UK Immigration Policy: Asylum Seeker and Refugee Vulnerability


[A refugee is any person who] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is out-side the country of his [her] nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself [herself] of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

(Article 1 1951 Convention-UNHCR, 2010)

The United Kingdom (UK) is one of the signatories of both the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees; this declaration has not only an explicit but also an implicit understanding that refugees/asylum seekers originate from dangerous and hostile environments. Article 1 above makes this clear, but it is disgraceful to note that for many, if not all, in a UK context this vulnerability is only the start of a difficult path to a safer environment. This is because national immigration policy increasingly considers asylum seekers and refugees to be ‘unwanted’ (Consterdine, 2018). The term ‘vulnerable’ has also recently been used to seek to ‘ ... insidious divisions between the deserving and ... undeserving [asylum seeker and] refugee...' (Smith and Waite, 2019: 2302). In short Smith and Waite argue that the 2014 Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme is part of a neoliberal regime of refugee regulation - essentially the ongoing creation and indeed consolidation of a UK hierarchy of entitlements and rights based upon migrant category (Anderson, 2010).

This neoliberal critic and many of its connotations underpins our argument, although we mainly seek to detail successive governments immigration policy. Introducing into this discussion four North East asylum seeker then refugee first person narratives. Making clear not only how vulnerability arises in a UK context but also how some still do not allow this to diminish their strength of character and community spirit.

To begin with it is appropriate to detail why people have come to the North-East of England:

I am Eritrean and went to the only University in the country (obtained a degree in accountancy) and became a government employee. I am also a Pentecostal Christian and following the Eritrean and Ethiopian war Pentecostal Christians were persecuted. In fact in 1998 the police came to my house and arrested members of my church who were having a bible study and a prayer session. Hundreds of church leaders and thousands of members were imprisoned, tortured and asked to renounce their faith and religion. Many have been killed or died of mistreatment. People are made to sign a document and promise to return to the old Coptic belief or remain in metal containers for the rest of their lives as prisoners. I instead fled the country to claim asylum in the UK.

(Second author - Eritrean)

I was active in the Sudan military from late teens and rose up the ranks to become a General, I witnessed though a brutal and corrupt regime and so left to join rebel forces to seek independence for my people. I was captured and tortured with electrodes forced down fingernails then electrocuted to what I thought was the point of death. I accepted my fate and was ready to die as a relief from torture. The lives of my family were threatened and they may have been killed in revenge for my escape. I managed to escape as part of a group of eight men and walked for 3 days in blistering heat to find refuge in a Catholic Mission. I still though suffer as I get flashbacks; sleep poorly and I return each night to that room as the electrodes are inserted into my fingernails.

(AK General Translated - Sudanese)

I arrived from Czech Republic in 2000 with my family as a 14-year-old as we had faced persecution. We had our house and car vandalised with objects thrown through windows, there was an organized hate campaign against us. My parents were also concerned as education policies were discriminatory towards Roma people, segregating us in special schools for ‘mild mental disabilities’. Roma had been persecution for many centuries. So eventually it was decided to leave.

(Gina - Roma Czech Republic)

So I came to UK because in Iraq every party [political party] had militia that are very violent, I saw many cases. So kidnapping, and militia would come to your house. So they did not like me, as I was a producer, I investigated issues, mainly Middle East corruption.

So they threatened my family, my mother and father and we had to go. My wife and kids and myself. So because of the nature of my work I had visas as I travelled a lot. So we had a multi entry visa to America but when we travelled it was the election of Trump. He banned Iraq so he cancelled our visas randomly so we applied for asylum to UK.

(A.D. - Iraqi)

For us it is clear how each of those quoted can be considered vulnerable as we would argue they each clearly display someone who is ‘... persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion...’. Each then was vulnerable due to either overwhelming aggressive and violent acts or threat of that. Given this we might expect that a UK government would not only provide a ‘safe haven’ but also a long-term solution so that they might begin to safely function again and make a valuable contribution to the UK. However, as we show this is far from the truth.

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