|You are in: Talking Point|
Friday, 14 September, 2001, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Asylum: What should rich countries do?
Select a link below to watch the latest edition of Talking Point On Air:
Scores of would-be asylum seekers are being caught every day making almost suicidal attempts to get to Britain from France.
At the other end of the world, 433 mainly Afghan refugees are now sailing towards Papua New Guinea after Australia refused to let them land.
Huge numbers of people are now being driven by wars, persecution, want and despair to risk their lives to reach the developed world.
Rich nations say the numbers are so large they threaten to overwhelm them. They stress the need for controlled immigration.
But refugee advocates say developed nations are simply trying to make their countries as unappealing as possible to those seeking asylum.
Can't let them all in, can't keep them all out. Where does the balance lie? What should developed countries do?
We discussed this issue LIVE in our Talking Point phone-in programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and on BBC News Online. You can use the form at the bottom of the page to add to the debate.
W Lee, Southend-on-Sea, UK
It's interesting the extent to which people assume that asylum seekers are a permanent drain on the nation's resources, and will never contribute economically. This may be true in the case of certain immigrant families, but most genuine refugees actually do have some self respect and don't want to live on handouts. It is perhaps more comfortable to point the finger at immigrants than to recognise that the Thatcher era has left a legacy of native British people who have no ambition to work.
Those who have homes, luxurious and stable lives cannot realise the miseries and misfortunes of those who are compelled to leave their homes and lands by use of force. Hence the whole world must sympathise with the asylum seekers and all refugees. I'm sure that the industrial countries can solve the problem of the worldwide dilemma of the miserable refugees.
Peter Stanyer, Manchester, England
I think that we need to stop the accusations of racism against people who speak out against the influx of immigrants to the West. I don't think term this is helpful for the debate. We should accept that the genuine hospitality and acceptance found by immigrants to the UK over centuries is being stretched. I think that this has a great deal to do with the failure of immigrant communities to integrate. Nobody wants to see immigrant ghettos in the UK. All efforts must be made to integrate new arrivals into the British culture. Anything less will lead to long-term social tensions.
Shouldn't more be done at the sources of the problems in these countries where the 'refugees' are supposedly being
persecuted. That would then remove any ambiguity over who
should be let into a particular country. Frankly, it is too easy
to play the system!
Easy, rectify global economic inequality by ensuring free and fair trade for all nations.
Sophie, Edinburgh, Scotland
How can anyone say that the country has the resources to deal with more "Asylum" seekers? At the moment, the UK has a bursting-at-the- seams health and education service. Let's get the country sorted before thinking about anything else.
We call them bogus asylum seekers who are really economic migrants, but surely the that is both the problem and the solution. Perhaps we need these people, perhaps they just want work and income, perhaps they don't want to abandon their own countries, but spend a few years building up a nest egg - the only way they can come to the west is by emigrating! Let's turn the problem into a solution. Offer fast track work permits for those that request them, make it so that they are more, rather than less, likely to succeed. Have them limited to two years, renewable in their home country.
We take away the stigma of running away, we benefit the local economy, we take away the criminality. What's more, they get to see the UK, if they can't get work, they can go home (without the stigma of having run away) - or not return after their two years are up.
That separates the economic migrants from the asylum seekers who can then be dealt with in smaller numbers, more humanely and in a manner we presume to deal with all.
It would appear that the Australian judiciary is as mad as its UK counterpart - do these guys wish to commit cultural suicide? Either the judiciary in our countries has been overrun with those of a left wing ideology or there is something seriously wrong with national and international law. Circumstances have changed - we are no longer dealing with a few poor persecuted souls seeking asylum, but with whole population movements. National and international law must be reformed to reflect this new reality.
First we have a dilemma: impose sanctions and you have hordes of people fleeing the country. Then you have hypocrisy: try to topple a government and you are accused of interfering with that country's sovereignty - even if the government is an oppressive one. Unless a clear line is drawn between sanctions/toppling of an oppressive government, the refugee crisis is only going to grow much to the consternation of countries that are targeted by the refugees.
The rich countries, by our exploitation of the poor, have largely created the problem of 'economic migration'. We have no right to dodge the consequences. The only long-term solution is to stop enslaving the developing world through debt, and a system of world trade that is free for the rich, and highly restrictive for the poor.
We have an absolute irrefutable responsibility to help these people. I live in Texas and we have many people risking much to come across the Rio Grande. These people come across to work and then send money back across to their families. We were all refugees once; we should not turn our back on anyone.
Phil Davies, Evesham, UK
I think that we need to stop the accusations of racism against people who speak out against the influx of immigrants to the West. I don't think a term like this is helpful for the debate.
In recent months the refugee debate seems to have mirrored the Jew debate in Hitler's Germany. These people are fleeing from the most atrocious conditions. Would anyone in the West really trade positions with them? We should feel proud that they decide to come to our countries as this reflects our freedoms and privileges.
Alina, New York, USA
In Europe, the EU should administer the refugees and decide to which country they should be sent. If they do not wish to go there then they should be returned to their native country. The prospect of living in a country that is not what they expect may stop the economic migrants from attempting to migrate.
Why should mainland Europe use the UK as a final destination dump for these people? Tragic though their lives may be for a small minority who may qualify for asylum, the vast majority are just capitalising on our being British. I wonder what would happen if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, I wager if I decided to go to one of these countries claiming asylum I wouldn't be fed, watered and housed to the standard here in England. Wake up, let's look to our own first then worry about the outside world.
Alex Cutelli, Gloucester, UK
I live in Brighton, which has a relatively high number of asylum seekers brought to it to be resettled or to live whilst their cases are reviewed. Yes, I agree we need to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. However, I do not feel that these people should be put into the better housing available in the area with brand new furniture as well as food vouchers which they are often seen spending in places like Marks and Spencer and Waitrose, not Asda and Sainsbury's. Prime Minister Howard was right, we can let some in but when do we finally say "enough?"
A lot of people say these economic migrants should stay at home and not try and come and partake in the 'wealth' of the Western countries. A lot of the 'wealth' of these countries was created by leeching off the lives and livelihood of people in Africa, India and other parts of the world.
Karen B-S, Oxfordshire, UK
The populations of most countries are made up of immigrants and refugees, the United States being the most obvious example. History has not ended and the populations of countries will not remain static. Aside from those fleeing genuine political or social problems, people will not simply sit on one side a wall when the other promises untold riches. The challenge is not to allow issues of identity and culture of social standing to ferment and thus become another South Africa.
To solve the asylum question, we should not ask ourselves what to do with the asylum seekers, but why they are seeking asylum in the fist place.
Santosh Bhat, Melbourne, Australia
I am not trying to knock refugees, a lot of them really are genuinely persecuted in their own countries, but as some of your readers have pointed out why do we not stop sanctions against those countries and create an environment that doesn't create mass asylum? Everyone deserves a better life but what of those of us who have dreams of working and living abroad? It seems that unless you are either really poor or incredibly wealthy you will never realise those dreams.
Houston (as well as several other bordering cities in Texas) serves as the front door to illegal immigrants to the US. (These are what I call economic refugees). I've seen the Mexican immigrant population continually increase without decline for decades. I also see at least 10-30 Mexican workers lined up at the corner gas station looking for work every morning. I personally have nothing against these people and fully support economic assistance programmes to Mexico but I do not understand why citizenship serves as a last resort. Shouldn't you at least know the language or nat'l bird before you take my job?
Diane Cavallero, Antwerp, Belgium
As the UN seems to be hopelessly compromised
by factional agendas and seems incapable of dealing
effectively with the refugee problem, perhaps it's time
for Western style democracies to hold a conference
on the issue. Money and expertise could be focused
on the socio/ economic reasons for population shift.
I think that Western world has to stop economic sanctions on Iraq and Afghanistan. If people have money and a job they will never leave their country.
I agree that countries like the UK should accept refugees redistributed from Pakistan by the UN. Money cannot necessarily solve political problems in Afghanistan, so we have to help the people who are suffering.
I think no matter how much we discuss about this, it is up to officials to tighten the rules so that only genuine asylum seekers are helped out. There should be more pressure groups to ensure this happens. There is nothing wrong with helping people in need but it should be done in such a way that it is not misused.
Provide identity smart cards for everyone.
Let those enter the community who can prove to be of worth to the community.
Remember the exodus from Cuba to the USA?
Castro released criminals from jails to get rid of them from "his country".
Tom Adlam, Harare, Zimbabwe
Seems to me we're attacking the wrong target. I'm much more concerned by the British economic migrants who take the education, health and social security benefits of growing up in the UK, and then disappear to countries like Australia and Canada. Perhaps if they paid back some of these benefits we could house and clothe the asylum seekers who after all are looking to make a contribution to our society.
This situation is becoming very dangerous. The international community must act fast and do something immediately to stop this illegal human trading. The travel agencies and the middle-men who profit from this illegal trade must be punished.
Keith, Midwest, USA
The UK Government needs to screen applicants very thoroughly. It appears that some people who are claiming "political refugee" status are in fact "economic refugees". Also, how is it possible that so many people can slip through the bureaucracy and live in Britain undetected? Surely, a system can be put in place where "unregistered" people can be detected at medical facilities, local councils, places of employment, etc.
What gives people who force their way into Australia (or the UK) by boat or Chunnel the privilege of faster entry than those who comply with the law and go through accepted immigration procedures? What makes them more deserving of asylum than the millions camped on the Afghan-Pakistan and Afghan-Iran borders? Nothing. To say otherwise is to spit in the faces of those hundreds of thousands of decent people all over the world patiently going through immigration assessments.
Jo Hannah Harriet Hood, Adelaide, Australia
UK citizens undoubtedly have a moral responsibility to provide help to suffering peoples around the world. But we also have a right to legitimate self-interest. To pursue the latter, we have a right to maintain the stability of our population, by exercising immigration controls that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or race. To abandon border controls risks horrendous instability for any country. I say we vastly increase our overseas aid budget, and preserve asylum only for those who face real threats of torture or death. We want to help these people, but not in a way that threatens to undermine our own country, through the chaos of limitless population growth.
Two of the poorest countries in the world, Pakistan and Iran, are now 'accommodating' more refugees than any of the European nations. Though these PEOPLE (I think the statistics and semantics used by certain sections of society sometimes belie the fact that they are actually human beings) are an immense drain on paltry resources, every effort is made to not turn anyone away.
Australia the lucky country? Lucky for us, we are not victims of war or persecution, with our lack of compassion for refugees. Do we forget they would like to live in their own country but have little choice but to seek refuge in another? I couldn't begin to understand the depth of fear and deprivation they feel, nowhere to go, no-one who cares, lost in a void we call humanity.
Everyone has problems. Most refugees simply wish a better life than what they were born to. Oh well, not my problem.
I can't imagine my country being in a bad way and leaving it. I would have to stay here and do everything I possibly could to help make things better. I don't believe in running away from my problems.
I really feel for these people. They want to come to the UK to make a new life - to get a break. They seem desperate to reach the UK which indicates to me that they want to settle and work hard. As a Brit, I say give these people the break they strive for. They will contribute to the cultural and economic richness of the UK.
I had to wait almost 3 months and supply my entire life history to the Australian High Commission when I applied for a 12 month working holiday visa. If the UK was as strict on immigration as the Australian Government then perhaps we would not be facing the current problem that we have in the UK with asylum seekers.
As far as America is concerned, unless you are Native American or your ancestors were brought to the US through slavery, at some point along the line someone gave your ancestors a chance to forge a life for themselves in this country. In my own case, ALL of my great-grandparents came from different European countries to seek asylum here. It is hypocritical and an insult to their memories to deny that opportunity now to others. Also, in many cases, it is at least partly because of the hundreds of years of empire building by today's "richer" nations that many of the nations these people are coming from are unable to support them now. I say let them in.
There are many islands in the world. Why can't the UN get together and fix up some of them and let the refugees settle in peace with their own people and build their own nation?
David Glynn, UK
If they want help they should help themselves by staying in their own country and getting that right! The richer countries throughout the world should help but not take them to their lands.
Some people seem to get the ideas of immigration and asylum seekers confused. People cannot legally just decide to go from a poor country to a richer one just because they want a better standard of life; most western countries will not allow this so they enter illegally. Asylum seekers gain entry because their life is in danger if they stay in their native country. Just letting people into richer countries because they want a better life (especially the skilled ones) will do nothing to help the people left behind and in fact makes the problem worse. We cannot simply relocate all of the poor from developing countries to richer countries.
And to Leila in Tehran, Iran may take in a great deal of refugees but a vast number of asylum seekers/refugees in Britain are from Iran or Iranian Kurdistan.
Australia cannot keep accepting more people. If we let one group in, more come, and we only have so much room and resources, as most of Australia is unliveable. And it is different if they are refugees - not asylum seekers jumping the queue. And the fact that everyone expected us to take them means we've been too soft. We are not racist; but we are protective of our culture. We are the 2nd most multicultural country, and not racist; but we can't take everybody.
The actions required by the rich countries of the world are: invest and move production to the poorer countries. Pay the going rate for the job and ensure working conditions are humane. The actions required of the recipient countries are: ensure that the nation benefits from the new found wealth, stamp out corruption and refrain from spending the new found wealth feeding the rich arms dealers.
There would be no "immigrant" problem if we adopted the Brandt Plan. If we trade fairly and equitably with these countries, if we allow prosperity to develop across a wide spread of the population as opposed to an elite; we plant the seeds for long-term financial stability in that country. We lessen the need for economic migrants, we lessen the need for farmers to turn away from cash crops to drug crops, we lessen the chance of internal strife, despair and the ensuing totalitarian states which just exacerbate the situation.
Andrea, Mexico City
To Samson (Bangladesh)
I am sure all of us here in the UK are grateful for the contribution your country made during the war. But you've got to ask yourself would Hitler have stopped once he had finished with Europe, would the Japanese have stopped once they had their fill. I think not.
Simply put we all made sacrifices during the war and as such does not entitle anyone to come to our shores looking for a "new" life. Honest refugees I can accept, as a "rich" western nation we should help those who have been ravaged by war etc. but economic asylum seekers would do better to stay at home and try to get their country out of the third/second world and up with the rest of us.
Once that has happened watch those countries suddenly decide that they cannot cope with asylum seekers.
What troubles me about accepting "hundreds of thousands" of immigrants, is the prospect of living next to a ghetto of people with an alien culture. It is somehow threatening to my sense of what it means to be English. Ghettos or communities' of people, should not be encouraged. Integration and assimilation are the keys to harmony. The alternative to this, is to invest heavily (politically and monetarily) in the troubled lands where these people come from, so that they won't want to come here.
There are no short-term solutions to the refugee problem. It is an undeniable fact that the prosperity of the Western world is the most compelling factor for human beings to attempt anything to share that wealth. The only solution is to allocate government budgets to invest now in the development of the countries of origin before the flood gates open. As with regard to Italy, the refugees may be resettled in areas abandoned when the peasants migrated to the cities.
I don't see what makes these people any different from us. Ok, so they come from a different country and culture, but can't we accommodate that. Every one has differences. What does nationality mean anyway? Why can't we all just be world citizens. A lot of people think immigrants cost the country money when in fact a lot of them are very skilled people, and they actually boost the country's economy.
We should be flattered that these people consider our country a nice enough place to come to live, and we should definitely not treat them badly. The way we treat asylum seekers breaches their human rights. The voucher system for example, is so patronising, and pointless. Why give people vouchers that they can only spend at certain shops, which a lot of people don't live near? It takes away any element of choice, and they can't even receive any change for their vouchers.
These are people, and if they want to become British we should let them. It won't crash our economy, we can afford it, it will actually probably improve our country by bringing new people in.
The immigration problem the west faces today is the direct result of colonisation during the past 200 odds years. During this time the European nations exploited the resources and subjugated the people of those lands, and when they left (or were forced out in most case); left in place shattered economies and depleted resources, and left ruthless puppet regimes that subjected their own people to tyranny and poverty in order to safeguard the interests of their colonial puppet masters. As a result political instability and poverty has become the norm throughout the third world.
It is part of human nature to seek safety and the basic necessities of life. With the multi national companies peddling their goods and portraying the western countries and their products as the ultimate elixir for life's woes and troubles, are you surprised that you have thousands of asylum seekers, political or otherwise knocking on your door?
Refugees should be processed in the first safe country they reach, and distributed to other willing countries, including the UK. But otherwise, any arriving here from other safe countries should be sent straight back. As for economic migrants, there should be a clear set of criteria and limited numbers, with those who don't qualify also deported. Perhaps this would enable us to make a better job of helping those who have a genuine need, and rid us of those (however large or small a proportion they may be) who see Britain as a free meal ticket.
The Government needs better arrangements to deport those whose claims are unsuccessful (only 1% of those are currently deported). In the long term an EU-wide system supporting Schengen must be set up so that all EU members agree asylum rules and central funding. All unsuccessful applicants should be deported by the route they came out of the EU, and all successful applicants should initially be placed in the most suitable country for their skills and circumstances, such that member states share the burden equally rather than fighting with each other over the problem, such as is happening with Sangatte.
We are not here to take over your country and steal your resources, nor are we draining your economy, in fact we are making it more efficient. Shame on you all for being selfish, this is planet earth, it doesn't just belong to those with the biggest guns, it belongs to us all, so share and share alike.
Do what the Saudis do. Allow people who are qualified and want to work to come in, but give them no benefits, and give nationals preference for school and hospital places. Do not allow any manifestation of a religion other than our own, and as soon as the person's job comes to an end, put them on a plane, unless another company has employed them. If they commit a crime, put them on a plane. When they retire, put them on a plane. If they try to spread their own religion, put them on trial. That way you get the benefit of foreigners' skills and work, but you don't lose sight of who you are.
Terry Johnson, UK
I have read below the comments of several people who have suggested the introduction of ID cards in the UK. This will be the last straw for racial harmony. I am a British citizen born and bred. I will flatly refuse to accept or display an ID card to the police on principles of racial equality. I would rather be thrown into jail than be stopped on the street simply on the basis of my colour. As a result of the introduction of ID cards, the UK police will inevitably become even more estranged from the ethnic British than they currently are.
What an interesting comment from Matt Walters: "The situation is very bad indeed, take for example Folkestone Road in Dover. I drove down there on Friday and counted the English people! Not many, at all!"
Now how could he know that? I wonder if Mr Walters asked everyone he encountered on the Folkestone Road what their nationality was? Surely he didn't really mean that he drove down there and counted the white people?
Are we to believe that the French are persecuting the "refugees" camped on the Eurotunnel entrance? Of course they are economic migrants. But what are the French doing to make themselves an undesirable destination? - British politicians take note.
A high proportion of migrants to the developed world are running away from economic problems at home, which they should be sorting out. In turn, our development agencies in the 2nd/3rd world should be enabling them find their own home grown solutions to their economic/political distress. It is time for a new approach, which doesn't involve mass economic migration.
Many of my Bangladesh relatives fought (and some died) for the British during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis starved because the country's food was taken (forcibly) to feed the British Army or destroyed to stop the enemy from using it. It is peoples like the Bengalis that have helped Britain win the war and keep its freedom - I'd thought the British would be eager to help the people - help them not resent them.
I feel the rich nations should do everything they can to help the poor nations and those with serious political problems.
They shouldn't be meeting all the time to make policies to ensure that they economies are doing well. If poorer nations are helped to
become better and richer, is this not helping the rich nations in the long run.
When people are wounded, it's time to dress the wounds; but long-term solutions are also needed to address these issues.
It's absurd to think that the so-called "Western World" or "First World Nations" can take in all the refugees of the world. Natural and economic resources are very limited. The USA just like the UK has its own internal problems with poverty and other social ills. Taking in everyone that comes to our shores is not the answer. The UN needs to have a summit on how to assist those developing nations. Is it time that we need a global policing body that deals with "problem spots" the world over? The world community needs to come up with solutions to improve the quality of life in the refugee's nation of origin. Resources are very limited both on the economic and social scales. When there is pressure placed on these resources to the point that they become scare, the quality of life in any given nation goes down and tension is created among the native population.
What surprises me is that so many people are willing to risk their lives to get to the "developed" world in general, but especially the UK in particular, given how badly they are treated on arrival. Crammed into substandard housing in hostile cities, forced to survive without being allowed to work, on pitiful amounts of money in the form of vouchers which may as well have "Please treat me with suspicion" printed on them, and this is if they're lucky enough to avoid the detention camps. Here they CAN work ... for 34p per hour.
Illegal immigration, is becoming a massive threat to our nation. Not just in financial terms but to the extent that I feel the stability of "my" country is threatened. I then see that the French authorities are providing "free" buses to get these people even closer to their target country. I am not, repeat not a racist but I am sick and tired of this country being used as a dumping ground for the human flotsam and jetsam that other European countries chose to ignore.
It is about time the Government, which is elected to serve the people of this country listened to the growing voice which is telling them enough is enough. Maybe it is time for our politicians to look at Australia. I feel they are giving out the right signals...Yes we will accept genuine refugees but do not try and blackmail us or make fools of us by trying to enter our country in this manner.
If asylum seekers are looking to seek greener pastures in different lands then it is my opinion that each asylum seeker should be treated fairly under the existing laws of any land. However many applications should be given a strict understanding that a stay in a new country is temporary. When the personal threat of safety or political unrest of that country passes, then these people must return to their own homeland.
The problems of overcrowding, and lack of housing compromises the quality of life for those who people who have contributed to their own country. This should not be given up easily to others who seek an alternative lifestyle.
Part of the problem is that Britain keeps calling itself "a rich country". This phrase has been used a great deal in recent years in the UK media to describe the increased standard of living enjoyed by many people in Britain. Yes, many people are better off than ever before, but there is still a great deal of poverty and deprivation even in Britain. If Britain keeps calling itself a rich country in the media, it's no wonder so many people want to get there. Britons flout their wealth. Germans and Belgians hide theirs.
British tabloids are read around the world and the Internet is available in the third world as well. This, plus lack of any ability to check people once in the country (no ID cards) and a poor deportation regime for those whose applications are refused, has made Britain into a magnet for the dispossessed of the world.
There is good evidence that most rich countries, including the UK, already have populations exceeding their carrying capacity - that population size that can be sustainably maintained. The rising tide of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants will push their populations even further beyond sustainable limits, and also threaten social cohesion of the native populations. We need at a global and national level to stem the rising tide of migration.
At the same time, rich nations need to take much more seriously their responsibilities to improve conditions in poor countries, and thereby reduce the pressure to emigrate from these countries. Consumption patterns in rich countries is per capita far greater than in poor countries, contributing disproportionately to global environmental deterioration which promotes migration. We need to cancel all debts to poor countries, and devote a far greater proportion of GDP to foreign aid.
In a few years time Europe is going to have a large old-age population. We'll need to attract people to work, otherwise there won't be enough labour to support the system.
Besides that, rich companies are allowed to enjoy globalisation, why not individuals?
Hi-tech identity cards issued to all immigrants accepted for residence. Politicians to be less mealy-mouthed and say just how many immigrants can be absorbed and in what time period.
Disclaimer: The BBC will use as many of your questions as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Other Talking Points:
Links to more Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy