Skip to main content

UK’s tradition of humanitarianism towards refugees is a myth, according to Queen Mary academic

The UK has gone from civilised hospitality to hostility when it comes to providing sanctuary and refuge according to a new study tracing the history of UK asylum policies from the start of the 20th century.

Published on:

The study asserts that the tradition of humanitarianism has been severely challenged by mass forced migration of the 20th century and the loss of empire. It is argued that the historic ideals of refuge held up by subsequent UK governments are nothing more than a myth.

The research was led by Dr Yasmin Ibrahim, Reader in International Business and Communications at Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management was published in the journal Politics and Policy.

Fallout from Windrush continues

The publication of the study comes just weeks after the Windrush scandal broke and discourses of a hostile environment towards migrants began to circulate in the media.

Lead author of the report, Dr Yasmin Ibrahim, Reader in International Business and Communications at Queen Mary said: “An overview of the UK’s immigration policies over 100 years demonstrates that the so-called hostile environment concerning immigration began decades ago since the Aliens Act of 1905.

“Policies implemented by successive governments have sought to contain and control influxes of refugees rather than provide meaningful sanctuary to the dispossessed.”

Refuge: A romanticised ideal

The authors of the report cite the UK’s tepid response to the recent refugee crisis as evidence that the UK’s moral position of being a safe haven for refugees is little more than a romanticised ideal. It is argued that the subsequent re-labelling of asylum seekers as ‘migrants’ further contributed to the hostility towards those seeking refuge.

Dr Ibrahim added: “The UK’s financial aid for UN refugee camps during the recent crisis has meant that Britain has been able to maintain a compassionate façade whilst not admitting its quota of refugees meaning that the ideal of sanctuary is nothing more than a myth in reality”.

More information

Read the full report: Review of Humanitarian Refuge in the United Kingdom: Sanctuary, Asylum, and the Refugee Crisis by Yasmin Ibrahim and Anita Howarth.

Find out more about the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary.

Find out more about studying at Queen Mary University of London.