Date: 8 March 2016, 06:38
From: Benjamin Amunwa <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
To: Theresa May MP <email@example.com>;
Subject: Your first annual asylum strategy
I’m writing to you about some plans you are drawing up to try and address the Refugee Crisis.
You plan to introduce a limit on the numbers of people claiming asylum in the UK by using a “compassion quota”. Your strategy, so far, is twofold:
(i) to only resettle the most vulnerable refugees if you cut the numbers of refugees who have made it to the UK “under their own steam”, and
(ii) to offer only temporary protection to the latter category.
The idea that some refugees are worthier than others may work for political purposes. But it is unheard of in refugee law. That’s because there is no distinction in the Refugee Convention between different categories of refugees by reference to the resources at their disposal. The dictator’s daughter is as deserving of international protection as the member of a persecuted rural minority.
Any attempt to establish a hierarchy of vulnerable refugees would be deeply flawed. The whole point of the Refugee Convention, to which the UK subscribes, is to offer the same level of protection to anyone (except, for example, war criminals) who has fled persecution for because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, with a number of exceptions.
Refugees and asylum seekers are more often talked about than listened to. They are easy to stereotype because there is no single spokesperson for their many stories. While your strategy suggests that ‘genuine’ refugees are those who are poor and unable to travel, the reality is more nuanced. Refugees come from all walks of life. They are (or were) business people, surgeons, politicians, students as well as those with more obvious vulnerabilities. The UK is under a duty to offer the same protection to them all and obliged to help all refugees to settle here.
How individuals get to the UK is irrelevant. They have all fled violence and disaster, often without much choice as to the manner and timing of their escape. By splitting the refugee community into two camps based on how they got here, your strategy not only fails to respect international law but undermines basic human values.
You are also ignoring the fact that all asylum seekers may be vulnerable by definition. Many persons who enter the UK illegally, “on their own steam” have endured horrifying journeys. Those asylum seekers you described in your Conservative party conference as “the wealthiest, the luckiest and the strongest” are in fact women and children who may have been coerced, beaten, stabbed, sexually abused or gang raped on their way into the UK via sophisticated criminal networks. Their starved and injured bodies are smuggled under articulated lorries or packed inside suffocating containers for many long hours.
If they do not deserve your compassion, who does?
Meet in the flesh the survivors of such hellish journeys and you might realise that they are far from the athletic and resourceful entrepreneurs that you imagine them to be. They should not be penalised for surviving.
Thanks for reading and all the best putting together your first annual asylum strategy.