The binary logic of asylum

There is a certain logic that often pervades coverage of asylum issues from all sides. The logic turns on the fact that the asylum decision is seen as a pure determination of an individual’s moral worth. Those who are given asylum, the refugee, are often seen as saintly; the failed asylum seeker is seen as quite the opposite.

This binary logic is at work in the representation of this story. Inducing the return of failed asylum seekers with ‘reintegration payments’ is a policy used by the Home Office as an alternative to forced removals, which on average cost the taxpayer more than twice the amount. In this sense it is a pragmatic policy to attempt to deal with the paradox of returns. Yet here the binary logic kicks in: failed asylum seekers are bad and should not be given taxpayers money – even if forcibly removing them costs the taxpayer double.

It is understandable that there is concern about people with no remaining legal right to be in the UK receiving any funds. Yet this logic places a huge amount of faith on the asylum determination procedure, which is fraught with complication. There are huge grey areas in asylum decision-making in which someone can have legitimately fled from a civil war but often is not able to prove that they are under specific threat of persecution; there are likely to be cases where the reverse is true. Forced migration and global asylum is a far more complicated issue than can be determined by one decision made on a specific set of criteria.

Furthermore, from this binary logic, the story of failed asylum seekers receiving payments can become embellished. It is argued that this will act as a pull factor to other migrants wanting to use the asylum route to get into the UK. But these payments are conditional on leaving the UK. It is unlikely that people would first save thousands of pounds in order to pay the right agents to transport their family to the UK and then seek asylum in the hope that they would then receive, on average, £1,500 just to return home again.


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