Sligo author Declan Henry told David Hennessy why Britain should show more compassion to refugees and asylum seekers and why he wanted to dispel the right wing myths that they just come here for benefits and free housing.
The Irish author of a new book about refugees and asylum seekers says that desperate migrants will continue to die in the Channel until the government show more compassion.
Declan Henry, author of Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: The Truth about Britain, told The Irish World: “That will continue until somebody really sits down, this if the Home Office and the Government, with aid agencies and looks at resettlement programmes and really allows people in legally. Until then people are always going to find a way in, especially people in desperate situations.
“Britain is the 6th richest country in the world and I thnk it’s well within its means to take in more refugees. We have only taken in a small amount in comparison to other European countries.”
Almost 300 migrants including 36 children have died trying to cross the Channel by small boat, ferry and the Channel Tunnel since 1999.
Just last month a whole Kurdish-Iranian family, which included two small children, drowned while in August British authorities were blamed by the French for the death of 16-year-old Sudanese boy.
“You see the spontaneous arrivals that arrive daily on boats to Dover and the likes so many do lost their lives at sea. It’s very dangerous.”
Declan believes the British government should create legal routes for migrants to reach the UK and look at the compassion Germany has shown in accepting displaced people.
“Germany stands out as being particularly good with asylum seekers and refugees because they run vocational training programmes because they appreciate people have had very disrupted education.
“We do less well in comparison to places like Germany. The numbers Germany have taken in are quite commendable. They have shown a very compassionate stance in comparison to the UK which is very low on taking people on resettlement programmes.”
Declan has worked with refugees and asylum seekers as a social worker. His aim with the book was to dispel myths and misconceptions while also giving an insight into their daily struggles against discrimination, racism and poverty.
“I met so many of the young people from so many different places: the Middle East, Vietnam, African countries like Sudan and Eritrea.
“It was really good to be able to speak to these young people about their experiences, about why they came here, the perilous journeys that they made in coming here and what life is like for them now, what it’s like to be a refugee, asylum seeker in the Britain of today.
“To be quite honest, we’re not a welcoming place to put it mildly.
“They all had to leave their families and their homelands very quickly. These young people fled their countries because of war, oppression, tyranny, poverty and of course escalating terrorism.
“They had to leave sometimes via these traffickers and agents that charge a fortune. Families give their last penny to send their child away for safety. Staying at home wasn’t an option: So many young people are murdered daily in these places. It’s desperate means to get out of a desperate situation.
“At least once they arrive in some place like Britain they’re in a safe country. We’re not the most welcoming.”
The book sees Declan looking at the gaps and inequalities in the immigration system, the long Home Office delays and the impact on their lives in terms of accommodation, education and planning for the future.
“I wanted to show the reader what life would be like if you were in your twenties and you came to England.
“That process is really tough and you have to wait a very long time. You can have a lengthy wait of several years and during that time you have to survive on very little money and you’re unable to work. If you don’t get Leave to Remain you end up in very dire circumstances.
“You also have the risk of deportation hanging over your head. That can take several years. In the interim you can be put in a deportation centre and that is little better than prison.
“You flee a country where there’s war or violence or terrorism or poverty or tyranny or oppression then you come here and it’s another couple of years of battling the system and living an existence as opposed to a decent quality of life.”
The book shows that these people who are forced to live in Limbo for a long time fall victime to mental health issues.
“A lot of people fall victim to depression, suicidal ideation. It’s a really worrying and anxious time that sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an end to.
“Some of the young people were in touch with their families, others had travelled with their families and become separated during the journey. There were young people that didn’t know whether their parents and siblings were still alive.
“The common theme was the loneliness of having no support, no family and not knowing when or if you would see your parents or siblings again.
“In recent years the delays in the asylum process seem to be getting worse, not better. On top of that, now we have Covid that has led to an even bigger backlog.”
Declan acknowledges that there will always be people who doubt their stories and believe they have come to Europe merely for a better life.
“There will be these right wing political figures or members of the public who are very right wing that will portray refugees/asylum seekers in a negative light. There will always be those who think, ‘They’re just coming here for free housing and benefits.
“A lot of the people who criticise refugees and asylum seekers, like Farage, have probably never met a refugee or asylum seeker in their lives. They’re no different to you and I.
“The more you meet them the more you understand them and like them and want to help them.
“They’ve had to overcome such ordeals and trauma that one can only admire the resilience.
“They have such a strong work ethic. They want to work. They don’t want anything for free.
“In my experience refugees and asylum seekers are, in the main, very law-abiding people. They’re very respectful, grateful, very polite.
“There’s very little alcohol misuse or drug misuse. I wish that the tabloid press would publish some of the positives not concentrate on the lies and the mistruths about coming here. Some of them don’t even know where they’re coming to. It’s not as if they have this masterplan to get benefits. A lot of them don’t even know what benefits are.”
The book also sees Declan look at Ireland and how refugees and asylum seekers are treated there.
“There were some very positive stories about welcoming committees, particulary in small, rural Irish towns. That was quite poignant.
“I didn’t see much of that on an ordinary level in the UK. There might have been organisations who were sympathetic but in Ireland there was more evidence the public were able to empathise with how difficult the lives of these people are.”
On direct provision, the controversial method of housing refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland, Declan says: “There’s obviously a lack of privacy, there is overcrowding.
“But there’s a chronic shortage of social housing in Ireland. A lot of people would feel that their lives are really at a standstill.
“As an asylum seeker you’re in Limbo. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
“There are families living in DP.There’s no guarantee that you would be able to be placed in a house.”
Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: The Truth about Britain is available now from Critical Publishing.