UK asylum system is broken

“The UK Government talks about a “refugee crisis”, when the real crisis is the lack of support and health emergency experienced by those applying for asylum.” Nadia Kanyange, a parliamentary candidate for the Scottish Green Party who sought refuge in Glasgow from Burundi, voices her thoughts on the UK’s current asylum system.


Dungavel entrance
Nadia Kanyange

It was reported by the investigative journalism website The Ferret last week that 16 asylum seekers died in a six-month period in the UK. The deaths, between September and March, came before the COVID-19 restrictions began, but we know that since then hundreds were moved into inadequate temporary accommodation in Glasgow and elsewhere, with some locked down because of local outbreaks. The three high-profile deaths of asylum seekers in Glasgow since show that there’s a real risk the number could be even higher in the current circumstances.

The UK asylum system is broken. It is institutionally racist and does not treat people with dignity and respect. I myself resisted an attempt by the Home Office to deport me, so I have seen this first hand.

The UK is one of the biggest weapons dealers in the world, making billions from arms trade: why would its Government be surprised with the consequences of the use of those arms? Those who suffer from their use want refuge in a place where they know they will not be used. They deserve protection like everyone else.

From 1993 to 2003 I became an expert at jumping from my bed to the floor, due to sudden gunfire from violence outside. I would put mattresses between two walls to prevent bullets getting through. No one should be going through that, no one asked for it.

The hypocrisy of selling weapons but trying to avoid facing the consequences needs to stop and the government must do right by asylum seekers.

Instead, the UK Government talks about a “refugee crisis”, when the real crisis is the lack of support and health emergency experienced by those applying for asylum. Since March thousands of people have been sent to institutional accommodation like hotels or detention centres in some of the poorest parts of the country with no access to financial support and unable to work.

In this limbo status, it is easy to become fearful for your future and unable to start rebuilding your life. The mental health cost of this appalling policy is huge.

Now the UK Government says it wants to reform Britain’s immigration system to make it even more draconian, with the Home Secretary not only criticising those fleeing war or persecution but also the lawyers who try and uphold their human rights in court.

Attacks on ‘lefty lawyers’ are an attack on the principle of human rights itself.

Sadly, recent events are not a sudden change of heart from the Home Office. For decades the Home Office has detained families at detention centres throughout the UK, including at Dungavel.

The hostile environment policy led to the Windrush scandal and the settled-status scheme threatens to create another catastrophe for EU citizens.

It doesn’t seem to matter what minister or party is in charge. The inhumanity, cruelty and the distortion of evidence carries on regardless.

Scottish Greens believe that dignity, compassion and respect must be at the heart of our institutions. This is why we think the Home Office is institutionally racist and should be scrapped and replaced with something that respects that, values lives and human rights.

With immigration policy reserved at Westminster, and with Labour apparently unwilling to challenge this rhetoric, it is becoming clearer that only through Scotland going its own way can we build something new. It would save lives. We shouldn’t have to wait for another tragedy to take place.

Nadia Kanyange is a parliamentary candidate for the Scottish Green Party.