Separating sanctuary from the immigration debate - Refugee Council
October 30, 2007

Separating sanctuary from the immigration debate

Every morning a small group of people in our office sit down and go through all the papers to see what the media is saying about asylum seekers and refugee issues. 

There hasn’t been much over the last week, but with incorrect government immigration stats, David Cameron’s speech on immigration and embarrassing comments from Sky’s newsreader, there has been a plethora of headlines and stories about immigration in general. 

‘Government red-faced over immigration figures’ says the Independent, ‘record immigration sees UK population soar’ says the Telegraph, Britain will be scarcely recognisable in 50 years if the immigration deluge continues says the Daily Mail.

One of the major challenges for us at the Refugee Council is to encourage the media to make a distinction between immigration and asylum – and to speak about asylum seekers as, well, exactly that – people seeking asylum from persecution.  Too often asylum seekers are connected to myths and scare stories about immigration ‘flooding’ or benefit ‘handouts’.  My favourite was a story about an asylum seeker eating a swan – completely untrue of course!

An MEP recently told me how he received letters asking him what he was going to do ‘about all these Polish asylum seekers working on local building sites’.  A ridiculous question on so many levels – but it highlights the level of confusion about what the terms ‘asylum’ and ‘immigration’ mean. 

So how can we overcome this, and help the public to pull apart and understand asylum?  Getting the media to report the plight of asylum seekers accurately and fairly is absolutely critical.  Our busy Press Officer speaks to journalists day in, day out, helping them to get the facts right.  The Independent’s recent articles on the plight of refused asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, Burma, Iraq and Darfur have been very insightful. 

If you would like to help encourage fair media reporting, take a look at our Don’t Believe The Type website.  The campaign was launched in 2005 and the issues and actions certainly are as relevant today as they were then.