Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Right-wing lies about asylum seekers

Posts have begun appearing again on Facebook and Twitter in relation to the supposedly great deal provided by UK taxpayers to asylum seekers, particularly in comparison to what pensioners have to live on.

The posts might be a consequence of the wall-to-wall coverage provided by the media to the far-right English political party UKIP ahead of the European Elections on May 22nd.  UKIP scapegoats and blames ‘immigrants’ for the current state of the UK.  In fact, the reason men, women and children in the UK are suffering from savage ‘austerity measures’ is because bankers and financial speculators crashed the economy in their pursuit of ever-greater profits.  The leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, is a former stock-broker in the City of London.

The posts on social media claiming asylum seekers receive more from the state than pensioners are completely untrue.

Of course, that isn’t to say UK pensioners receive a good deal, they certainly don’t – the British state pension is one of the lowest in the world.  The basic state pension is currently £113.00 per week for a single person.  If you are aged over 80 you get a whopping 25p a week extra.  Senior citizens on the basic state pension also qualify for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

In comparison, a single person on Jobseekers Allowance currently receives £72.40 per week, and will also qualify for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, depending on their circumstances.  Pensioners qualify for higher entitlements to HB and CTB than people of working age.

Someone living in the UK as a refugee has, by definition, been afforded refuge by the British State.  In other words, they came to the UK seeking asylum, seeking safety: typically having fled circumstances of torture, rape or illegal imprisonment in their home country.  As someone given the right to remain in the UK, a refugee can work and is entitled to claim state benefits.  A refugee unable to find work would receive the going rate of Jobseekers Allowance - £72.40 per week for a single person, which, as stated above, is £40.60 less than the amount received by a single pensioner.

Asylum seekers are people who have fled their own country, normally in the circumstances described above, and who have sought safety in the UK.  While their claim for asylum is being processed by the British state, asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are not entitled to state benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance or Housing Benefit.  However, at the request of the UK Border Agency, asylum seekers can be provided with accommodation.  They don’t get to choose where they can live and the housing provided is often in extremely poor condition.  Councils who house asylum seekers often put them in ‘hard to let’ properties that other housing applicants refuse to accept. 

An issue almost overlooked in the recent furore over plans to demolish the Red Road flats in Glasgow as part of the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games was the fact that only four of five bocks were to be demolished.  All of the housing is deemed to be no longer of a suitable condition for people to live in, but the block that was to be spared is currently home to asylum seekers.

Financial assistance provided to asylum seekers, while their claim for asylum is being assessed, is provided by the UK Government and falls well below the current rate of state benefits.

If an asylum claim is accepted, the person becomes a refugee and is entitled to remain in the UK, at which point they can work or receive benefit at a rate £40.60 a week below that paid to a single pensioner.  Most people granted asylum in the UK do not claim state benefits.  Many bring with them high levels of skills, such as doctors or teachers.

However, if an asylum application is refused – and the UK has one of the most stringent assessment processes in the world – then the person becomes an ‘illegal immigrant’ subject to arrest by the UK Border Agency.  They are then returned to their country of origin, often by force.

It is a common theme of right-wing newspapers and political parties that the UK is being ‘swamped’ with asylum seekers but, again, that assertion is a lie.

In the last full year for which figures are available, the UK received a total of 24,485 applications for asylum.  Of that figure, just 4,190 asylum seekers were accepted as refugees.  In addition, 2,460 were granted ‘Discretionary Leave to Remain’ in the UK, while 95 people were afforded humanitarian protection.  All of which means that of the original 24,485 applications received from asylum seekers, the UK refused entry to 17,545.  Put another way, 72% of all applications for asylum were rejected by UK officials.

The country that accepts most asylum seekers is Pakistan, but don’t expect to see that reported by Britain’s right-wing newspapers.  Again, for the last full year for which figures are available, Pakistan accepted 1.7 million asylum seekers, which was 100,000 more than every country in the European Union combined.

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