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Why the government's current asylum policy won't work

The government's latest methods for trying to improve the asylum situation in the UK are likely to be as unsuccessful as similar policies were in Germany, argues an LSE academic in a new book out 20 March.

Dr Liza Schuster is TH Marshall Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). In The Use and Abuse of Political Asylum in Britain and Germany, she compares German and British policy and practice - and argues that the UK is adopting German practices in spite of their negative impact. Dr Schuster argues that states such as Britain and Germany have made the granting of asylum a defining feature of what it means to be a liberal democracy, and so will continue to grant asylum, while looking for ways to reduce the costs entailed.

Dr Schuster said: 'They are seeking to admit only the minimum number of 'genuine refugees' necessary to sustain their claim to be liberal democracies with little or no interest in protecting people in need. International instruments such as the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, designed to protect individuals from the overweaning power of the state, are resented and ways sought to evade the responsibilities they impose.

'For example, as the annual number of asylum seekers in the UK passes the 100,000 figure, the government is intent on reducing the numbers - irrespective of how many of those people actually need protection. Clearly Mr Blunkett fails to understand the purpose of asylum if he can state today "The provisional figures for 2002 are deeply unsatisfactory but no surprise, with applications from Iraq and Zimbabwe accounting for nearly all the increase from 2002."

'The government is ignoring the fact that numbers are more responsive to events in countries of origin than to domestic legislation and policies. In 1992, Germany received over 400,000 applications - not because it was generous or liberal but because there was a war in Yugoslavia and because people had friends and family in Germany. Iraqis, Afghanis and others are coming to the UK now for the same reason.

'What current policies do is make life more difficult for those who arrive here, without addressing the real reasons why they come. For example, vouchers, dispersal, accommodation centres and removing people from the labour market have all been tried in Germany. We have seen the consequences of these policies there - isolation and marginalisation culminating in racist attacks - but still Home Secretaries introduce them here.

'What the Home Secretary David Blunkett really needs to focus on are the reasons why people are prepared to tear themselves away from family, friends and familiar surroundings, why they are prepared to endure the humiliation and destitution of the asylum system. And most of all he needs to address the contradictions in the system - such as refusing people the right to work and support themselves, while denying them access to support.'

For more information on the publication, click here|


Contact Dr Liza Schuster, LSE, on 020 7955 7648

The Use and Abuse of Political Asylum in Britain and Germany is published by Frank Cass on 20 March 2003. 0 7146 4606 7 hardback £45.00; 0 7146 8414 7 paperback £18.50

For further information or a review copy contact Amna Whiston, Frank Cass, on 020 8920 2100, email: awhiston@frankcass.com| 

5 March 2003