Miguel* is from South America. In this article, he describes his experience in the asylum system and his views on what needs to change.
My family has been stuck in the UK’s disastrous and inefficient asylum system for four years. The four of us—me, my wife and two children—have all shared one room for the majority of that time.
My children ask me: why can’t we stay in a normal place like other families?
The government suggests hostile policies—like the barge, or sending people to Rwanda—that are not real solutions to the crisis.
I didn’t want to seek asylum in the UK. My family traveled here five years ago because my life was at risk in my own country in South America. We planned to stay for a year, just until things calmed down back home. But I kept receiving death threats.
My brother and I had been targeted by organised crime gangs, something that often happens to those with resources in my country. It’s a very dangerous situation, and the government there doesn’t have a way to protect people. My brother went to the US, where he applied for asylum, and this has been granted already.
We decided to apply for asylum here. The application itself was relatively simple, I got a lawyer and he helped. I was expecting a fairly quick answer – I assumed we’d submit the evidence, state our case, and the decision would be made. The reality has been very different, and living through the asylum process is extremely hard.
The first terrible thing is that all your rights are taken away; you can’t drive and you can’t work.
Back home, I was a businessperson and my wife was a doctor. We could be working and adding to the economy, but there’s nothing we can do. My wife suffered from depression and anxiety during the first two years.
Housing has been another issue. We have two children, one was just a toddler and the other was still at primary school when we arrived. At first, we stayed in my wife’s aunt’s house—all four of us, in just one room.
Unable to work, I used up my savings. I’d never asked for support in my country, and I didn’t even know support was available here. But eventually, we were forced to ask for financial and housing support from the UK government. This was not easy—we even had to take the Home Office to court, but they eventually agreed to give us some support.
The Home Office sent us to accommodation in a different part of the country, and this was stressful because my children were at school and it was a big upheaval for them. But the house they gave us was not habitable. There were broken windows, there was glass on the floor, there was garbage all over the place, there was rotten food. There weren’t even any beds.
At the time my daughter was unwell and the bathroom had mould. I felt we had to refuse this house because I didn’t want to put my family’s health at risk. We ended up returning to the aunt’s house, which is where we are now. It’s not ideal – we still all sleep in the same room – but it’s certainly better than the conditions the government offered us.
Over the years, four different officials from the Home Office have contacted me asking questions. It is as if someone new comes along and starts the process all over again.
Now, my asylum application has been rejected. The UK government says it accepts my evidence, but that my country is a safe place because the police there sometimes make arrests. But it is one of the countries whose citizens most frequently claim asylum around the world.
The documents they have sent us include many errors: one letter refers to someone with a completely different name, another gives a date for my interview that’s wrong by three years. I’ll appeal the decision, but this only adds to the length of time and the cost of the process.
The issue with immigration is one of inefficiency. The current approach makes the costs much higher and means the UK government is throwing money away.
The focus on Rwanda or ‘stopping the boats’ is a distraction.
Politicians don’t want to talk about the problems with the UK economy, so instead they talk about immigrants and refugees. It’s not just about the numbers, or how many immigrants arrive – if they can’t move through the system, they’ll just add to the backlog, whatever the figures.
The world is made up of immigrants. Many people in the UK are immigrants or are descended from immigrants. With the right policies, we could build a better country with the help of immigrants – including those who came through the asylum system.
The main thing is that we are alive despite the adversity. I’m not sure I’d be able to say that if we’d stayed in my country. I have to be thankful for that. This is a great country, it’s a country full of opportunities. So I try to stay hopeful about the future. ■
*Miguel’s name has been changed to protect his identity, and his story was featured in openDemocracy.