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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Mr Hague is not intolerant of asylum seekers - he's just speaking for the majority when it comes to immigration!
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.
Considering how crowded,
congested, polluted and
overpopulated England is,
do we really need any more
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
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
03 Apr 01 | UK
UK attacked over refugee 'racism'
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