The Kindertransport was a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig.

-23,000 Kenyan Asians left Africa for Britain between 1965-7 following the harsh ‘Africanisation’ policies of Kenyatta.

-In 1972 Britain agreed to resettle 28,600 of the 80,000 expelled by President Idi Amin

-Between 1974 and 1979 around 3,000 Chileans were granted asylum following the coup by General Pinochet.

-After the Vietnam War, the UK accepted two quotas of Vietnamese refugees numbering 11,450, mostly from camps in Hong Kong. A further 3,150 came as a result of rescues at sea and 3,850 as part of a family reunion programme

-There are an estimated 75,000 Iranians living in the UK from a wide range of backgrounds. The vast majority came to Britain following the 1979 Revolution.

-During the 1980s Britain granted asylum to Kurds fleeing Turkish rule, Tamils from Sri Lanka’s civil war, as well as Eastern Europeans from the Warsaw Bloc nations.

-74,000 Congolese applied for asylum in Europe between 1990-4. Britain received almost a quarter of the DRC applications in Western Europe.

-In 1993, the UNHCR reported that Britain had accepted 4,400 asylum applicants from the former Yugoslavia, which was significantly fewer than most other European countries (Germany had accepted 250,000).

It’s easy to be selfish when you live in relative comfort and safety. It is not unreasonable therefore to offer respite to those who weren’t lucky enough to be born on this particular rock.

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