Should Britain’s asylum seeker policy reflect its foreign policy aims?

Let the right ones in!

By Phil Hall

How many Palestinians have been given asylum in the UK? Clearly, Britain’s asylum policy reflects its foreign policy aims and many of us have vociferously opposed some of those foreign policy aims, especially when it comes to Iraq and Syria. Britain is using promises of asylum as a reward for collaboration. White Helmets, anyone?

In the phase of decolonisation, immigration policies sometimes seemed more progressive. The British citizenship of my parents, who opposed Apartheid, was expedited in 1963, and in 1968 Ugandan Asians were invited to come to Britain.

How many Palestinians have been given asylum in the UK?

But Britain has not met its quotas for refugees from places like Syria and it should do so. We should lead the way, we should follow Angela Merkel’s lead. We shouldn’t just wait for asylum applications from literate, well-resourced individuals, we should go out to the refugee camps and actively invite deserving people to come to Britain; though not necessarily Jihadists posing as members of a volunteer rescue group.

I taught refugees for years in the UK in the 90s and noughties. Most of them had suffered terribly. Most of them were legitimate refugees. I couldn’t put a figure on it. If you pressed me I would say, maybe 85% of my students over the years were legitimate refugees.

To have kept that 85% of deserving asylum seekers out of the UK would have shamed the UK. There are no official figures for ‘legitimacy’ of course. Seen from the US perspective, an 85% success rate in awarding asylum to the right people would sound very good indeed. One only has to remember the USA and all the reactionary flotsam and jetsam it has welcomed in: Batista’s henchmen, the South Vietnamese ex-military, ultra-right Latin Americans running from justice – so many creatures of the night. Their families are innocent, of course.

… we should go out to the refugee camps and actively invite deserving people to come to Britain; though not necessarily Syrian Jihadists who pose as members of a volunteer rescue group.

At different times there were different kinds of refugees coming from different places. Before, many of the refugees were Sudanese, Somalis and Iranians, then there were Bosnians and Kosovans, then there were Afghans, Sri Lankans, Iraqis, Columbians, Chadians, Peruvians, Rwandans and Congolese. Some – most of my students were wonderful and we have stayed friends. I liked, and wanted to help, all of them.

OK, there were a few ‘economic’ refugees. For example, some of the people who said they were Kosovans who were probably just Albanians. No big deal. There are always economic migrants to every rich country, a country needs economic migrants.

The point I want to make is this: I was listening to a radio programme on how East European Nazi collaborators came to live in Britain and it seemed suddenly clear to me that we have a serious problem which we should deal with. I doubt we will be able to do so until we get a left-wing Labour government. Remember how Maggie Thatcher protected Pinochet from prosecution.

No big deal. There are always economic migrants to every rich country, a country needs economic migrants.

There are wolves who hide among the sheep. Some of the people who seek asylum are the persecutors. Though often tables turn and the persecutors are then persecuted. It’s a twisted logic, but the communist governments ‘persecuted’ Nazi collaborators after the war and Britain gave them asylum. Fascists make great anti-communists.

The reasons why the wolves, the torturers, thieves and murderers, can sometimes reach Britain and settle here pretending to be victims of oppression are twofold:

First, they have the money and resources to come to the UK and apply for asylum. Ordinary victims of persecution rarely have enough money. Second, many of these wolves do some service for the British state that gives them a stamp of approval, or they are part of an organisation that, though it may be murderous and evil itself, has political support from the British state. They are here because Britain’s asylum policy reflects its foreign policy. This is exactly the same reason why Nazi collaborators were allowed into Britain in the 50s.

many of these wolves do some service for the British state that gives them a stamp of approval

Let me give you one example: one of my students was an Iraqi working as a taxi driver. Very quickly, I realised who he was. All he had to tell me was that he worked in Iraqi counter-intelligence before the second Iraq War. This meant he was a killer and a torturer. Clearly, he wasn’t comfortable in his skin, either. After the fall of Sadaam he worked as an interpreter for the British army. He was a target.

He realised I knew exactly what he was. Friends of our family, the Gaidens, were tortured and persecuted by the Baath Party. They were communists. Sadaam Hussain’s torturers exterminated the communists in Iraq. This was way back in the early 70s.


Demobbed child soldiers in the Congo, picture United States Agency for International Development

Some of my Afghan students, had obviously been Mujahedin fighters. They were very tough, compact young men, dismissive, uninterested in education and very self-confident and self possessed. I also believe that one of my students might have been a Congolese child soldier. He was a tall young man, not all that educated or bright, but very happy. His beautiful dream was to become a carer. I could not understand why he dreamed of being a carer, until I thought it over. They made the right decision letting him in. Poor student! Poor victims!

Should we stay shtum, because we don’t want to increase anti-immigrant feeling?

So, Britain is taking in a small percentage of killers and torturers as part of its asylum programme, it has done so for many decades. Some of these criminals, like the child soldier, the Nationalist Jihadi and the Iraqi torturer are known to the British government, which has given its blessing. But some are not, and when you reflect on this it seems shocking at first.

Should we question the political way in which the British government awards asylum? Should we worry about the possibility that people who have done such horrible things are free and happy in the UK – to the extent that you can be free and happy here – or should we stay shtum, because we don’t want to increase anti-immigrant feeling?

To beg the question. Do you think it was right that the British government gave asylum to anti-communist Nazi collaborators? Do you think it’s right that the British government give asylum to Mujahidin, Iraqi torturers and Congolese child soldiers?

If you had to chose between in letting in a Tamil Tiger, a member of Sendero Luminoso, or a PKK fighter, who should get precedence in your opinion? Should Britain’s asylum seeker policy reflect its foreign policy aims?


Phil Hall is a university lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.