What are refugees? Why are they coming here? What happens when they get here?
Read this fun ‘choose your misadventure’ story, and find out…
HOW TO HELP
Please consider a donating to either of these charities:
Bristol Refugee Rights is a charity providing practical support to asylum seekers in Bristol, and fighting for their rights and entitlements. BRR’s specialised support workers help asylum seekers with every aspect of their asylum claim.
Phone Credit for Refugees is a volunteer-run charity providing mobile phone top-ups for refugees and displaced people wherever it is needed, which unfortunately includes the UK. 99p from every pound that you give to PC4R goes directly to the phone of someone in need.
I have 1500 hand riso-printed copies of this comic, printed by Footprint Worker’s co-op. For a limited time, you can order individual comics just for the price of postage and packaging, from my webshop. It would be very nice if you were inspired to give a donation to one of the two chosen charities above, but only you know if you’re able to do that. If you would like to order multiple copies for use for educational purposes, that is also an option. Please use the contact form tab at the top of this page to email me your requirements. There will be a courier charge, but the comics themselves are free.
ABOUT THIS COMIC
I was approached by Aston University’s Centre for Forced Migration and Displacement last year and asked to create artwork that echoes their academic research. With a very loose brief of “do something about refugees” I decided to create a comprehensive “choose your misadventure” story giving an overview of the cruelties and contradictions of the UK asylum process, and enlisted Tom Daly of Bristol Refugee Rights as co-author. We aimed the comic at people who know nothing about why refugees come to the UK and what happens to them when they get here. I went for an old-school Beano comics aesthetic, partly because I wanted to explore then artistic tension between telling a difficult story in a jovial format, and partly because talking about refugees in nostalgic and particularly British way echoes the fact that the Refugee Convention is part of British heritage.
NOTES (WITH LINKS) ON THE TEXT
Ali lives in a country with no free speech… The organisation Freedom House produces an annual report “Freedom in the World” which analyses each nation for freedom of political expression, corruption, and respect for civil liberties. There are many countries where people don’t have freedom of speech. It’s not the fact of living in such a country which makes Ali a refugee, it’s the fact that he has been actively persecuted by the State for expressing his political opinions.
Less than one percent of people are resettled… The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is the international agency which looks after large refugee populations, where nations allow them to help. In 2021 they resettled 39,266 people to build a new life in a safe country. At that time there were 4.6 million people living in UNHCR refugee camps, 1.44 million of whom urgently needed resettlement. Those figures have increased in subsequent years. A family’s chance of being successful in claiming asylum through the United Nations resettlement scheme is vanishingly low.
The world’s second largest exporter of weapons… The House of Commons UK Arms Exports Statistics Research Briefing, December, 2021.
Taxpayer’s money subsidises the production of armaments… The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute produced a special report on the various ways that the UK government subsidises the arms industry.
I will arrange for him to travel to Safelandia… For an in-depth exploration of the ways that people-smugglers interact with people seeking asylum, read the book Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano.
Something bad has happened — Mary can’t tell you what it is… Mary has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is affects her ability to remember. It can sometimes be difficult for victims of a crime to clearly and reliably recall the sequence of events.
Sir Winston Churchill didn’t directly sign the Refugee Convention, but his government was instrumental in drafting it. The initial aim of the agreement was to share responsibility for resettling the millions of people displaced by the Second World War, although the horrors of the Holocaust were present in the minds of the signatories. The scope of the legislation was limited to Europe until the 1967 Protocol to the Refugee Convention both expanded the definition of persecution and widened its geographical range. See more at https://www.unhcr.org/uk/about-unhcr/who-we-are/1951-refugee-convention
Immigrants give more to the economy than they get back… This is the statistic in the comic that has the largest number of contradictory research results, partly because it’s difficult to analyse all the factors around the financial contributions and costs of a disparate group of people, and partly because organisations like Migration Watch produce research papers on the subject from a specific political perspective. The ability of migrants to work, and thus to contribute to the economy, is key here, and current asylum policies often prevent people claiming refuge from working for several years before their claim is approved. But, overall, the research is clear that immigration benefits the economy and creates jobs. https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/the-fiscal-impact-of-immigration-in-the-uk/ https://www.oecd.org/migration/economic-aspects-of-migration.htm
By the end of 2021 the global refugee situation is urgent… Statistics are from the UNHCR.
But the UK resettles just 1,587 refugees… This is not the total granted asylum in the UK in 2021, but the number officially admitted through resettlement schemes.
Mo’s journey is even more epic… Mo’s journey seems like something out of an action movie, but the risks faced by African migrants are well-documented. “No one talks about what it’s really like” – risks faced by migrants in the Sahara Desert Julia Black, UN Migration Publications Platform.
The risks continue when the journey passes through Balkan countries which are not part of the European Union… See Becoming a Smuggler: Migration and Violence at EU External Borders, Karolina Augustova, Helena Carrapico & Jelena Obradović-Wochnik. ‘Liberal Violence and the Racial Borders of the European Union’ Arshad Isakjee, Thom Davies, Jelena Obradović-Wochnik, Karolína Augustová Out of Sight, Exploited and Alone: a Joint Brief on the Situation for Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, International Rescue Committee. Hundreds of unaccompanied minors and children with families face trafficking and exploitation in the Balkans. Unaccompanied refugee children are uniquely vulnerable. Europol reported that 10,000 children went missing in Europe in 2016, suspected of abduction by criminal gangs.
The ‘Wealthopean Union’ is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the global financial inequality between nations. It is important to remember, however, that not all asylum seekers are poor.
It is a criminal offence to enter Safelandia… The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 changed the rules for people seeking asylum in the UK. Details of the new legislation can be viewed here.
Ali is now guilty of people trafficking... The UN have given their legal analysis of the people-smuggling provisions, which makes it clear that if a migrant is a passenger on a sinking ship, they are liable to prosecution if they save the lives of others.
Mo is forced to work as a slave… It seems crazy that children are being held in slavery in the UK. The charity ECPAT UK has analysed that, although the majority are British children, there are also trafficked children from countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan.
He is arrested, convicted and deported… As a victim of child trafficking, Mo could be granted discretionary leave to stay in the UK – after all, he didn’t have a choice about being brought here. However in 2019-2020 less than 2% of exploited and trafficked child migrants were granted this.
Ali is sent to a hotel… A hotel? Doesn’t sound so bad! But dispersing vulnerable people, including families with children, to hotels around the country makes it difficult for them to access specialist medical care, translation or support services. It also puts them at risk of being targeted by racists. A preferable alternative would be to help them find housing in the community where they can have a degree of independence. At the end of 2021 there were more than 26,000 asylum seekers living in hotels in the UK.
…or a military barracks Large numbers of single men are housed in dormitories at military barracks with no privacy, very little to do and no monetary support payment. If Ali were housed there, he would have had access to a telephone, but would not be awarded the £8 a week cash. The British Red Cross has condemned military barracks as inappropriate for use for housing people who have fled torture and detention.
Ali isn’t allowed to get a job… Despite the fact that most asylum seekers are capable of working and willing to contribute to British society, they are prohibited from working. It costs the State an average £560 a month to support an asylum seeker, but the vast majority of that money is paid to hotel owners, private security firms, catering firms and landlords – the actual person gets very little. See House of Commons research briefing paper: 8990 Asylum Accommodation: the use of hotels and military barracks.
Stranded without any money… The details of Ali’s hotel stay are based on the Refugee Council publication: Lives on hold: experiences of people living in hotel asylum accommodation.
Should refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they come to? This is a legal grey area. “The Convention does not require refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, or make it illegal to seek asylum if a claimant has passed through another safe country… some might have very legitimate reasons to seek protection in a specific country, including where they might have family links… However, asylum-seekers may be returned to a country that is deemed safe based on reliable, objective and up-to-date information, and where they could have sought asylum provided that a fair process is available to them, there are proper standards of reception and their rights under the Convention will be respected in practice.” But, remember, the whole point of the Refugee Convention is to share the responsibility of providing humanitarian protection between states, not to outsource it.
Ali is sent to Rwanda… A general overview of the Rwandan asylum plan can be found here.
Safelandia paid Rwanda £140 million… One £120 million initial payment plus another £20 million.
Priti Patel’s parents were refugees… And she has admitted that they wouldn’t have been able to come to the UK under the changes she introduced to the immigration system.
£13,000 for a charter flight… Figures from the BBC.
Refugees in Rwanda have been shot dead... Twelve Congolese refugees were killed at a demonstration.
Domestic violence & illegal abortion… are part of the poor human rights record in the Freedom House assessment of Rwanda.
LGBTQ+ people are persecuted… There is testimony from a gay Rwandan refugee to the UK here.
The UK accepts refugees from Rwanda… All UK successful asylum claims by nationality can be viewed here.
Home Office officials almost refused to implement it… These are comments made on an official Home Office internal noticeboard.
The only other nation to forcibly deport asylum seekers… Denmark passed legislation in 2021 permitting deportation to a third country but at time of writing, there were no mechanisms in place to actually do this. See information from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. And Israel had a secret policy from 2014 to 2018 to send refugees to Rwanda but this was meant to be a voluntary rather than a forced deportation.
Kevin Rudd’s policies did result in a reduction in the number of boats arriving in Australia but it’s impossible to tell whether this is a result of the Navy turning boats back or not. The UK doesn’t have the option of returning refugees to France, because we left the EU, so France is under no obligation to accept them. So there is no hard evidence that deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda will affect whether people choose the UK as their safe haven from persecution.
Nore than a hundred people still in Nauru… 111 as of January 2022.
Children were imprisoned… The scale of the systematic abuse of children by prison guards is detailed here. [Warning: extremely graphic.]
The victims of this cruel policy… The names of the people quoted are a Tamil asylum seeker, Thanush Selvarasa, and Iranian men Abbas Maghames and Loghman Sawari. Thanush and Abbas were eventually released to Australia but Loghman, who was first imprisoned as a child, has been in detention for nearly ten years. Sign the Amnesty International petition for Loghman here.
It costs £1.9 million a year… That is, 3.4 million AUS dollars. [Exchange rate to GBP: October 2022].
More than fifteen billion dollars… The ‘At What Cost’ report in 2016 estimated offshore processing and onshore mandatory detention cost Australian taxpayers $9.6 billion between 2013 and 2016 and forecast it would cost at least $4 billion more between 2016 and 2020.
Australia seems to be a fair country… “A country’s liberal reputation, which will have emerged over decades, is unlikely to be called into question in a short period and lies beyond the reach of policymakers. This can be extended to broader perceptions of the country, across economic, security, health, education and other civil society factors.” Do asylum seekers and refugees choose destination countries? Evidence from large-scale surveys in Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. See also:Deciding Where to go: Policies, People and Perceptions Shaping Destination Preferences.
Mo’s age assessment… See Section 52 of the Nationality and Borders Act.
The scientific basis is sketchy… The British Medical Association and The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health both strongly oppose the proposed age assessment procedures on scientific and ethical grounds
A single adult living on less than £10 a day is destitute… These figures are from 2020. Inflation makes this an underestimate, especially since the cheapest items in the supermarkets have undergone unprecedented price rises.
I managed to get a phone card… The charity Phone Credit for Refugees supports refugees with phone costs, including within the UK. Donate here.
Mo, we’re your new foster parents… Mo’s experience is partly based on this article: “That first evening over dinner he called us Mum and Dad.”
Ali has been waiting more than a year for this interview… Analysis by the Refugee Council found that the average waiting time for an initial decision on an asylum claim is between one and three years. Waits of five years for a decision, including for children, are not unusual.
Ali’s interview questions are quotes from a genuine substantive interview analysed by the government’s Asylum & Protection Directorate, November 2021. “The phrasing of some of the questions asked by the interviewer was openly disbelieving and did not adhere to the guidance on objectivity and impartiality… The way the interviewer challenged the information… was inappropriate and had the potential to confuse or distress the claimant. This was not a one-off”.
Mary’s screening interview doesn’t go well… Under Section 7 of the Treatment of Claimant’s Act, 2004, an asylum seeker’s credibility is damaged if they fail to claim asylum at the first opportunity. Even though the government has acknowledged that “vulnerable people… might find it more difficult than others to disclose what has happened to them; to participate in proceedings; and to understand the consequences of non-compliance with legal requirements”.
1/4 of asylum decisions are initially refused… But of those that appeal this initial decision, more than half win their case.
Medical evidence is disputed… Freedom from Torture found in its 2016 report, Proving Torture, that caseworkers failed to apply the correct standard of proof for asylum claims with medical evidence in every single case of the 50 reviewed. Caseworkers often assumed that lesions assessed as anything less than “diagnostic” of torture by the doctor (in other words, no other possible cause), had little or no significance as evidence of torture.
Culture of disbelief… The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has stated that: “The task of staff examining claims for asylum is to judge fairly, not to make it as difficult as possible for asylum claims to be made. While staff should be rigorous in considering the merits of a case, and reject those which are not meritorious, it is not their role to aim to reject cases, and the culture of disbelief that has raised has no place in fair judgements”.
Violence against women often goes undocumented... “For many women the persecution they face is not overtly political; it may take place in the private sphere and be carried out by individuals who are not connected to the state, such as family members, and yet it may be just as severely threatening to her as persecution carried out by the state.” Refused. The experiences of women denied asylum in the UK.
Mary’s country isn’t considered to be awful enough… The key concept here is “sufficiency of protection”. Can Mary prove that the police in her home country are so dysfunctional that they won’t be able to keep her safe?
There aren’t enough lawyers for asylum seekers... See the report No access to justice: How legal advice deserts fail refugees, migrants and our communities, by Dr Jo Wilding, May 2022.
Not wanting an arranged marriage is not a valid reason to claim refugee status… But forced marriage (not arranged marriage) is a breach of someone’s human rights. Especially when enforced through economic dependence and the threat of violence.
Standards of credibility could be used to catch Mo out… See How Children Become ‘Failed Asylum Seekers’.
Certified as “clearly unfounded”… Some asylum claims are rejected without recourse to appeal under Section 94 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
Ali has to reapply repeatedly… The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 discriminates between refugees based on whether they enter the country “lawfully” and claim asylum immediately. Group 1 refugees are given 5 years leave, after which they can become British citizens. Assuming Ali arrived after 28th June 2022 he would be judged to be a Group 2 refugee.
Group 2 refugees have limited right to family reunion… The insanely complicated rules are here.
Human Rights and human wrongs… Read more about the Illegal Migration Bill and its relation to Human Rights here. And if you only click one link in these notes make it this one.