Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Starting to get serious: how we treat asylum seekers It’s fairly routine to come across a report of a working party or an official inquiry that laments certain conditions that were found. Of course, if an investigation or inquiry is set up with busy (and sometimes expensive) people deliberating, we’re not going to be surprised if there proves to be a good reason for it. But occasionally the reality that an inquiry discovers is so disturbing that it deserves wider attention, and should command that attention. Today saw the publication of one example, from the cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people. Former children’s minister Sarah Teather, who chaired the inquiry, said ‘The evidence we have heard is shocking and appalling. It is an affront to this country’s proud tradition of giving sanctuary to those fleeing danger and violence.’ For the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed said: ‘Children and their families are being forced to live in appalling conditions that are unacceptable by anybody’s standards. No child, no matter who they are or where they’re from, should be treated with such a complete lack of human dignity.’ It sounds pretty serious to me. I don’t want to live in a society in which vulnerable families are separated routinely and people are treated like this: ‘The inquiry received evidence documenting reports of eggs thrown at houses, stones thrown at babies and children hounded from school. Evidence details how flats where asylum seekers lived were targeted in arson attacks; in one case a man begged to leave the area after a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of his home. The most extreme form of this violence has been the murder of asylum seekers in cities across the UK.’ Fortunately, the system is not always the end of the line: ‘One woman started to go into labour, did not have a midwife, did not know where the hospital was, and it was only the kindness of strangers in the street that got her to hospital.’ Is that what’s known as big society? It’s hardly contentious to point out that the Tory rhetoric of ‘benefit scroungers’ is at best unhelpful and in practice likely to be a consistent contributory factor here. The report notes that ‘Some segments of the population, including some frontline professionals and statutory agencies, have vastly inaccurate ideas about asylum seekers and the reality of their lives. This has fuelled a hostile reception for many thousands of children and young people, desperate to live in peace and safety.’ (Emphasis added) And as if the evidence were not bad enough, its publication surfaces another distasteful feature of contemporary life – the inevitable trolls who see no reason, hear no reason, and speak no reason; for whom it is easier to dismiss this systematic inhumanity as ‘self-inflicted destitution’ (you can find examples in the comments section here). It’s scary when people are insistently wrong about these issues; when they also seem to take pride in being devoid of any kind of compassion it’s close to terrifying.

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