This pamphlet is an attempt to provide an accessible introduction that exposes the interests that have shaped UK asylum policies in the early twenty-first century. A lot has been written describing the terrible consequences of the UK asylum system for people who flee here as refugees, but unless we understand the root causes of these policies and practices, refugees and those who support them are left in the dark when trying to develop an effective strategy to respond.
I argue that UK asylum policies are neither the result of ignorance and incompetence on the part of policymakers and officials, nor part of a racist conspiracy. Instead, they result from a fundamental contradiction between refugees’ claims to asylum and the dominant capitalist interests that are represented by the British state. This contradiction has intensified as a result of the capitalist crisis and today dominates the context in which refugees and their supporters work. Understanding the contradiction between refugees and the British state therefore needs to form the starting point for developing an effective strategy, whatever the particular forms of struggle, campaigning or practice we are engaged in.
A clarification is needed at the start about the terms used in this pamphlet. References to ‘refugees’ include all those who have come to Britain seeking refuge, whatever the status currently accorded them by the British state (as ‘asylum seekers’, ‘failed asylum seekers’, and so on). Where relevant I specify whether an individual is with or without ‘status’, in the sense of some form of leave to remain in Britain.