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Our vision of a positive alternative: how the asylum system should look in the UK

80% of people in Britain want an asylum system that’s well managed, fair and compassionate*. But that’s far from that we have right now. The current mess isn’t helping anyone – people who have come to the UK hoping to find safety are being forced into abject poverty, banned from working and warehoused in facilities totally unfit for longterm habitation. With no efforts to properly welcome people seeking sanctuary into our communities, the flames of misinformation and fear are fanned by the far right, creating division and hostility which ultimately harm everyone.

We know this isn’t what we want. So what does a positive alternative really look like?

Here’s the story of what we think a well managed, fair and compassionate asylum system could look like through one person’s experience of it:

Amir arrives in the UK after fleeing Taliban persecution in Afghanistan. His legal right to seek asylum in this country is respected and upheld. He is housed in safe short-term accommodation whilst his health, language and other needs are quickly assessed. He is then moved to dignified supported housing within a community where he has fair and easy access to healthcare, education, welfare support and guidance on (re)starting his career. His asylum case is processed quickly, fairly and effectively – as Amir has been positive in his claim for asylum, he is now able to find work and properly begin the process of rebuilding his life. Amir was a maths teacher in Afghanistan. As a result of the support he received after arriving into the UK he has improved his professional standard English and has had his qualifications converted and recognised by UK education bodies allowing him to teach in the UK. Through the connections he has made whilst being part of the community, he finds work as a teacher and is able to put his valuable skills to use. Amir is now able to provide for himself and moves out of the supported housing and into his own flat. As Amir has a wife and child still in Afghanistan, he is able to apply for family reunion and they are able to safely join him in the UK.

This story does not sound remarkable, and nor should it – but right now, hardly anyone seeking sanctuary in the UK would have this experience.

Instead, upon arrival Amir would be detained and housed in a hotel or disused army barracks. Far right protestors camp outside, they shout and threaten Amir. Isolated from the wider community, unable to access good quality food and cut off from educational opportunities, his physical and mental health are seriously harmed. Amir arrived into the UK through a non-authorised route, this is because people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, including those who worked for the British military, currently have no safe and authorised way to travel to the UK to claim asylum. As a result of this, Amir may not even have his asylum case heard at all, instead he could be threatened with removal to Rwanda – a country that the UK’s Supreme Court deemed unsafe. If he is lucky, his asylum case will be heard, but because of the enormous backlog of cases already in the system, he will not receive a decision for months, maybe even years. Whilst Amir waits for this decision, he would be banned from working and would receive little if any educational or employment support. Forced into abject poverty, his mental and physical health would be further harmed. When he does finally receive a positive decision, he would also be soon served with an eviction notice from his accommodation. Now suffering with his mental health, and without secure work or any connections in the wider community, Amir would find himself on the streets and extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

Amir’s case might be fiction, but this is the grim reality of the asylum system as it currently stands. We think it’s time to write a different story.

It’s never before been so important to speak up for this vision. Increasing humanitarian and climate crises mean there will be more people seeking sanctuary – but hostile rhetoric has led to divided communities and a sharp rise in far-right activity. How we treat people seeking sanctuary reflects who we are as a country, and right now we’re at a critical moment. So it’s going to take all of us to change the story.

This is how you can get stuck in today:

1. Speak Up for Sanctuary – this designed to support people who may have little or no previous campaigning experience to recognise their power in making change, to speak up for refugee rights and to supercharge efforts to build welcoming and compassionate communities. Find out more and sign up to the next online session here.

2. Fair Begins Here – get involved with Together With Refugees’ campaign, Fair Begins Here, calling for a fair new plan for refugees.

3. Fight the Anti-Refugee Laws – use Asylum Matters’ General Election resources, use them to call on candidates to defend the right to seek safety.

*Statistics from poll commissioned by Together With Refugees.