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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Live chat with immigration expert
Following our programme:
John Tincey of the Immigration Service Union was online to answer your questions on immigration and asylum.
Hello, and welcome to Correspondent's chat with John Tincey of the Immigration Service Union. He's ready to start answering your questions. Here's the first question.
Is the issue of asylum seekers purely a result of the immigration services not being able to cope (which has been hijacked by the politicians and made an election issue) or is there really a problem?
There is really a problem which goes back to the nature of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. This aimed to deal with a lone group of refugees who were already in western Europe having fled countries that had fallen under the occupation of Soviet forces at the end of World War II. The people who drew up that convention carefully limited its application to people who were already refugees due to events which happened before the 1st January 1951. So even when they were drafting the convention it was too late to then become a refugee under that convention. In 1967 another group decided to pass a protocol to the convention which removed that date limit but they did nothing to update it or change it. So we are now working to a 50 year old convention which was aimed only to deal with a specific refugee crisis but is now open for anyone in the world who wishes to claim asylum and the legal processes are simply too complex to deal with the number of people who are making applications.
Richard Salazar Jr:
How could an American seek asylum in the United Kingdom?
Anybody from any country can seek asylum in the United Kingdom simply expressing a fear of being sent back to their own country is enough to start an asylum application and once an application is made the whole process has to be gone through including the right of appeal and challenges under the Human Rights Act. It is unlikely that someone from the United States would be able to justify a claim for asylum given that the 1951 Convention limits the grounds on which asylum applications can be made. But the fact is that anyone can make an application.
Under the Dublin treaty, any asylum seekers have to be deported to the country that they first appeared in. How many have asylum seekers were deported last year, like the Romanians? Do you agree with this system?
I can't give you a figure for the number removed under the Dublin Convention but the numbers sent back to other European countries are much lower than they were before the Dublin Convention came into effect and are certainly only counted in hundreds compared to tens of thousands of people who come to the UK to seek asylum via European countries. The problem with the Dublin Convention is that when it was formulated in the 1980s it was generally assumed that all people who asked for asylum had genuine grounds. The Dublin Convention therefore expects that asylum seekers will volunteer information such as which country they entered first whether they have family in other European countries and that they will hand over tickets and passports. In practise the criminal smugglers who organise the vast majority of asylum applications tell asylum seekers to destroy their tickets and passports and to lie or at least refuse to give information about actually how they got to Britain. So in fact the Dublin Convention has been a total disaster in terms of fighting criminal smuggling and is much worse than the previous arrangements we had with previous European countries.
Do other European countries have the same levels of problems with immigration as the UK? Is it fair to say that Britain is seen as the soft touch for Asylum seekers?
It is difficult to say whether Britain is a soft touch. What is clear is that Britain is the country which asylum seekers want to come to in the largest numbers. Last year Britain had more asylum applications than any other European country... or any western country including the United States. Even if you look at the figures on the basis of the number of asylum applications per head of population, the UK is above all the major countries of the European Union. You also have to remember that most asylum seekers pass through other European countries to get to Britain and in almost all cases they pay extra money to criminal smugglers to bring them across the Channel into Britain. Therefore there is clear evidence that people are prepared to pay extra to seek asylum in Britain rather than in Germany France or Spain.
If a child grows up in the UK, is it possible that they can be deported as an adult if they were born in a different country?
John Tincey: It depends on what the status of the child is and how they came to be in the UK. If their entry was illegal and nothing has been done to regularise their stay with the authorities then it is possible that they could be deported. To a large extent it depends how you classify the term "child", which some groups argue covers people up to the age of 21 years old. If we are talking about a young child, they would not be sent to their home country unless their was an appropriate guardian or parent to receive them.
Are there many cases similar to the one featured in tonight's programme? If someone is wanted for murder in another country, why have they been granted asylum here?
There are not many cases such as this one in my experience. The problem is that there is a difference between accusing someone of murder and them being proved as being a murderer. To actually make the decision to deny someone asylum or to deport them it would be necessary for the Home Office to have solid evidence. There is also however a problem in cases where people have produced such evidence and that is that many other countries practise the death penalty.
Do you think it is right that there are more immigrants in London - the capital of the country, than there are British people? Do you not think that there are too many immigrant is the UK?
Lawyers have been successful in arguing that the UK should not send people to face charges which result in the death penalty. I don't think it is true that there are more immigrants than British people in London. The statistics are that around 24 per cent of the people who live in London are from ethnic minority backgrounds. That of course does not mean that they are not British and many of them may have been born here or have lived here for most of their lives I don't think that you can look at immigrants as a type of person, emigrating or immigrating is something that people do. It does not make them a good person - it does not make them a bad person. You have to look at each individual and treat them on their merits.
Rebecca Oliver: Why do so many asylum seekers come to Britain and not other European countries?
It was the case that until the last couple of years the majority of asylum seekers would go to Germany. Germans have been successful in making it more difficult for people to remain in Germany without authority and they have reached agreements with other governments such as Poland and the Czech Republic to take back asylum seekers who have passed through those countries. Other European countries such as France have found ways to make life as an asylum seeker more difficult and people are choosing to come to Britain because our system is relatively generous compared to those countries. A previous correspondent programme showed a young man in Bangladesh being interviewed by a travel agent who essentially described to him the various prospects available across a range of European countries. Like any other business the smugglers promote the best product for their customers and the product for which they can charge most money. At present the view is that Britain is the best place to come to and that is because what the criminal smugglers are selling to their customers.
How much does the government spend on asylum seekers each year? Do you think that it is right that the government spends so much on asylum seekers? What about British people who are homeless and NHS funding? Shouldn't we be looking after our own first so to speak?
The Government spends in excess of £800 million processing asylum applications and supporting those who are seeking asylum. We don't know what the balance is for those who are granted asylum or remain in the country after their asylum application has been rejected. We have no way of telling whether those people contribute more than they take out of the system. It is true that asylum seekers place a burden on social services and the NHS but I think we should also consider whether the huge amounts of money that we are spending are giving as much help to real refugees as they could. For example, the cost of keeping one healthy male asylum seeker in London during the crisis in Kosovo would have kept 80 children alive in Kosovo itself or in nearby countries. so there is an issue as to whether we are doing all that we really could to help genuine refugees who desperately need our help.
What could the government do to improve the immigration and asylum system? Should more people be recruited to work on the problem? Has enough been invested?
The Home Office has hugely expanded the number of staff working on the asylum problem. But the number of people seeking asylum in Britain has greatly increased over the past two years. The essential problem is that as the programme demonstrated it is extremely difficult to tell whether or not events reports by people claiming asylum did in fact happen. This is a fundamental problem for any asylum system which requires people to actually reach a country like the UK to make their asylum claim. One of the ideas that the Government has put forward is that we should help people who are refugees to make asylum applications in other countries and the advantage of that would be to cut out the activities of the criminal smugglers which is what we need to do to save the asylum system.
That is all we have time for. Thank you to John Tincey for taking the time to answer these questions. And thanks to all of you for sending them in. Sorry if your question didn't get answered - there just wasn't time.
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