"in dark times"
So what would you do?
Imagine you come from a country where you thought your life at risk. Perhaps you had been threatened, raped or tortured. You were one of the lucky ones, you thought. You got out. You spent all your money on forged papers that would get you across borders and somehow managed - perhaps in a plane, perhaps in a ship, perhaps in the back of a lorry - to reach another country. It's a democracy which proclaims its commitment to human rights. You probably know at least a few words of the language and have some idea of the customs and the people. But when you arrive, you don't know what to do. You're as frightened and disoriented as anyone arriving in a strange place for the first time. For all the courage that got you so far, you're unsure how to cope in a strange place. The language you thought you knew from films and textbooks is letting you down. People speak fast, use words you don't understand and have a range of unfamiliar accents.
If you don't claim asylum at once, according to the rules and at the right place, you're in big trouble. Did you know that? Do you have any idea what the right place is? And you have to provide valid documents, such as the passport you left behind when you fled - or you have to explain in detail why you haven't got them. The officials are told to be sceptical. How do you persuade them to believe you?
There are leaflets to help - but did you know where to find them?
When you claim asylum, you will be photographed and fingerprinted. You may be sent to a detention centre. This could bring back memories of your bad experiences at home. You may experience terror, flashbacks, anger, fear. If you're lucky, your story will be believed. If you're lucky, you will be given a temporary right to remain. You will be asked to complete a complex, 20-page form including a statement of evidence. You can't do this in your own language unless you add a translation into the language of this new, strange country. And you have to get it right or you'll be sent back. You have ten days in which to complete it. And you need evidence of what happened to you: medical evidence, newspaper reports, testimonies, etc. Nobody told you to bring these with you when you left the country, and you may not be able to find a doctor or lawyer now, in haste.
If you applied for asylum quickly, you may get help with money and accommodation. This is important, as you aren't allowed to work. There's a pdf leaflet which gives advice on the conditions. (If you applied late or if you're disbelieved, you get nothing.)
You may be moved to another town and compelled to stay there. There may be no-one else there who speaks your language. Just as you were getting used to the accents of one place, you encounter new accents. The neighbours may be hostile. Many newspapers tell them that people like you are violent, dishonest scroungers. Expect to encounter suspicion and name-calling. You may be attacked.
If your application is turned down, what will you do? Not all lawyers are allowed to help you and those who will help need to be paid.
Where will you live?
How will you eat?
If you're lucky, there will be a charity to help you. You may find an organisation that is friendly and helpful. Maybe there's a warm room where you can sit and talk and play boardgames. But they don't have much to give. You get a bag of food every week and weekly spending money: £2.50 (£5 a week if you have serious health problems). If you read the appeals, you know that they are running out of money and the amount they give you may be cut.
You can't work. It's against the law.
If you beg, you may be arrested.
And you may be sent back to fear, imsprisonment, torture and death.
Luckily the country's parliament has taken notice. There's a report which talks about your suffering - and worse cases: children imprisoned, a cancer sufferer refused treatment, babies born into squalor. Surely in a democracy this will have an effect.
But the ministry in charge of your case says, "We simply do not think that it is right that those without any right to be in the UK should be given the right to work or access other services."
You hear those words and you know what they mean. That's you - with no rights. No right to food, no right to accommodation, no right to legal help, no right to work, no right to medical treatment. You might think it means no right to live.
For further comments on this subject, please read Jenny Diski.