Did you watch Dispatches – ‘the Kids Britain doesn’t want’ – this Monday on Channel 4?
The programme followed the story of three young asylum seekers (from Iran, Afghanistan and Uganda) and showed how they had been failed, or even damaged, by the asylum system that is supposed to protect them.
Lots of people have already written about the C4 dispatches program (e.g. here and here) so I won’t go into it in too much detail, except to say that it was extremely upsetting. Instead, I’d like to comment on some comments and ask what they say about people’s attitudes towards asylum seekers.
I’ve been reading with interest the comments on the C4 dispatches website. Unlike the Guardian Newspaper’s Comment is Free, it doesn’t seem to have attracted the usual ‘send asylum seekers home’ brigade in quite the same numbers (although there are a few). In fact the majority of comments appear to be from people who were genuinely moved by the programme, including ‘ANON’ who claims to be an employee of the Home Office.
The stories on the dispatches programme won’t surprise anyone who has experience of supporting anyone through an asylum claim… but a lot of the viewer who felt moved to comment on the C4 website were clearly surprised and shocked by the way asylum seekers (especially children/families) are treated. Many said they were ashamed that people were being treated in such an inhumane way “in my name” or “using my taxes”. Some demanded that the government initiate an inquiry into UKBA’s actions towards families. Some comments asked what they could do to help asylum seekers near them and Refugee Action posted a comment making suggestions.
Students often ask in seminars about asylum about the direction of ideas between ‘public opinion’, government policies and the media. It’s difficult to know and I suspect it goes in both directions, but based on the comments board on the C4 website it seems that ‘public opinion’ is not as in favour of being ‘tough’ on asylum seekers as the media and government might expect. I hope that the personal stories of the three young people on dispatches helped people remember that asylum seekers are individuals with normal human wants and needs.
Finally, I’d just like to highlight a comment posted by ‘ANON’, claiming to work for the Home Office.
…Asylum seekers in this country are looked after by charities. It’s usually charities NOT THE UK GOVERNMENT that offers legal advice and backing, shelter and financial assistance to these people… Also, many asylum seekers who come here usually make a go of things for themselves and their families. Many are not used to the luxury of having free education and health care, and having the government fork out a living for them; many have a very clear sense of responsibility and work ethics.
If ANON is indeed a Home Office employee it’s a pity their voice was/is not heard on the programme. The Home Office did respond to Dispatches (read it here). However, ANON criticises their “formally published statements” and encourages people to “research further”.
A well-timed documentary and a very interesting response. Did you see it? What did you think of it? Feel free to add comments below.