Asylum and security

ICAR, the Centre for Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS) at Oxford University and Chatham House jointly organised a seminar held on 27th March 2006 at Chatham House to discuss issues related to asylum and security.

The meeting was held under the auspices of Chatham House. The following piece was written prior to the event to provide background and context.

In recent years asylum has been increasingly linked with security concerns. In mainly tabloid reporting, asylum-seekers have been branded as 'illegal' and 'bogus' and public attitudes have hardened. In 2003 asylum entry exceeded 100,000 applicants and their dependants, and political demands grew for the system to be tightened and illegality 'rooted out'. A string of new asylum laws and quite significant procedural changes have been introduced with the emphasis on accelerating and 'streamlining' the application procedure, reducing the intake of asylum seekers, strengthening border protection, increasing rates of return home for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected, increased use of detention, and a reduction in the welfare provisions available to asylum seekers in the UK.

In parallel the government initiated a refugee integration strategy for those whose applications were successful and who will remain in the UK - however, a later reform removed permanent refugee status and instead introduced review procedures with the likelihood of return where conditions at home were thought to have 'changed'.

As reported in the media, asylum seekers and refugees have been involved in political violence and criminality in the UK. This has included high profile and significant events such as the so called 'Ricin' plot, the failed July bombings; and a large number of those detained or deported on suspicion of terrorist activities come from a refugee background. Refugee advocacy organisations have sought to remind the public that only a tiny minority of asylum seekers and refugees have been involved in political violence or criminality - and they are more likely to be victims of such violence.

In an attempt to explain the 'causal pathways' that may lead some to become involved in criminal activity or political violence, commentators have sought to describe the risk factors created by the 'conditions of asylum'. These include rising destitution among asylum seekers, their criminalisation, experiences of detention, uncertainty and personal insecurity. Human rights organisations have argued that asylum seekers are the most marginalised group in British society, and subject to the most draconian laws and 'control measures'.

The Chatham House meeting will explore these issues. Part of the discussion will be given over to an examination of the legal and policy context: international refugee law, the management of refugee flows in crisis and conflict, UK asylum policies and laws, and recent anti-terrorist legislation. The perception that refugees are a security threat is one factor leading to new measures that aim to control movement ('manage migration') and securitise the response.

The meeting will further explore the pathways to radicalisation. It will seek to better understand the 'asylum condition', to understand why asylum seekers are perceived as a threat and what this tells us about security and insecurity in the UK. It will examine transnational aspects of asylum seeking and political engagement. The outcomes of policies will be explored, as will the policies themselves. Delegates will be asked to consider whether or not asylum is a significant factor in this security complex.

Last Updated: 02/03/11

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