The Voluntary Assistance Return Programme

An interesting development in the UK, vis. (failed) asylum seekers.

Failed asylum seekers are to be offered an extra £500 to return home in the wake of figures showing the number of removals is at its lowest level for five years.

The changes announced by the International Organisation for Migration, which runs the £22m-a-year reintegration scheme, will provide a flexible package of support in cash and in kind to help those who go home to start up their own businesses, go through further education or take up a job.

Under the present system a £500 cash relocation grant is paid at the airport for each member of the family going home and a £1,000 reintegration package paid in kind is made available to help set up a business or in other ways ensure their return home is “sustainable”. About 80% use the aid to start a business and all are given help in getting travel documents and buying flight tickets.

The new approach announced yesterday includes boosting the £1,000 package to £1,500 and making it more flexible to cover an individually agreed return plan. The aid could be used for short-term accommodation costs, to cover part of an annual salary bill for a job or even contribute to the costs of children’s schooling. A further new element is the potential for a further £500-worth of assistance six months after the failed asylum seeker has returned home to keep a new business going.

The natural reaction to this is taken up by the Tories:

The Home Office announcement was criticised by the shadow home secretary, David Davis, who said it was extraordinary that the government was having to “bribe” asylum seekers to return home.

While the more-or-less Toryish justification of it belongs to the government (still reasonably Blairite, fair to say):

A Home Office spokesman said the new approach to voluntary returns represented good value for money against the cost of enforcing a return through deportation. He added that further potential savings would be made through not having to provide support and accommodation while still in Britain. Those who had to be forcibly removed did not receive such help.

What did you expect – kindness? Not from a department dedicated to immigration/asylum in a rich country’s government. They’re lucky they’re not locked up in a prison in the middle of a desert (had they gone to Australia, say).

To muddy the waters, somewhat: do we object to the Home Office paying-off rejected asylum seekers? Or do we object to their rejection? Compared to forcible removal (or mandatory detention, the horrid Australian model for so many), is getting a payoff such a bad thing?

Back when the UN released its report on refugees, all more-than-10-million of them, we got a feel for the origins of the world’s (meaning the world’s – not necessarily the UK’s) asylum seekers:


UNHCR report table 1

One has to ask how far that 500 pounds sterling + GBP1,500 business grant (or, if increased, GBP2,000) will get you in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq, Somalia or the DRC.

One answer says, frankly, pretty far. That’s a lot of money. Moreover, conditional upon being denied asylum/residency in the UK, can you think of a better outcome for the asylum seeker, given the options? The caveat to this answer, more or less clearly, is the attempt by the Home Office to, yes, bribe asylum seekers to abandon their legal avenues and return home, before those avenues are exhausted. Which is a sight below our expectations of ourselves.

The other answer to the question is not very far, because the country is bloody dangerous: odds are the person did escape for a reason (just, apparently, not one one of sufficient urgency). We (all countries) repatriate people to some pretty dangerous countries (in many cases made so, or made more so, by us) – show up back in Baghdad with that sort of money, belonging to the wrong tribe, and with all/most of your previous associates potential dead, left or kidnapped, and how long, honestly, would expect to last? You’re probably better off with the Home Office stealing your kids, rather than some lunatic militia group.

The debate, for me, is just kind of off. These things aren’t the issue. How few refugees are taken in by how many countries who do so much of the damage in the first place, that is – or ought to be – the debate.

Has the UK ever done for an affected country the sort of favours done for it by the US, back after the second World War? Has the US ever repeated the favour? What happened to us? Is it (probably, but we’d like to believe not) purely because our economies have no interest, no investment, in these newly-war’ed-upon economies? Is it racial/ist? Eugenic? Are we just more distracted, now? Are we lead by people of inferior moral fibre? Are those leaders followed by people of inferior moral fibre?

At the end of day it seems reasonable to suggest that we would make very little in the way of sacrifice to support more of the people fleeing the countries we destroy. If we’d only make more of an effort to repair and rebuild them once we’re done, such support need not be permanent – our asylum seekers would willingly return home to rebuild the social fabric of a country whose actual fabric had been re-stitched, I should think. But, then, I’m kind of an idealist.

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