4d. The asylum decision-making process

they [immigration officials] will ask you, do you have any evidence, but that’s [like] asking…if there is an earthquake now, suddenly, and you want to save your life, will you take your qualification, will you take your I.D….? No, the important thing will be for you to save your life, and then maybe you’ll be going back to your house and search for these important things. So that is what happens to asylum seekers. When they came first, maybe they have been persecuted and they don’t have enough time to take all of these things, [they just] want to be safe. Even some people who are lucky, when they come with these documents, they [immigration officials] will just say ‘No…[these documents are] fake (refugee from DRC, arrived in Britain in 2005)

Policies of detention, dispersal and prohibition of paid work are framed and given added force by the asylum decision-making process itself. The refugees I interviewed in Newcastle presented a picture of the asylum process as unreasonable, unclear and unjust. Nationally, in the first quarter of 2010 76% of asylum applications were refused at their first hearing, and 68% of appeals against previous refusals were also rejected. This is in a context where 93% of applications for other forms of settlement during the same period were granted.[1] The charity Bail for Immigration Detainees suggest that UK asylum policies are implicitly based around a highly unrealistic ‘model’ refugee, who ‘arrives in the UK with their identity documents, declares to the immigration authorities “I would like to make a claim for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention”, and hands over a dossier of evidence in support of their claim’. When real refugees fail to live up to this model they face detention, and experiences reported to include ‘confusion, misinformation, bad advice, fear and shock that they had ended up incarcerated’.[2] A fog of complexity and bureaucracy covers up for the fact that a process which is ‘fair’ in formal terms is in practice set up to fail all but a few, regardless of their need. This fulfills two related but contradictory needs of imperialism, which shape the management of refugees’ oppression. On the one hand, the likelihood of being refused asylum reinforces the absolute priority accorded to capital’s demand for labour as the basis for migrants to live in Britain, which is necessary for the continuation of the imperialist division of labour. On the other hand, the formal fairness of the system maintains the British state’s image as an upholder of universal human rights and liberty, which is necessary for the claims to moral authority that have frequently been used to justify imperialist interference and domination of other countries.

Refugees occupy an intermediate class status, particularly acute while their cases are under consideration. They are part of the reserve army of labour, but a ‘part out of place’ because they reject labour market demand as the sole criteria for their mobility, with a potential to disrupt the normal functioning of the international division of labour on a political as well as an economic level. Their trajectory is in most cases from countries oppressed on a national basis, with which they may maintain connections in identity, communication and transfer of resources. Their present position is among the poorest sections of the working class in Britain, sharing living conditions which hold the potential to forge alliances across racialised divisions. From 1999, government policy specifically mitigated against this, using disperal to break up existing networks based on refugees’ countries of origin, and impeding the formation of new networks based on common elements of class position within Britain, through a prohibition on paid work, reducing opportunities for contact with other working class people. With the exception of individuals who ‘escape’ the collective position of the majority, for example through paid employment in the refugee sector, the trajectory of most refugees after arrival in Britain is either inclusion into a more regularised but super-exploited section of the working class in Britain if they are granted leave to remain, occupying the worst paid and most insecure jobs, or for those who are refused leave to remain, even more exploitative work in the informal economy or deportation back to the situations they have fled.


[1] Home Office. (2010). Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical Summary, United Kingdom January-March 2010. London.

[2] BID. (2009). Out of sight, out of mind: experiences of immigration detention in the UK. London: Bail for Immigration Detainees.

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