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It was, then, against this backdrop of increasing public scepticism and hostility, that successive British governments in the 1970s and 1980s had to balance the increasing toll of despotic regimes causing higher numbers of refugees, and the capacity of the state to accommodate them. Unfortunately, the balance seems to have tilted away from the refugees as the British interpretation of the Convention has tightened. It is worth noting that the Refugee Convention has never been incorporated into British law, and the British Government is therefore under no obligation to observe it. It was not until the Immigration Appeals Act 1993 that the government was even obliged to consider it. Under this Act, nothing in British immigration rules and practice should contravene the Convention. The process of application for asylum is protracted and uncertain. There are now strict requirements and high levels of evidence to establish that one is a genuine refugee. An example of this is the need to prove that one is the member of a particular social group. How does one prove this? Another example of the British governments’ hardening attitudes towards immigrants is that those travelling to Britain through a third country are obliged to seek asylum there. This is, perhaps, a fair request, but it hardly reflects the policy of a country happy and willing to accommodate genuine refugees.The period since the 1880s has, then, seen a fluctuating level of concern for refugees seeking sanctuary within the UK. It cannot be said that Britain has a wholly proud history of accommodating genuine refugees, although her policies have tended to be slightly more lenient than her European and other Western neighbours’ (those seeking citizenship of the US must take a Constitutional exam to demonstrate their commitment to the country). It would be unfair to characterise successive British governments as being unaccommodating to genuine refugees, and there have been measures put in place genuinely aimed at helping such immigrants. Much of the suffering that immigrants have undergone has occurred once they have been granted sanctuary, at the hands of the indigenous population (both at grass-roots level and in the political arena), who have often been afraid of the potential draining effect of the nation’s resources of such incoming populations, and who often forget the significant economic input such immigrants actually make. On balance, it would seem that it is inaccurate to say that Britain has a ‘proud history’ of granting asylum to genuine refugees.


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