Matthew Collin on Sun, 2 May 1999 22:13:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> UK government's attack on asylum seekers


British hearts have gone out to the refugees fleeing Kosovo. But even as the
Government airlifts them into this country, it is also preparing to make
life much harder for other asylum-seekers - some of the most vulnerable
people in Britain - by passing the new Immigration and Asylum Bill.

'The Big Issue' has launched a campaign to end the inhumane practice of
forcing asylum-seekers to live on vouchers instead of real money, causing
further poverty and humiliation for those who have already been dispossessed
by war, torture and repression. The system is to be extended under the
Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is currently going through parliament. We
are calling on the Government to amend the Bill and restore benefit rights
to all asylum-seekers.

Please join us by putting your name to the campaign.

Vouchers for asylum-seekers are:

Inadequate for survival: Fixed at just 70 per cent of income support,
vouchers will leave asylum-seekers well below the poverty line. They will
have just #1 a day in cash to pay for bus fares, stamps, telephone calls and
laundry - anything that cannot be bought in a supermarket.

Humiliating: Asylum-seekers are not allowed to use vouchers for basics such
as clothes and shoes. One woman was told she could not buy a ready-made
sandwich and a yoghurt - only 'proper' food was allowed.

Expensive: Consigning asylum-seekers to extreme poverty is not cheap.
Housing benefit and income support currently cost about #110 per
asylum-seeker per week. The voucher system will cost #165 per week. British
taxpayers will be forced to fund this.

Degrading: Shopping with vouchers immediately marks out asylum-seekers as
outsiders making them targets for racial abuse.

Send this coupon to us and we will pass it on to the British government:
Dear Jack Straw (British Home Secretary),
I believe that the voucher system for asylum-seekers is humiliating and
inhumane. Do not abandon your commitment to social justice. Please amend the
Immigration and Asylum Bill and restore benefit rights to asylum-seekers.
Yours sincerely,


Send to: Stop The Vouchers, The Big Issue, c/o 3 Bondway, London SW8 1SJ. 
Or e-mail to:

The campaign is supported by: The Refugee Council, Asylum Aid, the Coalition
Of Asylum & Anti-Deportation Campaigns and the National Assembly Against
*The Big Issue is a weekly current affairs and arts magazine sold on the
streets of Britain by homeless people, allowing them to make an income and
take control of their own lives. Weekly national sales: 270,000 (ABC


Three-year-old Gentiana Zogjani, playing on a tricycle in the Yorkshire
sunshine, was happier than she had been for weeks. Gentianaps family had
fled their village in Kosovo after it was shelled by Serb forces, moving on
through the countryside where they were robbed and threatened at gunpoint.
'I thought they were going to execute us,' said her father.

The Zogjanis were among the first 161 Kosovans to arrive at Leeds-Bradford
airport two weeks ago. They were given an emotional welcome on the runway,
and churches, mosques and neighbourhood groups rallied round to provide
clothes and other essentials. The public response, a local vicar said, was

But there is a chilling contradiction between the reception given to these
Kosovans and our Government's general attitude toward asylum-seekers.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post after the Kosovans had touched down, Home
Secretary Jack Straw wrung his hands and bleated compassion: 'Left without
food, shelter, sanitation or hope for the future, they have been completely
dispossessed.' He continued: 'It is doubly important that refugees who have
lost everything can at last feel some respite from their terrible

Fine words. But simultaneously, the same Jack Straw is piloting the new
Immigration and Asylum Bill through Parliament. This Bill will mean victims
of torture or those maimed by land mines will not be able to claim benefit.
It will mean asylum-seekers will be dispersed around the country, away from
the support network of their own people. And it will mean receiving vouchers
worth 70 per cent of Income Support instead of benefits - way below the
poverty line. 

The voucher system is humiliating to use, expensive to run, and inadequate
for survival. Last week, The Big Issue revealed that a black market trade in
vouchers has sprung up because people are so desperate to exchange them for
cash. A group of previously law-abiding nuns has become involved in
facilitating this trade, so concerned are they at the cashless
asylum-seekersp plight.

The Kosovans who have been airlifted in to Britain will get the benefits and
support they deserve, and it would be unfair to suggest that this is only
because they are conscience cases with a high media profile. But before the
Nato bombing began, 10,000 Kosovans had already made their way here. Some
had used forged papers, some had no papers at all. Many had been smuggled
in, hiding out, terrified for their lives, in the back of trucks and
lorries. Under the Immigration and Asylum Bill, drivers smuggling in
refugees will in future be fined and those bearing false papers may be
ejected - even if it's the only way they can evade torture or ethnic

Until now, politicians and papers have colluded in constructing the
unpleasant myth of the 'bogus asylum-seeker' - someone who comes over here
seeking an extended holiday funded by the over-generous UK taxpayer. As we
revealed last week, a vicious anti-refugee campaign in Dover's local press
coincided with an increase in physical attacks on asylum-seekers in the town
and a resurgence of neo-Nazi activity. Children were bullied at school and
families who escaped from persecution faced a renewed onslaught. While
politicians ranted and local rags whinged, fascists felt empowered to throw
bricks and punches. 

And yet this is simply a reflection of the contents of the Immigration and
Asylum Bill: a piece of legislation intended to stop as many vulnerable
people as possible entering our country, and to keep them poor and miserable
if they do manage to get here. 

Before Labour's election victory, Jack Straw called the Tories' denial of
benefits to asylum-seekers 'inhumane' and accused them of 'playing the race
card'. But now he is extending the very same system he once attacked.

Although it may not seem that way, Gentiana Zogjani is one of the lucky
ones. If the Immigration and Asylum Bill becomes law, all that Britain will
have to offer people like her is second-class justice. 

Matthew Collin, Editor, The Big Issue

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