What's all the song and dance about asylum seekers?

Mick Brooks answers some of the myths and distortions about asylum seekers and "illegal immigrants" by simply stating what the facts are.

How many of them are there? Last year about 110,000 applied for asylum in Britain. That sounds like a lot. In fact Britain took in less than 2% of the world's refugees last year.

Where are they from? The top three countries most people have fled from are Iraq, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Over the last couple of years Britain has helped in military actions to destabilise Afghanistan and Iraq, causing thousands of civilian deaths. Part of the justification for taking action against Saddam in Iraq was the plight of the Iraqi Kurds. How can we then turn round and argue that Kurds are not entitled to asylum? The Daily Mail is full with hate-filled accusations against so-called 'bogus' asylum seekers from countries such as Zimbabwe. At the same time they publicise the misfortunes of the white farmers there and point to Mugabe as a crazed dictator who is wilfully starving his own people. The Mail is consistent only in supporting policies that help the rich.

Are they scroungers? Immigrants put more in to the country than they take out. In the financial year 1999-2000 they contributed £31.2 billion in taxes and took £28.8 billion in benefits. They should be thanked for that extra £2.5 billion.

Have they got their hands in our pockets? Keeping the refugee system going costs each taxpayer 10p per week. We spend six times as much as that on the monarchy. Asylum seekers only get 70% of the usual income support - itself carefully designed to be a minimum subsistence. A single person would have to make do on about £37 per week.

Are we a soft touch? Most of them don't come here. Nearly three quarters of asylum seekers are taken in by poor countries. For instance Iran and Pakistan both took millions of those fleeing from Afghanistan. Even in the European Union we are twelfth lowest (out of fifteen) in taking refugees in proportion to our population.

They're really economic migrants, not genuine asylum seekers, aren't they? The reader is irresistibly reminded of the line from Monty Python's Life of Brian, "He's not the Son of God, he's a very naughty boy." So does that mean it's OK to crucify him, then? Asylum seekers want to work, but most are not allowed to. And it is the case that, as civil strife winds down in countries such as Angola and former Yugoslavia, the arrival of asylum seekers from those parts disappears.

Our duties. Britain has signed up to the 1951 Refugee Convention. We have a responsibility to give shelter to those 'with a well founded fear of persecution'. End of story.

Government policy. Blair is pushing for what are in fact concentration camps to be set up on the borders of the European Union to receive asylum seekers - well away from Britain. Even some of EU partners find this illiberal and distasteful.

The political background. The children of asylum seekers are to be educated separately from everybody else. David Blunkett explains this is so they won't 'swamp' the schools. Blunkett is deliberately pressing the same button Thatcher pushed when she publicly worried about 'us' being swamped by alien cultures. It is racist code. Thanks, David.

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