Extending a hand of friendship to Asylum seekers

Extending a hand of friendship to Asylum seekers

asylum seekers

Asylum law in the United Kingdom poses a double edged sword which can either protect or return the individual back to potential harm. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, also known as the Refugee Convention, places five viable grounds which an individual can seek protection from the safe third country; religion, nationality, race, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Furthermore, they must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution and “is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of protection of that country”. According to the “Asylum Policy Instruction: Assessing Credibility and refugee status”, the burden of proof is on the appellant to demonstrate there is “a reasonable degree of likelihood” for the need of international protection. Thus failure to meet the evidential threshold would lead to a refusal by the First-Tier Tribunal.

It is an unfair assumption that asylum seekers are able to meet the evidential threshold so readily for a number of reasons. Firstly, we must consider the effect of a successful asylum claim. The individual upon succeeding becomes a refugee, and by definition, they are believed to have escaped their home country from persecution and harm. Therefore, the fact they have escaped from danger contradicts the belief they have the luxury of time in gathering potential evidence to support their claim. Secondly, the role of protector and protected seems to have taken a complete reversal. Appellants are expected to prove their case without the assistance of the state. This not only places a prejudicial subliminal view on the appellant but also an onerous burden to which to take the case; especially when money and resources are limited to the asylum seeker. Thirdly, many are so afraid of being returned that they use asylum as a last ditch effort to remain in the UK when all other avenues have been exhausted. We must understand different communities view authority in a different light. It is not fair to paint their view as irrational just because we do not share their views.

Some may argue that we are already lenient towards asylum seekers as they only need to prove their case to a “reasonable degree of likelihood”, which is a lower burden than the civil standard of “balance of probability”. This I submit is still a huge obstacle to overcome for many asylum seekers because they simply lack the resources and legal understanding to gather evidence. They are miles away from their country of origin and any network would be at risk relaying information to them. The burden of proof should be placed on the government, just like in criminal cases. The government’s resources far proceed that of the appellant. It would be far easier for the government to disprove the individual’s case than the individual trying to disprove the government. Arguably, this removes the artificial suspicion automatically placed on potential asylum seekers and upholds the UK’s responsibilities as a signatory of the Refugee Convention.

Understandably, the UK government plays a difficult game balancing between immigration policies and their duties under the Refugee Convention. However, to return an individual back to potential danger because they lack the resources to prove their case is harsh. Turning our back on those most vulnerable goes against the spirit of the convention and our values to protect those who are powerless. It is better to extend a hand of friendship many times than to be wrong once and have someone returned to torture and fear.

By Anthony Cheung


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