MYTH #1: “ASYLUM SEEKERS GET OVERLY GENEROUS HANDOUTS”
REALITY: People seeking asylum are living on £37.75 a week: half of Jobseeker’s Allowance and far below the national poverty line. A mother with one child gets £74 a week which is 47% less than a mother with a child who receives Income Support. The government assessment of “essential living expenses” does not allow for toys for children, assigns only £3 a week for travel and claims that no money is needed to maintain a social life of any kind.
Research found that 40% of asylum seekers struggle to even feed themselves and their children and 88% said they could not afford to buy clothes. In spite of this, support for the children of asylum seekers was cut by 30% by the government in 2015. Refused asylum seekers are left with no recourse to public funds and are made destitute, forced to depend on charity or friends for food, shelter and all other necessities.
MYTH #2: “ASYLUM SEEKERS LIVE IN LUXURY”
REALITY: Asylum seekers are not entitled to council housing. They are housed under the
National Asylum Support Service in often damp, dirty, infested, segregated, hard-to-let properties, run by slum multi-million corporation landlords, concentrated in the poorest areas of the UK. G4S, Serco and Clearel have been given government contracts to provide asylum seekers with housing which is unfit for human habitation. At one point, G4S subcontractor Jomast painted the doors of asylum seekers’ homes red, identifying people and making them more vulnerable to racist attacks.
Rules about women-only housing are often breached, meaning rape survivors can be housed in places where they are forced to share a bathroom with men. A Congolese woman who had survived rape and other torture in the Congo was made to live with her two young sons in a cockroach-infested house with six other families. She described that being housed with men triggered memories of the torture she had suffered. Women also recount how housing managers hold a key to their room and enter without permission, a practice that is illegal and that Women Against Rape labels a “licence to rape.”
Thousands of asylum seekers have been left homeless because of legal aid cuts. When deprived of shelter, women are forced into extremely vulnerable situations and exposed to exploitation, abuse and rape. Thirty-five percent of destitute, homeless women asylum seekers report being sexually assaulted or raped in the UK. “Failed” asylum seekers are liable to being detained. While asylum seekers live way below the poverty line in substandard housing, the government pays private security companies between £511 and £1,344 per week to hold a person in detention.
MYTH #3: “IMMIGRANTS ARE A DRAIN ON THE NHS”
REALITY: A £200 a year “immigration healthcare surcharge” – due to be doubled – is demanded as part of visa applications and from people after they win the right to be in the UK. People seeking asylum, however, can only use the NHS if they apply for and get a certificate through a torturous and discriminatory process. This does not include access to a GP – the gateway to other health services. Even with this certificate, many GPs make it impossible for people seeking asylum to register with their practice.
Racist and hostile receptionists act as gatekeepers who interrogate and screen asylum seekers. A woman who gives birth in the UK without having the right paperwork can be landed with a bill of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of pounds. Laws compelling the NHS to pass patients records to immigration enforcement deter many from accessing the medical care they need. The government has recently had to retract the NHS’s obligation to pass data on the immigration status of patients to the Home Office after fierce opposition to the policy.
18% of the NHS workforce is made up of migrants and the UK saves billions by employing people who were trained abroad. For example, $2.7 billion is saved employing NHS staff from nine African countries alone. In the words of the Office for Budget Responsibility, without migrant health workers, the NHS would be in “dire straits.” In addition, at least 18% of the social care workforce is made up of migrants. Medically-trained asylum seekers are deprived of the right to work in the UK and are threatened with deportation while new hospital staff continue to be recruited from abroad.
MYTH #4: “MOST ASYLUM SEEKERS ARE BOGUS”
REALITY: Claiming asylum in the UK is very difficult. People fleeing persecution, rape and other torture must navigate a hostile, discriminatory and deliberately confusing system. LGBT asylum seekers and women who report rape are routinely disbelieved and their cases refused. Asylum case workers are pressured to devote more time to more profitable visa applications, resulting in poor decisions and purposely long delays in processing asylum applications.
So just because someone is turned down doesn’t mean they are “bogus”. Home Office decisions were condemned by 24 prestigious lawyers as “poor in many cases.” Almost 50% of Home Office refusals are overturned when taken to court appeal. But legal aid cuts have made lodging an appeal almost impossible. There is evidence that the Home Office may have wrongly deported hundreds of asylum seekers to Albania, including lesbian women, gay men, victims of trafficking and survivors of domestic violence.
MYTH #5: “BRITAIN IS A SOFT TOUCH”
REALITY: The government has ramped up deportations and the now discredited “hostile environment” for the Windrush generation and other immigrants and asylum seekers. Laws forcing employers, landlords, health care professionals and even schools to check immigration status and pass information to immigration enforcement, have increased racism and other discrimination and caused rifts and suspicions.
The UK has one of the largest networks of immigration detention centres in Europe and is the only European country that has no time limit on how long people can be detained. Over 30,000 people are detained each year from anything between a week and three years. In the last ten years there have been 2,798 attempted suicides in immigration detention. Six immigration detainees died in 2017.
Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape documented rape, sexual intimidation and abuse by male guards against women detainees in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre that went on unchecked for decades. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women was denied access to inspect the conditions at Yarl’s Wood.
Violence from guards during deportations is common. Women have been sat on, injured and dragged naked. In 2010, Jimmy Mubenga was killed due to the ‘excessive use of restraints’ by G4S guards who were nevertheless acquitted of his manslaughter.
MYTH #6: “IMMIGRANTS STEAL OUR JOBS AND PUSH DOWN WAGES”
REALITY: Asylum seekers are denied the right to work. If people have been waiting for more than 12 months for a decision in their claim they can apply for permission to work but can only take jobs on the “shortage occupation list”.
Research from 2016 found that immigration from the EU has not increased unemployment among people born in the UK or pushed down wages: falls in average real wages of UK-born workers were more closely associated with the economic crash. In addition, migrant workers are some of the lowest paid workers with some being paid as little as 40p a day.
If the government enforced the minimum wage and health and safety laws, employers would be stopped from paying migrant workers less and working conditions for all workers could be improved.
Migrants create jobs too. Immigrants to the UK are three times more likely to start a new business than those born in the UK, and analysis from Australia suggests that refugees are even more likely other migrants to create their own businesses.
MYTH #7: “IMMIGRANTS ARE A DRAIN ON THE ECONOMY”
REALITY: Migrant workers contribute more to the UK economy than they take away. In 2011, migrants paid 37% more in taxes than was spent on the public services that they received. Between 2013 and 2014 EU migrants paid £2.54 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits. It is estimated that migrant labour contributes an additional 0.6% to economic growth a year. Immigration has increased the level of employment and tax revenues. Between 2000 and 2013 migrants contributed £25 billion to the UK economy. On average, each migrant worker contributes a net additional £46,000 in Gross Value Added (GVA) per annum to London’s economy. Recent research has found that asylum seekers are not a burden on Western economies and that their economic impact becomes positive once they are granted status.
MYTH #9: “IMMIGRANTS ARE JUST BENEFIT SCROUNGERS”
REALITY: It would be extremely difficult for a migrant to travel to the UK with the intention of taking advantage of the benefits system. An unemployed EEA migrant is not eligible for benefits for the first three months of their arrival in the UK. Most non-EU migrants are not eligible for benefits. Skilled workers from outside the EU, residing in the UK for less than ten years, must have a yearly salary of at least £35,000 to settle permanently in the UK. Refugees fleeing war and persecution are not motivated by a benefits system they are likely to have no knowledge of before forced to leave their home countries, and which is not even the most generous in Europe.
It is also false to claim that migrants or refugees bring their families to the UK on false grounds in order to take advantage of a generous benefits system. The threshold for family reunion cases is extremely high. To sponsor a partner from outside the EEA for residence in the UK you must have a minimum income of £18,600. Many women are forced to leave their children behind when they flee torture and persecution and remain separated for years unable to legally bring them to the UK.
MYTH #10: “BRITAIN LOOKS AFTER IMMIGRANTS MORE THAN ITS ‘OWN’”
REALITY: ‘Illegal immigrants’ are not entitled to any state aid. Applying for benefits would draw the authority’s attention to their illegal status and make them liable to detention and deportation. If a person is in the process of making an asylum application they are only entitled to £37.75 a week, while a pensioner gets £102.15. Someone who has been granted refugee status has equal, and not more, entitlement to benefits as any British citizen.
Homelessness and lack of social housing are often put forward as reasons for arguing that UK should look after its own citizens first before taking in migrants and refugees. The building and funding of social housing is at record lows despite the fact that a million families are on the waiting list for a council house. Two-thirds of this demand for council housing can be attributed to a fundamental lack of provision of housing, while a third may be attributed to demand linked to immigration.
To have access to social housing refugees and non-EEA migrants must have settlement status (i.e. been recognised as in need of protection or resided in the UK long enough to qualify for citizenship). In general, EEA nationals are only eligible for social housing if they are employed. This does not change the fact that a programme of significant investment in social housing is much needed, regardless of any pressure added by those in need of housing who happen to be born abroad.
MYTH #11: “THE UK HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR REFUGEES”
REALITY: The persecution that forces people to flee is often a legacy of British colonialism. For example, many societies in Africa were formerly accepting of non-heterosexual relationships but anti-gay laws put in place by British and other western colonists legalised and fostered homophobia with ongoing violent consequences. 99% of LGBT asylum seekers are refused by the Home Office.
The UK government fuels wars and conflicts which have created refugees. In 2016 more than half of the world’s refugees came from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. The UK spent £37 billion bombing Afghanistan and £1.75 billion on air and drone strikes in Syria and Iraq, more than the amount it spent on humanitarian assistance in these countries. The UK failed to take action against an illegal $46m arms deal between a British company and the South Sudanese government. British businesses have funded and profited from the conflicts which create refugees such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Africa loses $35.3 billion a year to tax evasion and other illicit financial flows facilitated through tax havens. London has been a hotspot for the laundering of money linked to corruption in Africa. The wealth that the UK enjoys today was built on slavery and colonial theft. It is estimated that the UK owes a £7.5 trillion debt to Africa and the Caribbean for the theft of people and resources during slavery. If that debt was paid, giving countries more economic and social security, people might not be forced to flee.
 The national poverty line is understood as living on less than 60% of the national median income (www.gov.uk). The median household disposable income was £27,200 in 2017 (Office for National Statistics). In a year an asylum seeker would receive 7% of this.
 Summary of the judgment of Mr Justice Popplewell in Refugee Action v Secretary of State for the Home Department, handed down on 9 April 2014, p.3
 Diane Taylor, Underground Lives (2009), p.15
 Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre (2015)
 Medical Justice, Death in Immigration Detention (2016), p.23
 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/30/africa-homophobia-legacy-colonialism [accessed 15 June 2017]