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The warped priorities of the UK’s asylum system

We are providing a safe haven for terrorists and criminals, while refusing to help those in genuine need.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

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The UK’s asylum system is a dangerous joke. Time and again, we see criminals, traffickers and terrorists slipping through the net – and going on to inflict harm on innocent people in this country. But even by Britain’s woeful standards, the case of Abdul Ezedi has plumbed new depths. Ezedi, a 35-year-old Afghan national, attacked a mother and her two young daughters with a corrosive substance in south London in January. He is thought to have inflicted life-changing injuries on the mother. His body has since been recovered from the River Thames. Police believe he took his own life.

His was a horrific crime, committed at the heart of our capital city. And worst of all, it could have been prevented. Indeed, Ezedi should never have been free to roam the streets of the UK in the first place. He first entered the country in the back of a lorry in 2016. He applied for asylum and was rejected. Twice. Then, in 2018, he was convicted of one charge of sexual assault and one charge of exposure and given a suspended sentence. But despite his failed asylum claims, and despite his criminal convictions, Ezedi was allowed to remain in Britain. Worse still, he applied again for asylum and by 2022, the authorities had granted it to him.

How is this possible? How was he granted asylum even after two failed applications and two convictions for sexual offences? We now know that the decision hinged on Ezedi’s claim that he had converted to Christianity – a claim backed up by at least two churches. This made his deportation to Afghanistan more or less impossible, as he would have been deemed at risk of persecution as a ‘religious minority’. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Ezedi’s conversion was a sham. In the words of a friend, he remained a ‘good Muslim’ all along. He had even recently been spotted buying halal meat. Ezedi is not an isolated example, either. A former Church of England priest has spoken about a ‘conveyor belt and veritable industry of asylum baptisms’.

This is a weakness in the system that dangerous people are increasingly trying to exploit. Take Emad al-Swealmeen, a 32-year-old Iraqi-born asylum-seeker who came to the nation’s attention for all the wrong reasons in November 2021. On Remembrance Sunday that year, al-Swealmeen blew himself up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Thankfully, the bomb went off earlier than he had planned, and he was the only casualty. But that is besides the point.

Like Ezedi, al-Swealmeen had a criminal history. He was reportedly imprisoned in the Middle East for serious assault in the early 2010s. Like Ezedi, he claimed to have converted to Christianity in an attempt to stay in Britain. In al-Swealmeen’s case, his asylum bid was twice rejected, mainly because the authorities doubted his claim that he was a Syrian refugee. But he still wasn’t deported in time to stop his attack. As for his alleged conversion, after the bombing, police found both a Koran and a prayer mat at his home. There were also reports that he had been attending a local mosque during Ramadan.

More and more illegal migrants appear to be seeking out conversion in the hopes of boosting their asylum prospects. Last month, it emerged that 40 of the 300 migrants on the Bibby Stockholm migrant barge are currently converting to Christianity. But fake conversions are far from the only problem here. Our human-rights laws are a much greater obstacle to a sensible asylum policy. At the moment, they are allowing numerous malign individuals to remain among us.

At the end of last year, the Mail on Sunday revealed that an ISIS propagandist known only as ‘S3’ had won the right to remain in Britain on human-rights grounds. He was granted asylum 18 years ago, after entering illegally from Sudan. But in 2016, the security services discovered he had been spreading pro-ISIS material on social media. The Home Office decided to strip him of his British citizenship while he was abroad, but he managed to enter the UK illegally for a second time.

According to MI5, S3 remains a serious security risk. But it seems like we’re stuck with him. His lawyers successfully argued in court that depriving him of his UK citizenship and deporting him would breach Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – namely, the right to life and the right to be protected from torture. This is despite the fact that he had been making regular trips back to Sudan without any issues, making a mockery of his claim that he feared for his life. And so, S3 now has the right to remain in the UK indefinitely. He has even been given lifelong anonymity. So his neighbours will be completely unaware that they live next door to a man who backs a barbaric death cult.

Then there’s the case of Albanian crime lord Gjelosh Kolicaj. He was jailed for six years in 2018 for smuggling £8million of his gang’s ill-gotten gains out of the UK. The National Crime Agency has warned that he poses a threat to the public and is likely to return to a life of crime after his release from prison. Yet the UK is powerless to deport him. He acquired dual Albanian-British citizenship in 2009, after marrying a British woman. He soon divorced her and married an Albanian national in 2013. She does not have British citizenship, but they have two children together. And so the Home Office’s attempts to revoke Kolicaj’s citizenship and remove him have been blocked, on the grounds of his ‘right to family life’.

How can this be right? How did we end up with an asylum system that can so easily be gamed? How did we end up with an asylum system that puts the welfare of sex offenders, gangsters, extremists and acid attackers above the welfare of ordinary people? Clearly, we need a complete overhaul. We need to close the loopholes. We need to free ourselves from any legal framework that restricts our ability to make democratic, common-sense decisions about asylum policy. And we cannot afford to wait for another Abdul Ezedi to do so.

This is not to say that we should pull up the drawbridge. On the contrary. It is right that Britain provides refuge for some of the world’s most persecuted peoples. In recent years, we have provided a safe haven for Syrians fleeing civil war, Hongkongers fleeing Chinese state tyranny, and Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression. In fact, the dysfunctions of our asylum system have arguably made it much harder for us to help some of the people who genuinely need and deserve it.

That would include the Afghan citizens who worked with British forces during the war in Afghanistan. Regardless of what you think of that ill-fated, decades-long intervention, these soldiers, translators and journalists assisted Britain at great personal risk. We promised them our protection, but we have not delivered it.

After the Taliban re-took Afghanistan in 2021, many of these Afghans were forced to flee to Pakistan and Iran while they sought resettlement in the UK. But they have waited in vain. Now many face deportation back to Afghanistan, where they will likely be persecuted or killed. There are an estimated 2,000 people in this perilous situation. Yet British support for them has not been forthcoming. One British Army general has rightly called it a ‘betrayal’ and a ‘disgrace’.

This speaks to the moral disarray at the heart of our approach to asylum. Here is a clear-cut case of people who need and deserve refuge in the UK, yet our government seems incapable of providing it. Meanwhile, we are aiding and abetting those who mean us harm. It seems that a government that is overwhelmed by questionable asylum claims often cannot meet the needs of those who are genuine. What’s more, the more that asylum becomes associated with giving refuge to sex offenders, crime lords and ISIS fanatics, the more the public’s patience will wear thin.

There are no easy fixes to our asylum system. But fix it we must. We need root-and-branch reform, starting with stopping dangerous criminals and terrorists from taking advantage of our generosity. It’s what the British people want. It’s what they expect as citizens of this great country. And it’s the only way we can carve out a generous but sane asylum system that is ready to help those who truly need it.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

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Topics Politics UK

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