As informed individuals, we like to think that we are aware of the trials and tribulations faced by refugees. We have seen the various headlines surrounding the currents events in Syria, Yemen, and other such countries. Back in 2015, over a million refugees arrived in Europe as a result of various crises and these refugees have been headlining in the papers ever since.
However, often overlooked are those that have been refused leave to stay, and yet have no viable way of returning to their country of origin. Refused asylum seekers – i.e. those who are deemed to have no grounds to appeal for asylum – are believed to have no reason for their continued presence in the United Kingdom. The very words ‘asylum seeker’ tend to come with a stigma attached to them and every year hundreds – if not thousands – of refugees are turned away and are forced to the country they fled. However, for some it is not so easy as simply getting on a flight back to their country of origin.
For those individuals, there is simply no travel route open to them; for example, the flight routes to Palestine, Syria, and Yemen have been closed since 2015. With no viable, logistical way for those who have been refused asylum to return to these countries, many are stuck in a state of limbo. Richard Harrington, who was overseeing the government’s promise to accept more Syrian refugees, stated that simply deporting these asylum seekers back to their country of origin is ‘no answer’. Often this culminates in the issue of those who have been refused asylum having no place to go nor any support to be found – be that economically or socially.
For others, they do not have – and often never had – the necessary documents to travel, nor are they recognised as citizens of their country of origin. Without the appropriate documentation, these refugees have little hope of being successfully returned. In addition to these cases, there are thousands of ‘Children of War’ who have never seen their parents’ homeland due to their family’s displacement during times of crisis. This means that neither the country in which they find themselves a refugee, nor their parent’s homeland recognises them as a national.
A study carried out by the British Red Cross serves to highlight this issue of lack of correct documentation. One such case details the struggle of Enaya and her infant daughter who came from Palestine. Upon their arrival in the United Kingdom 5 years ago, Enaya’s husband was immediately returned to Palestine where he was arrested and killed. Refused asylum in Britain, but without the proper documentation or means of obtaining a passport in the United Kingdom due to relations between Britain, Israel, and Palestine, Enaya was stuck. Further to this, her child is unregistered and so is not officially a Palestinian national. With little monetary support, she and her daughter, now 5 years old, are forced to live in a state of limbo while neither country is willing to claim legal responsibility for them. They are currently in the process of applying for statelessness.
Another case study describes Basrat’s struggle to obtain the correct papers in order to return to his land of origin. After living in multiple East African countries as a child, Basrat left Eritrea in 2008. Due to spending much of his life in Ethiopia, Basrat speaks their native language of Amharic. On account of this ability, and his lack of documentation, the Eritrean embassy does not recognize him as Eritrean. Despite multiple attempts to reach out to the Ethiopian embassy to aid him in obtaining a passport, they have ignored his efforts.
These case studies serve to highlight the ease with which one can find themself in the situation of statelessness. After fleeing their situation in their country of origin and searching for a better future, these people are forced to live a half-life whilst they attempt to return to their homeland and loved ones. It has been highlighted that life for refused asylum seekers is incredibly bleak, and a terrifying proportion of refused asylum seekers have contemplated suicide. As a country which claims to value human life and uphold the values of the UN Charter on Human Rights, surely we in the United Kingdom ought to be doing more to help people in such circumstances.
Whilst there is no way of knowing the amount of refugees that are currently residing in such a state in the United Kingdom, we do know that between 2013 and 2016, 1662 complaints of statelessness were lodged with the British government. These stateless refugees have often been separated from their families and any support networks they may have had in their home country. Isolated from their loved ones, denied the right to work and earn a living, and with no government aid, the lives of these refugees are characterised by periods of destitution and homelessness.
Moreover, it can be understood that those who are refused asylum are subjected to degrading conditions. This demeaning treatment can be seen to have roots in their living conditions and the unsure nature of their environment. This existence appears to contravene the UN Charter on Human Rights which declares that no human should be treated in a degrading manner. Not only are we ignoring their right to be protected as refugees, but we are subjecting them to conditions which conflict with the foundational rights which our society claims to hold with such high regard.
Mike Adamson, the chief executive of the British Red Cross, has commented on the situation of refused asylum seekers, stating that ‘having no permission to be in the UK but no way home means being stuck in a permanent state of limbo and often living hand to mouth. Some of the individuals … have been in this situation for years. We believe this is inhumane and this kind of status should only ever be temporary.’ Such treatment only serves to highlight the unpleasant nature of a life lived in the purgatorial state of refused refugees.
So, what does this mean for everyone else? As people with the privilege to call themselves citizens in Britain, we ought to exercise our ability to question the government’s approach. Our state’s protection affords us the defense of our rights and civil liberties, and it is only right that we extend these rights for all people. No level of degradation should be acceptable. Human rights are deeply ingrained in our society, and we ought to ensure that they are applied to one and all. Our country’s immigration laws have always been contentious and the issue of refused asylum seekers indicates that reform is necessary.