Living in the UK, some of us may dream occasionally of migrating to another country.  The winters here can be miserable and have us longing for sunshine.  But most of us realise that despite the average rainfall being higher than we would like, we are very fortunate. Others who do decide to jet off to set up a life in another country aren’t usually doing so because they need to.  

We can’t deny that there are UK citizens who have extremely difficult lives as a result of personal circumstances, but the fact that the weather seems to be our most common daily concern as a collective nation shows that we are privileged, or definitely more so than a lot of other nations.

Some of us may not always agree with our government’s policies. We may believe that funding is being unfairly distributed. We may even be outraged by decisions that are being made by figures of authority. But we live in a democracy in which we have the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to choose what we believe and speak up for whatever it may be, and the right to love who we want to love. 

What we believe to be basic human rights are absent in some countries. Not only do some viewpoints divide nations but they are also enforced by governments who fail to protect their citizens, or in some cases, actively participate in their violations. People live in constant fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. They are not allowed to express themselves or their views freely and the consequences of doing so can be fatal. 

It is common to link asylum seekers to countries that are at war and connect their need to flee with the direct effects of war on their lives.  This is the reality in many instances. The current ongoing civil war in Syria is an example of people living in inhospitable danger among the violent clashes or being left with nothing following the destruction of their homes and communities. As well as the devastating effect the conflict in countries such as Syria and Iraq are having on their infrastructure, their citizens are also at risk of religious persecution and religiously motivated violence towards those who hold different beliefs from their societies. This goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that not only do we all have the ‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ but also the freedom to manifest our own religion or beliefs ‘in teaching, practice, worship, and observance’.  Anyone should be able to choose their faith, have the right to change it, and also be able to practice this belief alone or as a part of a community.

However, following a survey by Pew Research Centre in 2015, it was calculated that 77% of the world’s population are victims of restriction on their religious freedom.  This may be in the form of exclusion or abuse from other individuals, persecution from organizations or government policies that not only restrict particular beliefs from being publicised and practiced openly but also allow harsh consequences to be put on those who don’t obey.

Another group that faces serious harm, physical danger, and discrimination in such ways as denial of employment or housing are the LGBTQ community who are also denied the freedom to be themselves due to various government sanctions across the world. They are also victims of abuse by the wider community.  Historically, many asylum courts have ruled it ‘reasonably tolerable’ for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid persecution, however, this idea has since been rejected and these individuals are now eligible to apply for refugee status in order to protect themselves.  Not finding refuge in a country that acknowledges and accepts them for who they are forces them to hide their true identity to avoid the risk of legal action such as imprisonment, and even torture.  As well as the risk posed by the authorities, the families of people from the LGBTQ community often use violence against them for ‘violating their family’s honour’.  The statistics behind this particular type of persecution is sobering – 69 countries have criminalized same-sex relations and in 11 of them, the death penalty can apply.

People seeking asylum in the UK are doing so because their lives are in danger and it is unsafe for them to stay in their country. Whilst war and its direct effect on people, their families, and homes may be a major cause for people needing to seek asylum elsewhere, there are also people who live in fear and are threatened with imprisonment and violence because of their identities.  No one should feel at risk in their own homes based on their harmless beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.

Written By Catrin Rees.