Reforming the UK’s asylum system
This event was part of the RSE’s summer events programme, Curious.
Find out more on the Curious website.
What does it say about the UK as a nation and the future of the Refugee Convention in the UK?
This event will be an opportunity to discuss the UK Government’s plans for reforming the asylum system and what this means for Scotland’s approach to the integration of migrants and asylum seekers, an issue on which the RSE recently submitted a response to the proposed Government plans. Members of the RSE’s asylum working group will unpack and stimulate discussion on the future of asylum policy and bring together wide-ranging expertise and practitioner experience, including those with lived experiences of asylum, as well as the public.
Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 0:00
Good afternoon and welcome to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and its curious programme. My name is Michael Keating, I’m a Professor at the University of Aberdeen. But more to the point here, I’m the General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Curious is a summer events programme that we have, which is a set of talks, discussions, debates, exhibitions about the work of this society, which spans the whole area of natural sciences, the social sciences, the arts, the humanities, culture, and the idea is to engage with the public with people like you to bring new ideas to discuss and debate issues facing modern society. Today’s topic is a very topical one. That is the immigration and asylum policy of the UK government and its implications particularly for Scotland. The government has just passed. Is in the process of passing, I think his new asylum bill, it’s highly controversial. There are some issues that may bear particularly on Scotland so we’ll have a Scottish angle to this. To discuss these ideas. We have four speakers here, they’re all associated one way or another with the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the order that I’ve got them here. They are Christina Boswell, who is the Professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh, and is a long standing scholar on questions of migration, asylum policy, and has worked with governments on these questions. We have Dylan Fotoohi, who is the Programme Manager Migration Exchange, and Founder of Refugees for Justice. Christina is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, I should say. Dylan is a member of the Young Academy of Scotland, which is part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We have Alison Phipps, Professor at the University of Glasgow, Unesco Chair Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts. And we have Jo Shaw, a professor of law at the University of Edinburgh, and Salvesen Chair of European institutions and the university there. We’re going to try and raise a few issues, which we want to share with you this afternoon. There’s no question of covering the whole topic, which is so vast, but the speakers have been talking amongst themselves and deciding what they might want to emphasise, I’ve given them strict orders that they should take no more than 28 minutes between them. Because the most important aspect of this is talking to you, the members of the public and finding out what you know what you want to know how you can contribute to that debate. So we’ve got seven minutes each just to set the scene just to say one or two things. And then I want to open it up, you can contribute your questions in the q&a section there, which you’ll find on the website. So while they’re speaking after they’ve speaking, you may have ideas already, just put your questions up there, because we want to leave plenty of time for you to engage in a discussion. So without further ado, I’m going to go over to the speakers in the order in which I’ve just indicated them. And if I remember right, the first one was Christina, seven minutes.
Professor Christina Boswell FRSE 3:19
Great. Thank you very much indeed, Michael. So I’m going to talk a little bit about the historical context of this immigration plan. And my research has focused quite heavily on the home office as an organisation and sort of thinking and organisational beliefs and culture within the home office since at least the 1980s or so. And central to my input is going to be the concept of bluff. Now bluff, if you look up, the dictionary definition is an attempt to deceive someone into believing that one can or is going to do something. And bluff as I’m going to suggest is very central and in home office culture and thinking. And it’s not so phrase that I coined to refer to the home office. It’s a phrase that emerged from an interview which I conducted with a former official there who talked about bluff being endemic to immigration control. And I’m going to come back to that thought in a minute. But just very briefly on the historical context. So until the mid to late 1980s. Very few asylum seekers made it to the UK, the number of asylum seekers was in the hundreds. And it was really in the late 1980s. For a number of reasons I won’t go into now that the number of people claiming asylum on reaching the UK, particularly at airports began to increase so that by the early 1990s, there were roughly you know, 40,000 asylum applications per year rising to a peak of around 84,000 main applicants in 2002. And that number then steadily came down. So the more recently we’ve seen numbers at around 30,000 or 40,000. Again, so just that context is always very, very important. I’m sure other speakers will have mentioned that too. To the actually, there was a peak in in asylum seeking in the early 2000s. But actually, that has considerably reduced over the last few years. Now, the issue for the home office, and I’m very much trying to get into this sort of mindset, if one can of the home office was that once in the UK, the process of applying and making a decision on asylum could take months or years. And over that time, people might abscond from the process so that so they might, they might sort of sort of disappear from the process, or might after following a negative decision on their asylum application might refuse to return and the Home Office face huge challenges in trying to deport people whose asylum applications had been rejected. And there again, there are a number of complicated reasons for that. But quite often, there will be legal challenges to return or deportation, there would be difficulties ascertaining what country somebody had come from or travelled through, or the country of origin might not recognise them as a national. So the home office faced these dilemmas, because it wanted to be robust for political reasons, on control and keep numbers down, but struggle to do so. And so the response of both Conservative and Labour governments over these decades was to introduce a range of restrictions. And you’ll be familiar with the sort of repertoire of restrictions I’m sure, making asylum processes more restrictive, reducing support for asylum seekers, a ban on employment.
Professor Christina Boswell FRSE 6:32
Trying out vouchers instead of cash payments, as support, dispersal and so on. And this wasn’t just the UK that this was sort of typical range of approaches across European countries. But this is really where the bluff comes in. And I want to quote a little bit of sort of slightly more length from the respondent to this interview, he said, you make these firm pronouncements that only these categories of people are going to qualify, and everybody else will have to go home. But you know, that ultimately, it’s only a small proportion, who are going to be compelled to go, the more you can make the bluff work, the more people will say, “Okay, enough is enough. I’ve had my decision, I realise I’ve got to go, I will go.” We always knew that it was a small proportion of the refusals, who ended up being deported, I suppose it was a mixture of complacency and bluff Bluff is endemic to immigration control. So what is this bluff? Just briefly on two levels. So first of all, bluff captures a very strong and entrenched organisational belief in the home office about deterrence. So the idea is, if you send out a clear signal, the UK isn’t a soft touch, potential asylum seekers, you know, won’t get sort of generous treatment, it’s very difficult to get asylum, you won’t be allowed to stay, you’re going to be deported, you’re gonna be set, there’s no point. If you send out that strong deterrence message, then that will sort of do the job of sort of reducing numbers. Now, the reason the UK has fallen back on this deterrence approach is because unlike continental European countries, the UK has a very limited and traditionally has had a very limited infrastructure for internal control. So there isn’t a system of central registration, there aren’t ID cards, there aren’t, you know, regular spot checks, and so on. So instead of that kind of more continental style of immigration control, you compensate with a very restrictive message, think go home vans, you know, you send out a signal and hope that that deters people. And that was also very much emerging in the context of European cooperation around the time and ideas about country shopping. So the erroneous in my view belief that people somehow a sort of shopping around to see, you know, where’s the best place to apply for asylum? Now, this notion of deterrence does not have an evidence base. So I think, although it’s a strong organisational belief on the part of the home office, there is no research that suggests that home office actions and policies and legislation have a clear, linear causal effect on decisions of people. And I’m sure that other speakers will talk in more detail about that, if anything, it’s things like language, historical ties, networks, family, and kin, who already in the UK, that might influence choice of country, but also what the opportunities are for actually travelling to a particular destination. And often, asylum seekers and refugees face very limited options there. But just ending on the second aspect of bluff. So we’ve talked about bluff in the context of deterrant. So as a signal to try to deter asylum seekers, but bluff is also about domestic audiences. It’s about voters. So it’s about sending a political signal to potential voters to electorates that the government is being very tough on immigration, and that it’s going to restrict asylum and immigration. So it’s sort of the ultimate form of symbolic politics, you signal a restrictive approach, even if in practice, you can’t fully implement it. And you can imagine why this type of bluff would be especially important for the current government for our current Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Bluff because it’s very important to highlight the restrictionist agenda of the government to appeal to particular sectors of the electorate and bluff because more than ever, the UK is actually constrained in its ability to implement enforcement. So in the absence of the Dublin Convention, which was the EU convention for deciding which European country was responsible for processing asylum applications, in the absence of being part of EU readmission agreements, the UK actually has very little tools now at its disposal for trying to enforce asylum and immigration policy goals. So more than ever, it falls back on bluff. And bluff isn’t just about signalling, it also has real world implications. So I talk about bluffers if it’s purely symbolic bluff actually means that poor decisions will be made with consequences for people’s lives and with consequences for the public debate. So I think I’ll leave it there hope I’ve been within my time and hand over to one of my colleagues on the panel.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 11:05
Perfect timing Christina, you’ve set a good example. So next, we have Dylan.
Dylan Fotoohi 11:12
Thanks, Michael and Christina. And hello, everyone. I tried to spend my time to focus on Scotland and what immigration asylum policy and legislation means now for Scotland and what the new bill is potentially going to introduce it to the Scottish context. I think there are two general ways of looking at a asylum and immigration, one of which is used and adapted by the UK Government and the other one is intended by Scottish Government. And there’s a discrepancy between these two approaches. Is Scotland as you probably all have, you know, there is we have the New Scot Integration Strategy, which is built on the on the philosophy and the approach that the sooner and earlier and the quicker and the easier we make it for people to integrate into the society, the better for everyone the healthier society we have. And the more humane approach we have to humans who are subject to the system. And that’s a very rational approach. The New Scot Strategy focuses on all the different domains of integration. So in order to facilitate and support people to integrate better into society and rebuild their lives and contribute to society as healthy citizens. It works on, it focuses on different domains of integration, employment, housing, health, education, financial support, social connection, citizenship, and it intends to facilitate people’s access to those domains of integration, and therefore, supporting that integration starting from day one. So starting integration from day one is Scotland’s approach to integration of asylum seekers. Now, in practice, what we have the discrepancy that exists between this approach and the legal framework that is imposed on people who are subjected to the system is this the other way of looking at asylum seekers and asylum integration in general, is the approach that underlies and uninformed the UK government’s treatment towards asylum seekers, which is the more, the more restriction we impose on people, the more difficult we make it for people to access the rights and entitlements, the more we discourage other people to come to the UK. That’s a false assumption to begin with, in my personal experience of going through the process and travelling to the UK to seek asylum in the UK. That’s a false assumption that the more difficult difficult when you make it for people to integrate, the more you encourage others to come here. And as Christina mentioned, this is not this is not based on evidence and research this assumption, but regardless of the assumption, that’s the approach. So the discrepancy and the contradiction between this approach makes it difficult for Scotland as a society as a nation and Scottish Government to implement this intention to social integration. For example, think about employment as an example. It doesn’t matter how much you recognise in employment is important for people’s integration and wellbeing and it doesn’t matter how much you research and recognise it’s better for people to enter the job market as soon as possible because it’s better for the society for people to work and pay tax and rebuild their lives. If you have if by law, people’s access to the job market is restricted people are denied access to the job market people are not allowed to work. Your intention doesn’t really matter. And same thing applies to housing and homelessness services to public services to education, to public funds to employment. So the point that I’m trying to make is, at the moment in the current system, what we have is that, by law, people are excluded and prohibited from accessing public goods and services that are essential to their integration. And that are, that would enable people to integrate enable us to have a healthier society. The law restricts people to get engaged in those activities and get access to those rights or entitlements that exist for other people, other residents of Scotland. And those include employment, housing, homelessness services, financial, social security, community care, etc. So this causes a level of discrepancy between in terms of the legal frameworks and policy and it causes a high level of restriction on Scottish Government and Scottish society to rebuild and to help people to rebuild their lives in Scotland.
Dylan Fotoohi 16:13
The new bill, what the new bill is introducing is higher levels of restriction on people, and a new form of dysfunctionality to the already poorly functioning system, a new form of discrimination and exclusion of people who are subjected to the system, it’s very easy to imagine that the bill in practice is going to lead to a high level of, a relatively high level of social confusion. And this tape destabilisation, both in terms of Scottish public, but especially on public services in the charity sector, it’s easy to imagine how it would look like for a huge number of Scottish residents who are new Scots in here in pursuit of sanctuary, asylum seekers to be kept in limbo in legal limbo. In warehouses, asylum camps, in remote area of Scotland, with restricted access to almost no access to public services to the job market to housing and homelessness services to the mainstream services. There is no way to calculate and imagine that this has any good outcome for Scotland as a society. And that’s regardless, the you know, that’s not to mention that how inhumane it is for people who are subjected to the system. But thinking socially, there’s no way to calculate and come to a conclusion that that will have any good outcome for the society. So the new bill is introducing new forms of this dysfunctionalities and new forms of exclusion to the already excluded and this poorly functional system. And it will have consequences for Scotland as a nation for the public. It will have pressure, it will introduce pressure on public services and on the charity sector. What can be done? I think what would be the most reasonable approach in Scotland that can be taken is, is to sit down and think what can we do as as a devolved administration, as people, as a nation, as a society? How can we assess those risks that are going to be imposed soon on Scotland? And how can we mitigate some of those risks? Are there areas that we can legislate in Scottish Parliament or through Scottish Government? Or are there ways for us to find the policy and legislative mechanisms to increase people’s access to those domains of integration that are essential for people to rebuild their lives and for us to build a healthy society together? I believe there are. But it’s not that that easy when it comes to policy and legislation, but I hope to see the intention to have a collective discussion around what’s coming up. What are the risks for the society, and how can we mitigate them through policy and legislation in Scotland? I’ll leave it there.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 19:18
Thanks Dylan said, let’s move right on to Alison.
Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE 19:23
Thank you very much indeed, and, and to Christina, and Dylan. And thank you also for taking some of what I was going to say. So hopefully, I will be well within the seven minutes. But I wanted to begin with the international context and with this word, unprecedented. The word unprecedented is used a lot, in a lot of the fundraising materials around asylum, asylum reform, and a lot of the public discourse, particularly within the UK, about the numbers coming to the UK and the numbers of people displaced. We see international statistics and UK statistics with the word unprecedented in front of them. Now, my colleague, Jeff Crisp, who is the former Senior Policy Officer at UNHCR repeatedly, states in public that the numbers have been more or less steady for many, many years. And that all figures should be treated with caution. And that actually, we’re not necessarily dealing with unprecedented numbers at the moment of people who are displaced either internally or who are seeking refuge, and that steadiness might change where the emphasis of movements of peoples are, and therefore context to me what needs to happen, but that we should be quite careful when using words which are quite incendiary at times, like unprecedented, and which might create a climate of fear or of panic. Maybe just to give you a few statistics to start with. And I’m not a statistician, and I don’t normally work in numbers, but I think they are instructive for thinking this through in a global context. UNHCR 2020 statistics say that 68% of refugees originate from five countries, Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. And they are hosted, 39% are hosted in just five countries, Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Germany. This discourse of what is unprecedented particularly coming from countries in the Global North, and that has led to interventions like the new Global Compact for refugees, is one where the majority refugee hosting is occurring within what are usually called the countries of the Global South, only Germany is appearing on that list of the top five countries. And Germany, as you may remember, took the decision to resettle a million Syrian refugees back in 2015-16.
Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE 22:14
I think it’s also worth pointing out that 86% of the total that we have, according to the best statistics, are hosted in low to middle income countries. So that the work of refugee hosting, as my colleague Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh at the University College London has repeatedly pointed out is largely undertaken by refugee communities, diaspora communities, in the countries of the Global South, or in the neighbouring countries to those where conflict is being experienced. And that figure is at 73%. My colleague and singleton who’s worked for the international office of migration has also stressed that we must be very cautious when looking at any statistics in this field of global migration, particularly when we’re looking at border crossings. And this builds very much on what Christina has been saying. Some countries have very robust mechanisms for counting you in and counting you out, and others do not and may not even have any mechanism for counting you in and counting you out. At borders in conflict, people might cross multiple times. So it’s often very difficult to know what the exact numbers are. And they’re in a context of chaos, then the statistics may or may not tell a story that is useful to us. But nonetheless, what we find in public discourse, and in much of public policy, particularly in the rich world countries of the Global North, is a discourse that is built upon this word unprecedented. And we found it to in the draft consultation for the new plan for immigration that is now entering its second read has gone through its second reading, and he’s into committee stage in the UK Parliament. Just going to read one sentence “Left unchecked, illegal immigration puts unsustainable pressures on public services, this system is collapsing and under the pressures are, from what are in effect parallel illegal routes to asylum”. Now, those of us who work in language discourse analysis in the humanities can see that those there are words in that statement that are freighted and are doing ideological work. And it’s important that is that it’s stated and stated within the academic discipline, unchecked, illegal, unsustainable, collapsing, illegal, and then collocating that word which means linked to another word with words like routes or asylum or immigration. Irregular is a term that most of the people working within the asylum systems and legally looking at what constitute a regular number routes, routes people have to take because they have no paperwork, have no documentation would prefer. So I think this builds very much on what my colleague Christina was saying about bluff. And the way in which management by bluff, management by public pronouncement, management by certain forms of discourse is something we’ve come to see increasingly in what has been termed the hostile environment in the United Kingdom. And that the new plan for immigration really, really works with that what arts and humanities scholars like myself bring to this discussion is evidence of the extent to which the use of this language in the UK context, but also in other contexts where this language has used been used previously, and is what we call performative. It creates what it’s describing, and brings into being some of those fears some of those instances by using this kind of language. So it’s one of the reasons why the territory of language is so important for us to look at and understand.
Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE 26:03
And it creates quite an emotive environment. And that I think, is where, particularly within Scotland, it’s been very important that the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy has been built, not on emotive language, but on a human rights based framework. So the New Scots Integration Framework that Dylan was describing so well, is actually rooted in human rights law and human rights legislation. And each of those categories is based alongside one of the articles for human rights in order to ensure that it is rights that are respected the right to seek asylum, the right to freedom from fear of persecution that leads to refugee rights. And that integration then builds on rights to housing rights to dignity, rights to culture, rights to language, rights to employment. And that that helps take us out of the emotive context being produced through the bluff that Christina speaks of, through the criminalization that Dylan has been speaking of, and into a context where lawyers can do their work and civil servants can do their work and civil society can do their work in an environment that is steady and normalising. Thank you.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 27:22
Thanks Alison. And lastly, we have Jo.
Professor Jo Shaw FRSE 27:31
Hello, good afternoon, everybody. I’m going to take a slightly different angle on some of these questions, and not address it directly through the analysis of asylum issues. But I’m going to start off with a quotation from somebody who’s been writing about the nationality and borders fill. woman called Emma Harris who is a barrister in in London, specialising in immigration, asylum and nationality and public law. And she said, those who fight the nationality and borders bill as a whole, will no doubt be accused of seeking to delay justice for the Windrush generation and countless others. And that’s an interesting proposition to make and perhaps quite contentious. But I want to demonstrate by briefly talking about those nationality, the nationality provisions of the nationality and borders bill and the main way in which everything is mixed up as another example, perhaps of bluff as Christina calls it, or even as a form of political trickery, if that isn’t too emotive, a word to use. So why does Emma suggests that that fighting the nationality and borders bill is delaying justice for the Windrush generation. This is because what is in the bill, along with what I think many would agree are the egregious and potentially ineffective provisions on asylum and refugee seeking that have already been mentioned by the previous speakers. What the bill contains are a limited number of provisions that correct and engage with various historical anomalies in areas of unfairness in British Nationality law, and seek to remove them. Now, many of these historical anomalies or changes are things that the government is being forced into by cases that have been brought in in the higher courts, both in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, especially in relation to historical discrimination against men and women, especially in relations of those who are not married, which makes it harder for some people to transmit citizenship to their children. These may only be a small number of cases compared to the vast majority of people who are relatively straightforwardly received birthright citizenship. Obviously, there are many complexities in relation to those who are recent immigrants to the UK but the whole questions here, many of the questions here are also complexified because of the colonial history of UK, nationality law and various statuses that are far too detailed to go into in this context, such as those of British Overseas Territories citizenship and various other postcolonial statuses. But there are also provisions in the bill which apply to the case of Windrush, the fourth, there’s there are four sets of beneficiaries and the fourth set of beneficiaries are individuals who were wrongly prevented under the Windrush scandal from returning to the UK after travelling abroad, and have now been given the permission to re enter. However, they can’t currently naturalise or register as British citizens because they don’t meet the residents requirement for naturalisation, as they were not in the UK on the day that fell five years before the date of application because of their wrongful exclusion. Unlike other residence requirements, this criterion cannot currently be waived by the Secretary of State, and the bill will permit the Secretary of State to overlook that criteria. Now, there are various general caveats that can be made about those provisions. There’s a lot of support amongst informed commentators such as the Law Society of Scotland, that all forms of registration as British citizen should be free, or at least subject to a fee, which isn’t profit grifting as current registration processes are, and this is part of this issue is also before the Supreme Court at present. And there’s arguably too much discretion for the Secretary of State in some of the provisions that would be modified if the the nationality and borders bill goes goes forward. And again, the Law Society of Scotland suggests that it’s important that criteria, the exercise of the Secretary of State’s discretion are set out in guidance published by the home office.
Professor Jo Shaw FRSE 32:01
And there are there are other aspects of the bill that are worrying that are also in relation to nationality or statelessness. There’s an additional requirement for citizenship applications which are made on behalf of stateless children born in the UK, which will be introduced which may make it more difficult for those children to be recognised as UK citizens. And part of this is that there’s a sense that somehow this is being abused. It’s yet another of these, as it were straw people that are set up without any without any evidence. Here’s what the European network on statelessness, which is a Pan European Civil Society network thinks about this and after they submitted a detailed response to the proposal set out in the new plan. They cautioned that it was premature to make changes in the absence of more detailed data and evidence on the potential scale of misuse of the route for stateless children. It called on the government to first arrange for a detailed independent study and a comprehensive impact assessment of any potential impact on children in the UK. Its response also commented on the UK’s international regional and domestic legal obligations to consider the best interests of the child and to take steps to reduce and prevent statelessness and the various ways in which people can encounter barriers to registering a child with authorities. In the parents country of nationality. Think of various states without functioning administration’s Afghanistan, Venezuela are two examples, it’s been suggested that the new requirements should be underpinned also by flexible, evidential requirements to reflect the fact that in some cases, obtaining certain types of documents might be impossible. So even within the nationality provisions, there’s good and there’s bad, but overall, the position within parliament is certainly complicated for those political parties that want to contest the provisions on asylum. You want to use the issue of the current crisis in Afghanistan in order to demonstrate how inappropriate those provisions are, how inapt they are for the type of policy problem, which is actually before us, particularly in the Global North. But at the same time do not want to make it harder for the UK to deliver effective redress to the Windrush generation. And this is, I’m afraid another common technique within lawmaking and policymaking in the context of justice and home affairs in the UK. And it’s not the first time that we’ve seen cases like this. It’s perhaps another example of the bluff idea that was introduced by Christina and discussed by Alison from a discourse perspective. It shouldn’t be hard simply to oppose the asylum provisions of the nationality and borders bill. In practice, it’s been made more complicated to do that, because of the provisions on citizenship. Thank you.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 35:06
Thanks, Jo. And thanks to all four of you in 30 minutes, you’ve raised a huge number of issues. Now we want to pass things over to the audience and ask you to put any questions or contributions you have in the q&a. We’ve had a Scottish dimension to this normally, you’ve mentioned that the Scottish government and political attitude is rather different. What scope would that be for devolving more of this discussion? Or indeed, even if Scotland were independent? What scope would there be to do things differently given that we have open borders, and we’re part of the Common Travel Area? And so on? Dylan, you mentioned this, could you have a go at that one?
Dylan Fotoohi 35:52
Of course, and I think there are, yeah, these are two key questions. What does it mean for Scotland now? And once what scope there is for Scotland to react? And how, in within the current context the way that things are operating now? And what could this mean for an independent Scotland the future? I think these are two separate but slightly interlinked questions. And there are overlaps in the answers to these two questions. I think what what it means for Scotland now and what scope there is for Scotland to react and how within the current context there is, the way that I organise my thinking about this question is that there are, the whole the asylum process and experience of asylum seekers, there are two main parts to it. One of them is asylum determination, which is got to do with your legal status as an asylum seeker. So the home office or a government department needs to assess your case and then decide whether you deserve protection in this country and therefore you receive refugee protection or not. Could that be devolved to Scotland? That’s a big argument, and it might take too long for it to go anywhere. And whether there is appetite by the Scottish Government to argue for it or not. There’s also a question that I don’t have the answers to, but this the scale of the question about asylum determination, when it comes to borders, Visa, immigration, then the scope of the argument the complexity is deeper. The other part of the asylum system is integration that relates to, for example, asylum support and accommodation and employment and people’s rights and entitlements to public services and goods. Like other residents. There is much more scope in that argument, there is much more that Scottish government can and in my opinion should manoeuvre on in terms of, for example, asylum support and accommodation provision or employment or social security or community care. So there is scope in my opinion, there is more scope for Scotland, to legislate or to negotiate and argue for those aspects of asylum system that directly relates to people’s ability to integrate, for example, housing and homelessness, services, employment, asylum support and accommodation to be devolved. Although it’s not, I do receive a lot of there is when there is a very legitimate criticism to this point of view, because your legal status, your status, as an asylum seeker, directly affects your ability to integrate and your entitlement to access all the other rights that we are talking about. So there is the divide between asylum determination and asylum support and accommodation and other rights and entitlement is not as clear as I’m pointing it out. But I organise it in this way to make it more clear in terms of where we can focus as Scotland and where we can argue and where we can negotiate. I think there are clear and more straightforward arguments and actions that could be taken and those relate to issues around asylum support and accommodation, for example, to be devolved. housing and homelessness services, employment, community care, social security, these are areas that Scotland can and I think should focus on legislative, negotiate and try to argue for them to be devolved to Scotland.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 39:29
Okay, thanks. Now, we’re getting questions coming through. I’ll take the first one here. Given that in the past, a UK asylum application was considered inadmissible if the applicant first travelled through another EU country. What happens now was refugees originating outside the EU coming through the EU. Maybe Jo you can have a go at that one.
Professor Jo Shaw FRSE 39:51
Yes, I can’t say a great deal in detail but as I understand it, being able to make some progress in that area because the UK is now outside the EU would be dependent on the UK reaching some bilateral agreements with various states particularly with France and it hasn’t made that much progress. So of course in that respect the UK is withdrawal from the EU has made the complexity of asylum policy even greater than it was.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 40:23
Okay, now we have another one from Sarah. Where do the panel see the right locus for action to affect change in asylum? The speaker seemed to me to address issues at different levels global, Scotland, UK, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and how one can think through which level would be most effective? How could one think through the inter linkages between the different levels of government? That’s a little bit my question, but not not quite the same? So somebody likes to have a go at that one? Christina?
Professor Christina Boswell FRSE 40:55
Okay, I can make a start. Thanks, Sarah. That’s an interesting and challenging question. I mean, I’m just thinking about the pressure points in a way. So what factors might influence government decision making in this area? And I can think of two if I if I’ve got my optimistic hat on, which is not as quite rarely at the moment, one, I think, is public opinion. So I think there are episodes which can really galvanise public opinion, to sort of direct government or steer governments towards at least signalling a more generous approach towards refugees. And there have been episodes in the context of the European refugee crisis if we want to use that term. And I think more recently, with Afghanistan, there is potential there’s I think there’s a groundswell, because of the way the media is reporting it, of sympathy and concern about the plight of Afghan refugees at the moment. So that could be something which can be tapped and mobilised. And the other one is, on the international stage, governments do worry about their reputation and how they appear, and whether they’re appearing to be progressive and generous and liberal and human rights respecting. So again, that is another way that that sort of, especially, if you take the discourse, and here again, we’re going into Allison’s sort of the language question, if you take the discourse on global Britain, in a sense to sort of put a mirror to the government and say, Well, you want global Britain, you want to be a respected leader? How are you demonstrating this through through your asylum policy? I’m not sure that quite answers your question. But I’m just you know, it’s difficult. But I think we need to think about the types of arguments and types of sort of forms of reasoning that might exercise some traction on the government.
Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE 42:36
Could I maybe follow on from Christina? Because I think it’s such a great question, Sarah. And it’s the one that keeps me awake most nights, trying to think about how we might affect change, such that everyone can live in a just an orderly society, in other words, to live in peace, but a peace that is founded on the basis of justice and in the rule of law, and how I see these threats at the moment, to those and to that ability. And I think there’s a number of things that that we can point to that interlink and intersect in 2015 in May, there was an opinion poll done before the general election. That said that 7% of the UK population thought that we should have more asylum seekers. After the publication of the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the Kurdish refugee, who was washed up on a beach in Turkey. That figure went up to 47% and it has never gone back down to 7%. So that was an intervention through the arts and humanities, a photograph changed people’s minds worldwide. And it brought about a moment not so much of a great increase in the amount of hosting that went on, though quite a bit did happen. And not even necessarily to a change of heart by nation states. But it did lead to an immense amount of capacity building within communities that wanted to host be their refugee hosts or be they people in civil society. To put it another way, people like my mum started volunteering. And we then watched as people moved from having an understanding of this work as charity as giving things you know, things they didn’t want any more things they wanted to discard, to refugee charities to help equip flats, to then realising something about the levels of injustice, and engaging more politically with their MPs with their representatives. We’ve gone from a situation where the Scottish Refugee Council in 2015, and Dylan knows this well, because I remember him coming and knocking on my door at the university and saying, oh my goodness, the people who want to volunteer, what are we going to do with all these people? It’s amazing to 400 people instantly knowing that what they needed to do was engage at a national level with their representatives. So capacity has been built across society already. And that’s building constantly through different initiatives within civil society and through the way that were changed by encounter. I think that then does move up to the kinds of levels you know that I engage with through UNESCO, but which are also part of things like the Global Compact for refugees, that has come because of this word burden-sharing the view that it’s not okay. But the countries that I was mentioning, are doing the majority of the work and yet are often countries who have very little resource. So there is something there in the Global Compact, ease the pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self reliance, expand access to third country solutions, support conditions in countries of origin, for return in safety and dignity. So peacebuilding and post conflict, all of these things I think, are really important. The issue with the Global Compact is it needs to be taken seriously. Same issue with the Refugee Convention, we need to keep the pressure on. And I think this is a constant issue. For it to be respected. We’ve got the agreement there, we need to continue with it. So I think these things intersect. And I watched, you know, I watched my mom as a barometer going from, you know, maybe giving an aid package or a food package to then getting much more involved in some of the political campaigning. And then seeing this, these changes in these ways. So I think these things into interlink in that in that way.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 46:35
Thank you. There’s a question from Nazamier, but I think it’s largely been covered by what have you, you will said but we may come back to at the end if we have time. There’s another question here. The members of the panel differentiate between asylum seekers, refugees, and economic migrants who would like to have a go at that one?
Dylan Fotoohi 46:56
I can answer that one. A migrant is a person who migrates right and asylum seeker and refugee is a person who has migrated for a specific purpose. What makes definition of an asylum seeker or refugee is a person who arrives in a country a safe country like the UK, and applies for asylum and seeks protection due to a well founded fear of persecution for different reasons. Once that application is ongoing, the person is seeking asylum therefore, asylum seeker, once that protection is granted the person status become a refugee. That person is also migrant, because they’ve migrated. An economic migrant is a person who migrates for economic purposes now, I came to the UK as an submitted an asylum claim. Because I had a well founded fear of persecution. And I got my protection and then I became a refugee. So I’ve been on this all these labels. Did I have an economic motive? Did I want to work in the UK and make money and make a healthy economic life for myself and contribute to the economy of the country? Of course, is that a bad thing? No. Does that make me an economic migrant as well as a refugee and asylum seeker? I don’t know. I’ll leave it for you to answer. But what I’m trying to get to is that this is we can’t put people in those kinds of boxes so discreetly and distinctively because economy or work, employment, financial stability, and contributing to the economy of the receiving country is part of my identity and job and life as well as every other asylum seeker and refugee. So differentiation between so just because I am a refugee, I’m therefore have no economic role or motivation or part in my life is not not that clear. But there is a clear definition for a person who’s seeking refugee protection.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 49:03
We have another question specifically addressed to you, Dylan, do perhaps believe that COVID 19 pandemic is highlighted the Scottish asylum process, which asylums and migrants had an increase of their weekly benefits being cut, encountering severe mental well being issues, I think it’s really about the impact of the COVID on the situation of migrants and asylum seekers.
Dylan Fotoohi 49:27
I think the COVID experience exposed the level of inequality in our society on different marginalised groups, including and in particular on people who seek asylum in Scotland and what we saw it sadly, it exposed the level of dysfunctionality of mainly asylum support and accommodation provision system that we have in place. So at the moment, the system that we have in place as I mentioned, In my opening talk is that we have a system that takes people effectively and systemically and deliberately out of the mainstream service. So prohibits people from accessing mainstream housing, homelessness, employment, financial support, etc, and puts them in a separate system that is delivered and contracted to private companies. So the asylum support and accommodation is contracted to private companies to be provided to asylum seekers. So people don’t have access to DWP to social work to all the other social protections that exists for residents. And all those duties of care are contracted to private companies. So that system is was exposed during COVID. And it showed that the level of scrutiny and accountability and protection that this the existing mainstream services provide to people is impossible to secure in the current system that is contracted to private companies. The consequences of this was very visible. So in Scotland, for example, the issues around hotel accommodations and institutional accommodation and financial cut to people lead to severe consequences lead to people being death in those hotel suicides and stabbing attacks and a police officer injured etc. So it has severe visible consequences for the city in Glasgow society, but also for people who are subjected in that system. And it really exposed the level of dysfunctionality and the consequences of that dysfunctionality to society. I think, now we have a we have a moment of reflection. Now it’s time to look at what went wrong in asylum support and accommodation during COVID In Scotland, and why? Was the system in place that allows for those kinds of these dysfunctionalities? What lessons can we learn? And what can we change in the future to make sure that those behaviours and those actions and decisions are not made again. But in general, I think there are great lessons to be learned and there is great, there are deep reflections and investigations or learnings to be to be made by all of us using the COVID experience as a case study.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 52:18
Thanks, now, we’re coming to the end of our time, we’ve only got five minutes left. And there are no more questions here. But I just like to go around the panel and ask you for any final thoughts on this in the light of what’s been said and what the others have said. So I think was Jo.
Professor Jo Shaw FRSE 52:38
Thank you very much. I have nothing further to say I’ll donate my time. But thank you very much the RSE, for this and for the excellent questions that have come from the audience.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 52:51
Professor Christina Boswell FRSE 52:52
I think really just to highlight the sort of complex picture created by the the sort of tension between the Scottish Government approach and UK government approach, and I think, to watch that space and see how it evolves now in the context of a debate around constitutional change, and broader political debates, I think is a really fascinating set of issues and very important.
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 53:15
Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE 53:17
I just want to finish maybe by highlighting something positive that builds on what Christina was just saying, and and some of the work that Dylan and others were involved in, which was around voting rights. So refugees had the right to vote in the elections in Scotland of late. And it wasn’t just refugees who had the right to vote who weren’t included previously, there was work done to include many others, categories who’d previously been excluded. And I think this approach of saying what is good for asylum seekers, in terms of inclusion in society will be good, good for other areas, and other people who have been traditionally disadvantaged. So the the move to have a housing policy that mitigates against homelessness, in which the homelessness that has been present within the asylum community is also mitigated is a really excellent approach and voting rights for me instantiated that, and I would want very much to see our work in this area with Scottish Government be about those kinds of forms of inclusion, because maybe to cite Behrouz Boochani, when he was who was a held captive on Manus Island before being granted asylum by New Zealand, and he said that a lot of his work and the work that Australians did with him, was very much about trying to make Australia a better country. And I think that this is one of the areas of social engagement and social endeavour where you see people trying to make things better for everyone, but from this particular point of identified injustice,
Dr Professor Michael Keating FRSE 54:58
Okay, so thanks to the four speakers and for the audience for their questions, this is a debate that’s going to continue the RSE is doing a lot of work around this. So look out for our various publications, our representations to parliament’s and governments and various levels and to continuing to debate this. I do hope to see you all next year, hopefully in person. So thank you once again, and good afternoon.