Whose interests do we protect by refusing children asylum? Not ours, nor the children

Posted on Thursday 10th April 2014

Dr Nando Sigona from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) writes for 'The Conversation':

nando-sigona"In just a few days last week the #FightForYashika campaign managed to raise more than 178,000 signatures on a petition asking to the UK Home Office to reconsider the forced removal of 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi, who was deported back to Mauritius to face the abuse and harrassment from which she and her family had claimed asylum in Britain in 2011. In a poignant analysis of the case in The Observer newspaper, Catherine Bennett, explained the possible reasons behind the sympathetic coverage even in usually anti-immigration media outlets by this story, noting that it “nicely encapsulates a picky but popular approach to migrants: just a few exceptionally gifted singletons, please”.

She also noted that this approach has a darker side – namely the exclusion of many more young migrants who have, like Yashika, applied unsuccessfully for asylum in the UK when still underage and whose stories receive far less sympathy and coverage in media. These children are, she wrote, “effectively punished by public opinion for being insufficiently picturesque” or not equally academically successful.

Individual stories such as Yashika’s have the power to mobilise sympathy beyond the usual pro-immigration camp and to reach out towards new constituencies – in this case also Conservative MP David Burrowes and the top model Cara Delevingne.

But if campaigns limit their scope to the individual case, and indeed make the case for a differential treatment based on it being exceptional, they produce little in terms of shifting public debate and changing the governance of youth immigration. Unfortunately, in this case, the petition did not even achieve its goal to postpone Yashika’s removal to after the completion of her A-levels.

But individual stories don’t necessarily need to be exceptional to mobilise widespread support. This has been demonstrated by the success of young undocumented migrants in the USA in changing the terms of the immigration debate. The DREAMers as the campaigners are known, created the political space in June 2012 for the US president, Barack Obama, to sign an executive order to suspend deportations and grant renewable two-year residence permits to young undocumented migrants (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA).

The DREAMers are a significant voice in the ongoing campaign for a long-term immigration reform that would regularise millions of undocumented young people who have developed strong social and emotional ties in the USA. Thanks to the persistent and well-organised work of the campaigners, many Americans perceive these young people as the contemporary embodiment of the American Dream. This is captured by the following statement on June 15, 2012, by President Obama:

President Obama: "These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighbourhoods, they are friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper".

Read the full article in 'The Conversation' 

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