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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Is Britain intolerant of asylum seekers?

Britain has been accused of being racist and intolerant in its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

The report by the Council of Europe's racism commision says that racist attitudes towards refugees are encouraged by xenophobic coverage in the press.

The Council also criticises the government for adopting what it calls increasingly restrictive asylum and immigration laws.

In February, however, the French Ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard, criticised the UK for being seen as a "soft touch" by asylum seekers.

Are British attitudes xenophobic towards asylum seekers and refugees?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Personally, I open my arms to anybody who feels that this country could offer them a better quality of life. I am prepared for my own quality of life to be reduced because I know that it is highly unlikely to drop as low as that of the people who are seeking asylum.
Joolz, UK

England is a wonderful, beautiful country - but, it has limited room and resources; this may not be the "politically correct" thing to say, but immigration must be curtailed - at some point, common sense must take the place of political correctness. Think logically instead of emotionally.
Frank E. Martin, USA

Put this into perspective - asylum seekers are no threat - as in every country, many will do the jobs no native will do, others will bring high levels of skill to shortage areas - nurses, doctors, teachers. The actual percentage requesting asylum is tiny and blown out of all proportion by the media.
Dorothy, UK,

Britain is now one of the most densely populated countries in the Western world, with more people per square mile than France, Germany or Spain and we also have a smaller landmass. We are in fact a small, highly populated island with a heavily burdened welfare state. Our motorways are congested and our countryside that once inspired some of the world's greatest literature is fast disappearing. Does anyone actually care about what happens to the country anymore? Countries like Canada and Australia have far greater resources to offer immigrants. Britain cannot solve problems of overpopulation around the world as we only have so much space ourselves.
Sarah, Dubai/ UK ex-pat


The Tories are promising quick and efficient repatriation of illegal immigrants

Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)
The Tories are promising quick and efficient repatriation of illegal immigrants. Several years ago, a French government decided to play tough and do just the same. They rounded up illegal immigrants, took them to the airport and forced them onto planes that had been chartered by the French authorities. But there was a snag. Some immigrants resisted, and even though some were handcuffed, the pilot had to refuse some passengers because of fear they would cause trouble during the flight. Question is, what would the Tories, or the current Government do in such a case?
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Every person, regardless of age, sex, race, or religious beliefs, has the right to live without fear for their lives. If this means that we accept more immigrants, then so be it. I only hope that if the roles were reversed and we lived in a society where many feared for their lives, due to warfare or political opinions, the general public of other nations would not act the way that we have. It is appalling - no one person is better than another.
Alison, UK

Look for the reasons why people of non-European backgrounds are desperate to get to the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It doesn't matter how badly they will be treated as illegal immigrants in these countries as it doesn't compare to what would happen to them in their homes of origin.
Peter Haslett, Australia

Legitimate asylum seekers should be welcomed into our country, provided they abide by the laws of this country. At an appropriate point, they will then be able to return home. We have no choice in which position on the face of the Earth we are born or what the circumstances will be.
Jim, UK

This is not a question of racism. We simply have to look at practicalities. Somebody has to pay for asylum seekers. Areas such as Dover, where a large number of them have settled, are now feeling the pinch from increased council tax. I wonder whether attitudes would change amongst the more 'liberal minded' people if they were to be fiscally burdened in the same way?
Chris Randall, England


We don't feel defined as a nation and resist most kinds of cultural evolution

Phillip Walton, England
Working as an anthropologist in this country, it is painfully obvious to observe a dual set of nationalistic values. Nationalism is the cohesive ethos which binds a set of people together for one reason or another. Because here in the UK/Britain/England we have a negative definition (ie- we define ourselves by what we are not) we end up disliking anything to which we don't feel akin. Other nations are more secure in their self-images, and don't feel the need to discriminate against immigrants - asylum seekers included. At the end of the day, we don't feel defined as a nation and resist most kinds of cultural evolution. But at the end of the day, we're all human, and if a foreign person wants to come here and aid the economy - let them!
Phillip Walton, England

Yet even more Brit bashing? I was beginning to think we had reached saturation point. I would hardly call the French attitude towards North Africans or the German treatment of "visiting worker" Turks the pinnacle of tolerance.
Caterina, UK

I am truly shocked by the ignorance and bigotry displayed by some of the contributors here. These people clearly have no idea about British immigration law or of the percentage of asylum claims that are actually refused and the meagre support provided to those who are successful. Their self-righteous condemnation of asylum seekers en masse betrays only their own prejudice and lack of education, fuelled by the misinformation promoted by a shameless media. I can only thank God that I have the freedom to choose where I want to live. In view of the narrow-minded bigotry of its inhabitants, I resolutely choose NOT to live in Britain.
Liz, Japan (from UK)

One of the main reasons for immigration into the UK is work. We are currently enjoying the lowest unemployment levels we have had for years and there is a desperate skills shortage. Surely we should encourage people to come here and work which would contribute to the economy rather than create a drain on resources which the present immigration system does. Forcing people into poor accommodation and not allowing them to work is counter-productive and encourages illegal activities.
Joe Cribbin, UK

Here we go - more Brit-bashing! The often-ridiculed trait of the British, namely "reserve" (or "cold", depending on your view) has been a key factor in maintaining a tolerant and peaceful country, despite the pressures that so many different cultures put on society as they press for recognition or special treatment. This tolerant attitude of the British is being stretched, though, by economic migrants sneaking into the country and expecting us to look after them and their families for the rest of their lives. Genuine asylum seekers are welcome, economic migrants who abuse the system are not. It is not fair on our over-stretched NHS, our housing stock, our environment, our own people who may be in need.
K Dodson, England

Given the enthusiasm with which the British people invaded large areas of the globe as economic migrants and settlers its a little hypocritical to criticise others seeking to do the same. After all, the USA itself consists almost entirely of economic migrants, and it was a Tory who advocated getting on a bike to look for work. Which is exactly what econmic migrants are doing. As for the absurd remark that the Government should do the same for our pensioners as for the asylum seekers, how many OAPs would happily accept £35 or so in vouchers?

As for wondering why they come here, perhaps a couple of hundred years' boasting by the British about our sense of fair play and decency and tolerance has actually been believed. There is also the paradox that those people so eager to espouse free market capitalism and globalisation, and who boast about the size of the British economy, (4th in the world by some measures) at the same time argue that we can't afford asylum seekers.
M Bell, UK

Any politician who attempts to address the issues is immediately accused of playing the race card. This applies to all parties. I say look after everyone here, but fast track new applications and only allow in genuine refugees in real danger. We are a soft touch and while we remain so we risk endangering the largely good race relations that we have now.
Barry, England

Amongst these 'hordes of asylum seekers' could be a future architect, an eminent actor, a scientist, or the next famous concert pianist. Immigrants have helped to make this country what it is - let's value them.
Nigel Baldwin, UK


Certain sections of the media love to whip up fear and nationalism

Duncan, UK
The reason we are supposedly swamped by illegal immigrants is that these people do not feel they will get a fair hearing to be accepted as a legal immigrant unless they can claim asylum from an oppressive regime overseas. This is hardly surprising when we have William Hague making speeches that border on racism and xenophobia - to say nothing of his fellow Tory MPs views. In addition certain sections of the media love to whip up fear and nationalism over the most inaccurate stories just to sell a few extra copies of their dubious papers. At the end of the day the social system in this country will not survive without an influx of immigrants throughout Europe in order to pay for the upkeep of a system that is supposed to protect us from the 'cradle to the grave'.
Duncan, UK

Asylum seekers come to the UK for safety and shelter from specific regimes and persecutors, not as a new wave of 'settlers'. It is quite right that we should offer them protection - as it is appropriate that they should return to their own countries when these regimes change and the danger is removed. How many do so?
John Gant, UK

Mr Hague is not intolerant of asylum seekers - he's just speaking for the majority when it comes to immigration!
C. Bell, UK

Here we go again let's bash the Brits. I deal with "incomers" and they are grateful and appreciative. The stories I hear from them about police brutality in France, Belgium and Germany and Poland puts our transitional attitudes to shame.
Martin, UK

Considering how crowded, congested, polluted and overpopulated England is, do we really need any more people? Everywhere I go, I see the countryside being torn up for yet more building work. We have enough social and welfare problems to contend with, without absorbing all the world's political and economic crises. Maybe we should now consider looking after people who have lived in Britain for years (including immigrants) before allowing even more to live here. Look at some of the awful conditions in which people live around the country, and you'll see how much we are failing them.
Rob Holman, England


I feel that it is unfair for the United Kingdom to be singled out in this way

Angela Marshall, England
I feel that it is unfair for the United Kingdom to be singled out in this way. Germany has had a lot of problems with they way that Illegal immigrants have been treated by some of the German people, for example the fire bombing of hostels. When other countries voice their opinions regarding illegal immigrants it is seen as being patriotic and defending their way of life but when the British voice an opinion it is classed as racist.

A lot of illegal immigrants have to travel through our EU partner countries and what should be asked is why don't they ask for asylum in those countries. Is it because they feel that they will be treated better in Britain?
Angela Marshall, England

If the UK is unwelcoming and intolerant - why then do asylum seekers travel across the continent to our shores? Is it desperation or the rewards on offer on arrival? One can be very moral and conservative about the matter but let us not forget the true reality that there are asylum seekers in genuine need and we should accept them, giving them the care and the back up they need as would any civilised country, but that does not mean taking the responsibility off the shoulders of other European countries!
Charles, UK

I have no problem with legal immigrants. most are hard working decent people and put many of our own home-grown lazy "live on benefits" people to shame. However, we have to draw the line somewhere.

I do not mind paying tax to fund our own unemployed people and keep them out of poverty, but I object to me money being given to money chasers from poorer countries. If we can afford to give these people all this money, why can we not afford to let our pensioners have an equal amount. after all, they have worked hard for this country all their lives. Don't forget the rest of Europe is pleased that asylum seekers want to come to England, because it removes the problem from them, and they will make sure that once we have them we won't be able to get rid of them.
Ian Holmes, UK

The difference between Europe and UK is that the UK puts welfare of asylum seekers ahead of the resident population where as the other European countries put their own populations first. Immigrants find it very difficult to use the system here because everyone has to pay first and then claim back. Without a social security number they can't claim back. The UK on the other hand lays on housing, health care, money etc on a plate. Why else do you think these people cross the continent to get to you. Your are too easy.
John, France

Is the U.K. racist? My long experience of other E.U. countries is that the UK is one of the more tolerant nations. Which doesn't mean that there is no racism. Racism will always exist where non-integration, poverty and ignorance are present. The politically correct should not stop the debate over the way forward. Large sections of British inner cities have enormous problems and there should be a realistic debate as to how we absorb these asylum seekers into our society and whether there is an absolute limit to the numbers coming in.
Nigel Williams, Belgium.


We are quick to welcome foreigners with loads of money, we tend to resent them when they are poor

Dave, UK
If we continue to sell arms to oppressive governments and allow them to use our banks for their stolen wealth, then we should be prepared to live with th consequences in the form of asylum seekers. We are quick to welcome foreigners with loads of money, we tend to resent them when they are poor.
Dave, UK

Whereas in the past immigrants into the UK have largely been absorbed into the general population, political correctness now dictates that new entrants maintain their language, customs, dress and look back to their mother country for their heritage. This does nothing to help new arrivals integrate and maintains an artificial multicultural divide, thereby harming their prospects.
Brian W, UK

While people like Norman Tebbit are still allowed to spout their poisonous views to gullible readers, there will always be a simmering degree of racism in that society. Blame on the immigrant group for lack of jobs, lack of money, opportunity etc. can foment dangerous social attitudes. Compare this to the hatred, and subsequent persecution, of Jews in Europe (not just Germany) before in the first half of the 20th century. We do a lot less than other countries in Europe to help those in need. And our media (particularly our 'middle-class' newspapers) are at the centre of the pot-stirring.
Peter H, US (from the UK)

I feel brainwashed by the media and the way we are bombarded 24 hours a day with negative, "sensational" delivery of news on such emotive topics as asylum seekers, or race. There seems to be little or no intelligent debate on any important matters nowadays in this country. As we become less and less well educated and informed, I fear what the future may bring. The media and politicians need to respect the power they have and how they can influence the public mood.
Shirley, UK

The media are not trying to whip up a xenophobic attitude amongst the public. Most reporting appears to be factual and truthful. I am not a racist and I respect all races but you have to face facts. The majority of asylum seekers are bogus, and the majority of them get to stay. Most people I speak to agree that too many foreigners are being given UK citizenship and that this should be reduced. The term 'asylum seeker' is another example of political correctness gone mad.
David, UK

Ask anyone on the continent. The British are the least welcoming or friendly nation in Europe, and not only to refugees or asylum seekers, but even to tourists, thereby damaging our own economy.
Ed, UK


The debate on asylum seekers is far too vindictive

Nick, UK
I think that at present the debate on asylum seekers is far too vindictive. Of course we have to be practical in our approach but surely we can be more compassionate than we are at present. Is being a 'soft touch' such a bad thing?
Nick, UK

Nick UK - yes I have got a problem of us being a soft touch - what about our useless NHS, the terrible state of our public transport, the terrible way we treat our pensioners, the homeless? Yeah - lets be even more of a soft touch there's loads of cash for everyone isn't there?
Fraser, Essex, England

Anybody who claims that asylum seekers have risked life and limb as well as all their savings in order to live off our "wonderful" state welfare is fooling themselves. Firstly, if this was the case surely they would head to Germany. Secondly, these people come here to start a decent working life, willing to do jobs most British would refuse. Should we also kick out all the British people living off the State, who are too lazy to get a proper job?
Robin, Britain

A good friend of mine came to this country as a refugee from Asia. He is now settled, with a good job and pays his way in society. He would like to bring his mother here to look after her, at his expense, at no cost to the taxpayer. His visa application was refused. Had she arrived in the back of a truck at Dover no doubt she would be given a place to stay and benefits while her application was processed. Britain is not intolerant of ethnic diversity, but the powers that be are intolerant of those who try to play fair.
Karl Peters, UK


It is more important to look at why in certain areas there exists this potent xenophobia

Sam Donaldson, Spain
The question "is the UK xenophobic?" is far too general to answer with any degree of accuracy. There is such a marked distinction between different areas of the country in relation to attitudes towards asylum seekers (not to mention other minority groups), that a general comment obscures what truth may be found. I grew up in Dover and in my opinion the town is a hotbed of racism and xenophobia. This could not be said of somewhere such as London, where cultures are so freely mixed that the distinctions no longer matter so much. It is more important to look at why in certain areas there exists this potent xenophobia, and in others there is a practically none. The local economic situation may have more to say than the underlying prejudices of "The Nation".
Sam Donaldson, Spain

Having been a serving member in the armed forces I have been to Bosnia and Kosovo. Upon returning to the UK and leaving the forces after 9 years, I needed some help in finding accommodation only to be offered a bed in a flat with Kosovan refugees. I was told I was not likely to get help as the refugees took priority. Surely charity begins at home and you look after your own.
Steve, Britain


It is not until this generation ceases to have an influence on the young that we will become more open to people from other countries

Robin Mersey, UK
Yes, a majority of British people are xenophobic and I believe that we will continue to be a nation of xenophobes for at least another 20-30 years. Many of the nation's youth are indifferent to foreigners, whereas the more 'mature' individuals envisage Britain independent from the rest of the world, and therefore have an inherent dislike of anything non-British. It is not until this generation ceases to have an influence on the young that we will become more open to people from other countries.
Robin Mersey, UK

The UK is generally NOT xenophobic, but it is the South East of England which lets the rest of the country down. The way Welsh, Scottish, Irish and even people from the North of England are treated down here is abysmal, let alone other countries.
Gareth Brace, UK

Britain has gladly given refuge to genuine political refugees for centuries, but these latest comments from the EU completely ignore the scale and nature of the current problem. A high proportion of today's asylum seekers are economic migrants who see the UK's benefits system as a soft touch. The British asylum system has lurched from being over-generous to being a national embarrassment. And what about Germany's attitude to its large Turkish population? Or France's attitude to its North African immigrants? Is the UK the only nation accused of xenophobia?
Peter Lithgow, UK


People who abuse a facility, at the end of the day, create more of a problem for those who have genuine need

Alistair Hale, England
People who abuse a facility, at the end of the day, create more of a problem for those who have genuine need, whether it be the DSS, immigration, asylum or whatever. To steal from these resources should be regarded in the same light as stealing from charity. What makes it worse, sadly, is the inevitable way prejudice is incited as well. The bigotry of those who tar all asylum seekers with the same brush is bad enough, but dishonest claimants are doing something much worse. If it leads to a racist backlash then the dishonest claimants hold more than a small part of the responsibility.
Alistair Hale, England

Strict controls need to be maintained over people entering the country, not just asylum seekers. The UK is not a lifeboat for all the misplaced people in this world, or a gift horse for people from poorer nations.
Paul, UK

The treatment of the majority of asylum seekers coming to Britain by our sniping press is atrocious. Our tabloids also delight in dragging up the same tired old clichés (amazing that some of these journalists claim to have studied to get where they are!) about WWII and all that bilge about the 1966 World Cup Final. When it comes to football (especially Germany) we treat it like we're still facing Hitler's troops!! Isn't it about time we grew up a bit and booted out the tabloid hacks?
Tim A, England


They are hard on those who obey the law and soft on those who flout it

Tim H, UK
Being a Brit married to a Hungarian, my personal experience of the immigration service is that they are hard on those who obey the law and soft on those who flout it. How many know that in order to marry a foreign national you have to pay £250 for a visa and sign away all rights to any state support including something as basic as child benefit?? Even then you get hassle anytime you re-enter the country. What happens to the illegals? - State handouts and any critics are labelled racists.
Tim H, UK

Britain is tolerant towards asylum seekers and immigrants, but whenever anyone wants to call time on the influx or even prompt a debate they are branded "racist" by the PC brigade who grab the moral high ground. This is a form of subversion in order to stop legitimate debate. People must be allowed their opinions and voice. If the British taxpayer is not given a say then people will become angry and blame the asylum seekers, whereas the villain of the piece are the thought police and those who restrict free speech.
Garry, England

As a Englishman living in Eastern Europe, I see the way immigrants are treated here and I feel that this current round of Brit-bashing and pointing fingers is unfair. Are the British any worse than any other countries? No!! Are we a tolerant people in comparison to the rest of Europe? In my experience we are. Leave us alone. Are we supposed to be perfect or something?
Graeme Higgs, Slovenia


We don't get anything like as many asylum seekers in this country as some other member states get

Paul R, Wales
We are a xenophobic nation, but as some contributors have noted, we don't vote in extreme right-wing parties. However, when comparing attitudes in Britain to those in other European countries, we have to take care. We don't get anything like as many asylum seekers in this country as some other member states get - such as Germany. And some of these countries actually have decent social systems (unlike Britain), meaning that asylum seekers can actually get decent housing and benefits soon after arriving - all at the expense of the tax-payers of that country. So the 'strain' of asylum seekers is much greater for some of our neighbours than it is for us.
Paul R, Wales

On the whole I think that the British people are extremely tolerant to asylum seekers and immigrants. The British people being such a mish-mash of cultures and races helps us to develop tolerance and acceptance. However, I live in Northampton and last year there was a major disturbance between two ethnic groups in the town centre. The question is, are the people who recently came into this country going to bring their own prejudices with them? The answer appears to be yes.
Mark, UK

Yes, in some ways I think we are. However this is not necessarily the fault of the media or the Government, though they should be dealing with applications a lot quicker than they currently are. All the "bogus" seekers who come here not because they are in danger, but are looking to sponge off the system tar the sentiments people might have towards genuine applicants. I have no problem with people who are willing to move country to better themselves by providing skills and knowledge for the benefit of others. Those who merely come to take and not to give (by benefits, begging or crime) earn nothing but vitriol from me.
Mat Allen, UK


Of course the UK is xenophobic

Paul, UK
Of course the UK is xenophobic. One only has to look at the way immigrants and asylum seekers are treated by the Government, press and public alike. We need to realise that the past success and vibrancy of the UK has been built on waves of immigrants throughout history, and if there was any time at which we needed a fresh injection of new blood and ideas, it has to be now. What does stick in the craw, however, is being lectured to by the EU. Most EU member countries routinely show a much higher proportion of votes cast for extreme right-wing parties than the UK, Some even have these extremists in their parliament or government.
Paul, UK

We've sold arms to oppressive regimes but don't connect this with the streams of people trying to leave their homelands. What I don't quite understand is that they want to come to the place that sold arms to their governments!
P, UK

HAGUE is intolerant of asylum seekers, NOT Britain. The current Government has proved much more successful and practical on this issue than any previous Tory government. The truth is the Liberal Democrats seem to be the only party with a logical and coherent position on this issue.
Matt Evans, UK

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