Monday, 17 January 2011

The Land of Easy Money

Of all the news you have read this week, perhaps the most surprising might be that we’re living in ‘the land of easy money’. This was the description of the UK attributed to Ms. Ayan Abdulle, who incensed the Daily Mail last weekend after fraudulently extracting over £250,000 in various state benefits between 2004 and 2010. Ms. Abdulle has been jailed for four and a half years by a Harrow court for lying in her asylum claim, in which she described being attacked by militia in Somalia in 1998, when in reality she had been claiming asylum in Sweden around this time.

The phrase ‘bogus asylum seeker’ has become a sort of shorthand for the Daily Express and Daily Mail’s stance - it combines anger at the perceived laxity of the UK asylum system with a sort of general, undefined xenophobia. Invariably the stories eschew statistics in favour of individual stories like Ms Abdulle’s, and the language is heavy with allusion - references are made to the fact that Ms Abdulle has six children (read ‘feckless’), and a claim that she left Sweden because she ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to learn Swedish (read ‘lazy and insular’).

Left-leaning publications are equally prone to this sort of myopia when it comes to asylum and immigration. Instead of focusing on ‘bogus’ claims, the Guardian and the Independent are more likely to report a case where a legitimate asylum seeker has been failed by the system and made destitute, or give a platform to an asylum appeal like Peace Musabi’s. It’s likely that the horrors these people have run away from will be described in full, morbid HD. The intention of this type of selective reporting is no less politically loaded than the Daily Mail stories - the aim here is to place human rights above all other concerns, and to appeal to empathy.

Both the Mail’s and the Guardian’s stances are legitimate attempts to set the terms in which asylum and immigration are viewed by the general public, and in a healthy democracy it’s important to have opposing views expressed loudly and often. Failures in the asylum system which lead to human suffering need to be flagged up, as do flagrant abuses of the system. But there is a danger that the ideologically-motivated noise from both sides may drown out the more difficult questions that are best addressed somewhere in the middle, without individual examples, and with the rhetoric turned down to a background hum.

For example, is it possible to believe in the universal right to express one’s sexuality without fear of attack, while at the same time questioning the practical implications of offering asylum to anyone who self-identifies as gay? There will never be a way of verifying such claims, and while the standard of living in the UK remains significantly higher than in, say, Uganda there will always be a powerful motivation for people to abuse the system. But should this mean that we turn a blind eye to every such claimant, even if their lives are endangered on their return?

Or, can we balance the right of immigrants to the UK to retain their own cultural practices and religious beliefs while at the same time promoting their integration into mainstream British culture? Is ‘integration’ as a concept tainted with cultural imperialism, or is it a necessary process in creating a non-ghettoised and ethnically harmonious society?

Unsurprisingly, I don’t have any definitive answers to any of the above. But it seems clear that rigid ideology isn’t very useful in trying to reach any answers. Both online and IRL, talking about immigration or asylum in less-than-absolutely-certain terms can result in being called either a heartless xenophobe or a woolly-minded fantasist (or much worse), depending on who you’re talking to. But ambiguous questions require ambiguous approaches, and the immigration and asylum debate has been polarised along ideological lines for too long.


  1. What a sensible article! And one that could quite easily adorn the pages of CiF were it not for the fact that the thread that followed would be a blood bath.

    It is impossible to be absolutist about asylum and immigration. Yes, there are some real, genuine cases which are refused, just adding to the suffering already endured by people. Yes there are some real cheating assholes who will lie their heads off.

    The problem is that the latter will spoil things for the former. Because people abuse the system, the authorities - UKBA, the Tribunals - become jaded and cynical, and many a genuine case is rejected.

    I have no idea what the solution is. I wish I did.

  2. The atmosphere where asylum is concerned is so poisoned and polarised that it's difficult to have a rational conversation about it.

    One fact we have to face in Europe (as others have to elsewhere in the world) is that as long as the conditions of people's lives are so asymetrical then we are going to have to find a way to manage having lots of people from the poorer and war torn countries trying to survive, escaping in the hope that they can make a life for themselves. We'd do exactly the same ourselves if we were in those circs.

    There are no short term solutions to the wider global problems and I see no will to change the imbalances in life chances that would start to deal with the issues that cause people to escape their desperate plights - whether thats as economic migrants or refugees (I don't really differentiate)

    In the UK we can at least have an asylum system that is fair and humane which much of it isn;t at the moment. In the meantime what can we do about the scapegoating that goes on in much of the media?

  3. ps: I don't have any answers to the long term issues either - although I might have one or two where our asylum system is concerned.

    also - i think its going to get much worse.

  4. Thanks for your measured input...

    I see no will to change the imbalances in life chances that would start to deal with the issues that cause people to escape their desperate plights

    Me neither. So that leads me to wonder how feasible it is for the UK, and Western Europe generally, to take a morally correct stance on asylum / economic migration in the long term. Is that possible? Is there a maximum number of people a society can take before you can't sustain it, economically?

    It's a very difficult question because the answer that naturally presents itself takes you somewhere uncomfortable, morally. But if the root causes aren't likely to be addressed, isn't it a choice between facing the same uncomfortable conclusion now or later?

    It's a hard one to put across on Cif because there's invariably a dozen outwardly racist comments in the first 30 and then that sets the tone for the remainder of the thread. But for the 'left' voices, it's also really hard to square the moral position with the practical.

  5. While I'm one of those people who's occasionally guilty of rhetoric, on immigration as well as on other subjects, that post is spot-on. Thank you for writing it.

  6. Thanks Elmyra! This post is now officially a Titanic-style blockbuster by this site's standards :)

  7. But for the 'left' voices, it's also really hard to square the moral position with the practical.

    I agree it's a very tough situation - but whatever our starting point it has to be morally humane. In relative terms we don't take that many asylum seekers in comparison with other countries but if you just read red top rhetoric you'd think we were being invaded by the rest of the world.

    In practical terms for example - Jordan has a much bigger problem than us and are much less able to cope with it economically than we are. we do need to be realistic but that includes not being pushed into a panic.

  8. Hi dear, Are you busy? Stop and visit this for to know “How to make money from Online”. If you want make money from online and if you want extra income and relax just visit here.
    easy money