Void of True Justice: The Open Plight of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the UK

Void of True Justice: The Open Plight of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the UK

This summer I have been working as a Legal Affairs Intern at the Afghanistan & Central Asian Association (ACAA), where I have had the privilege to meet and work with people who have inspired me to become more courageous, following the example they set each day. Many of these individuals are Afghanistani asylum seekers or refugees who visit our offices in Hounslow where our team of interns work tirelessly to provide them with the support, knowledge and skills necessary to thrive prosperously in the United Kingdom.

Due to ongoing conflict, unemployment, lack of security and poverty, many Afghans (and those like them), have lost their homes and livelihood in their motherland, where these vulnerable people have had no other alternative but to seek refuge in a foreign country.  The displacement of such individuals, paired with millions of casualties within the region, has been an assault on human dignity. The acts of inhumanity which refugees across the world have faced and fled from is something which must be addressed compassionately and effectively by domestic governments and the international community.

Many refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and around the world face systematic setbacks as a result of their situation. Having come face to face with such challenges through my work at the ACAA legal clinic, I have seen first-hand the knock on effects these issues have, not only on the individual refugee or asylum seeker, but also on the migrant community as a whole. It has left many feeling mentally and physically exhausted, bringing about a sense of insecurity and obsoleteness within the community.

In the UK, asylum seekers are not permitted to work. Refugees on the other hand can, but more often than not, secure low-paid employment, as a result of poor communication skills and lack of experience. Low income leads to many such individuals relying on legal aid to gain free, impartial advice and representation when legal disputes arise. Thus, legal aid often acts as the only route to justice for these people. Nevertheless, recent cuts to legal aid has resulted in many lawyers and legal interns such as myself to feel the pressure of an already over-stretched area of law. More devastating however, is the effect these changes have had on the vulnerable migrants who depend upon and seek these services for the true deliverance of justice.

The changes have left many asylum seekers and refugees unable to qualify for legal aid. This is seen most startlingly in great portions of immigration law, where the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 stipulates these areas as being out with its scope. Many vulnerable individuals can therefore no longer use legal aid to assist them with family reunions, nor can they utilise it in making a claim on the basis of the right to family, and private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. With no money to pay for lawyers, and the inability to qualify for legal aid, many individuals walk into our offices with the hope that our team of legal interns will somehow be able to provide them with the assistance they so desperately need and deserve, or, alternatively, they face the daunting task of having to represent themselves, leaving them particularly exposed to exploitation.

The roll back on legal aid has had a specially devastating impact on asylum seekers, where as a result of unemployment, no recourse to public  funds and with practically no money to pay for appeals, these people face the continuous risk of becoming destitute, being detained or removed from the country, despite displaying genuine cases. These people are often stripped from their family, forced to go back to a home which they no longer consider their own.

Changes to legal aid alone cannot be viewed as the sole cause behind the widening gap between vulnerable migrants and the access to justice. The issue also lies within the general treatment of these people, where many, due to an absence of proper and adequate support, are left clueless to the processes involved in exercising their legal rights. Moreover, they often feel isolated and intimidated, lacking the confidence to pursue justice as a result of their shaky understanding of the system under which they reside. This to me is quite simply due to a void in government-backed, tailored support available to these individuals. Although there are many services in the UK (and around the world) which exist to assist refugees and asylum seekers, they are often challenging to find, and due to potential cultural barriers, can come into conflict with the needs of the individual.

The lack of information and awareness amongst these communities with regards to their legal rights was recently demonstrated when we had a gentleman come in to our offices seeking representation for a hearing he had the following day. He was completely unaware that his employment case could possibly fall within the scope of legal aid. Although in a short space of time we were able to help him in writing a successful written representation, his situation could have been dealt with much more efficiently had he been aware of the more professional, legal services that were available to him.

Similarly, providing sound legal advice to migrants can often be an incredibly taxing task, as there is a continuous risk of there being some form of miscommunication. Although at ACAA, we have a diverse range of volunteers who are on hand to translate complex legal matters simply, not all vulnerable migrants are lucky enough to have this sort of assistance.

The strain on legal aid and the lack of informative and educational services tailored specifically to certain migrant groups is what allows these people to be continuously denied their right to justice. After all, if we are to make justice more accessible and widely available to such individuals, we must first educate them on how the system works and raise awareness on what legal rights they hold. Greater funding and genuine initiatives focussed on assisting such people would not only help to bridge this gap, but will ultimately allow these people the chance to rebuild their lives and thrive in society with dignity.

Unfortunately, this can be made more challenging due to public perceptions and a general atmosphere of mistrust towards migrants, where refugees and asylum seekers are viewed as a burden on the system. This leads to people becoming reluctant in supporting charities and government backed steps which help these individuals. But if we are to better ourselves as a society, we must promote justice through securing a system which is fair and built upon the principles of tolerance and community cohesiveness. We must strive towards sincerely supporting those at home who have been denied justice in their own land. To me, justice continues through to the transition period, where refugees and asylum seekers – such as those we encounter at our offices – are granted the same opportunities given to those more fortunate than them. I strongly and genuinely believe that these people must not, and should not, be left on their own.

Whether it be through lobbying for the reformation of the legal aid system, or by supporting charities and government-led initiatives, we can all play a part and contribute to the betterment of these people in some way. Through promoting tolerance and inclusivity as a society, we will also be promoting justice in its truest form. When it comes to the crisis faced by refugees and asylum seekers, it often feels as though we are moving one step forward, yet going two steps back. There is still a long way to go before we can secure a truly equal society where equal consideration is given to all, but by working holistically towards strengthening our justice system, by ensuring its availability and accessibility to all, I am hopeful that one day we can give asylum seekers and refugees – who are arguably the most vulnerable people in our society – the life and opportunities they truly deserve.



An Open Letter to The White Man

An Open Letter to The White Man

Disclaimer: This is an open letter not to the white man, nor is it a letter to a white man, but rather one to The White Man. My intentions are not to accuse or target individuals with this post. All I want is to shed some light on the privileges many white men have but do not always recognise, and often abuse. This letter is an attempt to inform; to explain what life can be like for the rest of us.

Illustration by Emanu

Dear White Man,

You, my friend, are the most powerful being on this planet: top of the food chain, leader of the pack, sitting on the top rung of the ladder by virtue of your birth.

You, as a result of your skin colour and gender, receive opportunities that people like myself could only dream of. You, White Man, are a force to be reckoned with. A force which is often underserving of such power; a force which didn’t earn such privileges but was handed them at birth; a force which thrives at the expense of others because the world allows it; a force which leaves the rest of us feeling much less than we are.

A controversial declaration? Perhaps. An exaggeration? Absolutely not.

You see, White Man, the world has set you at the head of the table. Whether you admit this is entirely up to you. In fact, a lot of what goes on in this world is entirely up to you.  You declare what war is, you define what beauty is, you dictate societal norms, you just generally hold more power than you appreciate.

First of all, you are a man in a world designed for men. A world where women are not seen as people but as empty vessels who are there to satisfy the needs of men, to soothe their egos and to do what they say. You are a man in a world where women are seen as weak of mind and body. You live as a man in a world where a woman is judged on her looks and not the contributions she makes to society; whether that be as a mother, friend, teacher or lover. You live as a man in a man’s world. How convenient that must be for you.

You occupy the highest roles in society and make the most money. You look dishevelled without being derided and disregarded. You walk at night without fearing constantly for your safety. You are always heard and you are always respected – that too for your mind, and not for your body. I as a woman, cannot expect any of these. You can, and do, just because you were born a man.

But that is not all that you have in your favour. The colour of your skin has also proven useful to you. History is the greatest witness of this. From forcefully colonising nations to reigning terror on those who were not in line with your ideals and practices, you, White Man, set forth a precedent, a reoccurring theme of entitlement. This so called “respect” which you have acquired through your tyrannical oppression in the past is still apparent today. You don’t have to worry about institutional racism. You don’t have to worry about being shot at mercilessly by the police because of the colour of your skin – an epidemic which is plaguing countries such as America today. You dominate the mainstream media and politics –  the very fabric of our society – leaving the rest of us marginalised. You are not burdened by damaging stereotypes regarding your race. Nobody jokes that you smell of curry or that you come from the “ghetto” and have a tendency towards violence. You, White Man, have been let off easily.

I am not here to attack or antagonise you. Nor am I here to say that you don’t have problems of your own. Of course you do. We all do. You may be from a deprived area and that could hold you back. But even then, statistics show that you still have a better chance of “getting out” and beating this vicious cycle of poverty – more so than say men from ethnic minorities and just all women in general. I mean, all you have to do is  search Google to see these statistics for yourself.* What I am trying to say is that you are privileged despite all of these issues which many others also face. You, White Man, do not have to face the systematic setbacks that people of other genders and ethnicities do. You see, we have to work extra hard and overcome far more obstacles than you do. Isn’t that unfair?

I do not expect an apology letter in return from you. I do not expect you to turn down jobs as a result of guilt. I am not saying that you are implicit or personally liable for all that is wrong in this world. I also appreciate that it is not always your fault that you seem to be the preferred choice because of who you are. I am just saying that it is a shame that this is what the world has come to. I am saying that it is heartbreaking that we are told that this is what we must become accustomed to.

You, White Man, are always taken seriously. You are always believed. You are always the right man for the job. If the world is anyone’s oyster, it is yours. So I ask of you only one thing: a simple request. Acknowledge the power that you have. Acknowledge your privilege. Instead of abusing it, instead of kidding yourself that you are entitled to the position you have in society, help us. Help me. Give us the opportunity and the space to thrive. Help make the world a fairer place. I hope that once you do recognise your privilege, you, when in a position of power, could potentially use that to hire and acknowledge the bias that exists and fight against it. Maybe I won’t be able to see this change in my life time, but I hope that talking about these issues will help to aid that process. I hope it will help to bring us closer to equality.

After all, the world belongs to us all. There is space for each and every one of us no matter what race or gender we belong to – all we need is for you to budge up a bit.


A Brown Woman

* ‘Persistent Poverty in the UK and EU’ (Office for National Statistics, 2014) and ‘Poverty rate by ethnicity’ (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2017)