This paper will contain a detailed analysis of the current perceptions surrounding Asylum seekers and Refugees in Great Britain. I will examine these issues from a structural, institutional, cultural and individual perspective. I will then discuss the ‘myths’ surrounding Asylum seekers and Refugees. In doing this I will make reference to the current legislation that has been put into place for asylum seekers and refugees. As student studying Social Work, the issue of Refugees and Asylum seekers is paramount to my profession. I will draw on my own experiences and observations of this controversial issue.

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to Refugees, defined a refugee as someone:

* who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion:

* is outside the country they belong to or normally reside in, and

* is unable or unwilling to return home for fear of persecution.

The Convention was drafted in the context of the millions of Refugees in post-war Europe, and only applied to European nationals. In 1967 the UN protocol extended this to cover any person, anywhere in the World, at any time.

While someone is waiting for their application to be considered by the Government, they are known as an “Asylum seeker”. (Donnellan, C. (2002), p5, The Refugee Crisis)

There are four different aspect of discrimination that Refugees and Asylum seekers are faced with in modern Britain. These include structural, institutional, cultural al and personal.

Structural aspects

Structural aspects of discrimination refer to the ways in which differential status and access to benefits in society are structured into our society physically, politically, and legally. The following are illustrative examples:

Legal – Immigration and Nationality legislation has consistently been drawn up to an agenda which differentially affect adversely black people wishing to come to Britain, with some specific countries being targeted for particularly stringent visa restrictions. (Johnston & Ainsworth, 2002)

For example:

“The Government’s Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill has now completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent.

The majority of the measures in the new Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 will need ministerial orders to bring them into force. Similarly, much of the important detail in the Act will only become clear as regulations and other pieces of secondary legislation are passed.

Although the Government has certified the Act as being compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has identified twenty-two possible breaches of human rights in the new Act. It is likely that court challenges on a number of aspects – such as the issue of appeals from abroad – will be brought in the next few years.” (www.refugeecouncil.org.uk 08/11/02)

Cultural aspects

Cultural aspects refer to share dominant assumptions about “normality” and commonly available ideas, which, in the main, remain unquestioned: these aspects are often characterized as “common-sense”. Typically, in the case of “race”, these involve assumptions about the “normality” of white British culture: “other cultures being as exotic, alien or bizarre.

Advertising, the media and language all carry and reproduce critical cultural messages, not least through the battery of insults available for keeping various groups in their place. (Johnston & Ainsworth, 2002)

Institutional aspects

The Commission for Racial Equality (1985) defined “institutional racism” as: “normal procedures and practices which work against the interest of certain racial groups, even though there might have been no conscious decision to discriminate.” And went on to say that it is: “a range of long established systems, practices and procedures which have the effect if not the intention, of depriving ethnic minority groups of equality of opportunity and access to society’s resources. It operates through the normal workings of the system rather than the conscious intent of the prejudice individual.”

The operations of immigration and customs officials, who disproportionately deny access to, and on search, black people, have also been seen as institutional discrimination.

From the special perspective of schooling mention must be made of what is variously called Structured Silence, Structured Omission, or Structured Ignorance, meaning by this many aspects of society which are kept off the schooling agenda because they would be seen as introducing “controversial” elements into the normal institutional practices of schools. This includes, for some schools (especially if they see themselves as “white”), making little or no mention of the supposedly contentious category of “race”. Recently it has commissioned high level developmental work for all schools in order to ensure antiracist materials are developed. This developmental work is signalling and challenging the extent of the present “silence” in schools. (Johnston & Ainsworth, 2002)

Personal aspects

This includes individual acts of stereotyping, discrimination, abuse, harassment and physical assault.

Many working against discrimination believe that, whatever individual/psychological dimensions there may be in individual actions, personal aspects of the major structured forms of discrimination cannot be fully understood outside of their structural, institutional and cultural setting.

These distinctions also help us to put into perspective psychological theories, which argue that stereotypes are just the products of the individual person’s need to generalize in order to deal with the World. Stereotypes on this view are just generalizations which have gone wrong. (Johnston & Ainsworth, 2002)

What is critical about this sort of analysis is to see how various elements, structural, cultural, institutional and personal discrimination interact and reinforce each other, often in ways which seem so “normal” that we do not even see them as part of the dynamics of quite unjustifiable treatment. (Johnston & Ainsworth, 2002)

There are a lot of “myths” surrounding the Asylum seekers and Refugees within Britain. I will give a few examples of these “myths” and then give the actual facts.