Asylum: Britain is an open-air prison for the most needy
Once again, a report on the asylum system in Britain has revealed the cruel and unusual punishment of applying for help from Great Britain.
Some applicants are waiting up to 16 years for a decision. A backlog of 32,600 cases from 2011 are yet to be resolved. The number of applicants waiting over six months rose by 63% last year. Some 3,500 people who applies for asylum in 2012 have yet to receive an initial decision.
The cruelty of the asylum system is not in the decisions it reaches. It is in the legal and financial limbo it puts asylum seekers in while they get lost in the machine.
Those having their asylum status decided are not allowed to work and they are not allowed to claim benefits. They are given £36.62 a week, to be collected from the Post Office, for sustenance.
They can apply to the UK Border Agency for help with accommodation if they are destitute. The housing, provided by private contractors like Serco and G4S, was attacked as "sub-standard" by MPs today. The anecdotal evidence is of grey, despairing places in a state of disrepair, full of lost people.
The asylum system turns Britain into a vast open-air prison. One asylum seeker who arrived in the UK after being held in a jail in Iran told me that his prison had merely been expanded. Without the right to work, or claim benefits, or volunteer, he was trapped in a state of inaction, of half-presence. The system would not respond to questions. For years on end, you would hear nothing. It is a legally mandated half-state, a state-imposed lethargy.
It really doesn't matter which side of the immigration or asylum debate you're on. You can be as anti-asylum as you like. Whichever way you look at it, this system is intolerable. It doesn't just condemn the vulnerable to an excuse of a life. It also, as home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz pointed out today, potentially allow war criminals and terrorists into Britain, hiding in the grey areas of a convoluted and malfunctioning bureaucratic system.
The system must be fixed and made to function, not just to provide help for those who most need it, but also to get rid of those who don't.
But for that to happen there must be public pressure. Today is a rare day when asylum won a place in the news headlines. Unless that happens more often, the system will remain a forgotten mechanism, letting down the country and the needy at once.