45 Americans Claim Asylum In Britain

45 Americans claim asylum in Britain

Home Office statistics reveal dozens of applications by people claiming persecution in the US

Helen Pidd
Monday 25 January 2010 13.44 GMT

The figures reveal 45 applications were submitted to the UK Border Agency by Americans between 2004 and 2008. Photograph: PA

They hail from the land of the free, the home of the brave, a place where it is said anyone can prosper regardless of colour, creed or religion. But dozens of Americans have tried in recent years to gain asylum in the UK by claiming they were persecuted in their homeland, according to figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

Home Office statistics show that between 2004 and 2008, 45 Americans submitted asylum applications to the UK Border Agency claiming they had fled the US and were unable to go back because they had a well-founded fear of persecution. Fifteen Canadians also applied. All 60 were turned down.

A US government source said the American applications were most likely submitted by self-declared “political refugees” claiming they faced discrimination under the last administration. The applications from the US peaked in 2008, the final year of George Bush's presidency, when 15 Americans submitted asylum claims.

Between 2004 and 2008 there were 132,640 asylum claims made in the UK, according to government statistics.

The Home Office refused to reveal the rationale behind the claims or why they were refused, saying a manual search of the records would be required, exceeding the time limit for Freedom of Information requests.

But on various online forums, people claiming to be American refugees have outlined their cases. One Texan hoping to be allowed sanctuary in Scotland claimed he had been “persecuted as a political dissident against US government war-mongering”.

Liza Schuster, an asylum expert from the department of sociology at City University, said: “I don't know the details of those cases, but assume the US citizens are deserting before being sent to somewhere like Afghanistan. With the Canadians I'm really not sure. It is, as is clear from the numbers, pretty unusual if only because it is relatively easy for those people to leave their countries and settle elsewhere. Why not just apply for a work visa and renew and then apply for leave to remain?

“As someone who would not find admission to European countries too difficult, it would only make sense to claim asylum if you feared extradition back to Canada or the US, or if there was some reason you might be refused entry. It is interesting I'd be curious to know more not least because in spite of what the law books say, granting asylum is a criticism of the originating state.”

According to the Home Office figures, most of the US and Canadian applicants were aged between 18 and 59, though a small number of American asylum seekers were over 60.

The Refugee Council, the largest organisation in the UK working with asylum seekers and refugees, said it had helped 18 American and two Canadian asylum seekers between 2004 and 2008. The adults ranged in age from 29 to 59 with a mean age of 44. The Americans had nine dependent children aged under 16.

“In this time this group of clients attended 40 advice sessions and mainly came to see us regarding their entitlement to UKBA asylum support, and issues associated with destitution,” said a spokeswoman.

Donna Covey, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “No country is safe for every person all of the time. Those with a genuine need for protection, whatever country they are from, should have the right to claim asylum in a place of safety.”

A small number of Americans have successfully claimed asylum abroad over the past few decades. In 1997 the Netherlands granted asylum to Holly Ann Collins, together with her three children, when they claimed to be fleeing domestic abuse. The family had spent three years living in four different Dutch refugee camps before their application was approved.

In June 2008 Texan mother Chere Tomayko and her two daughters were granted asylum in Costa Rica, also on the grounds of abuse.

After America went to war in Iraq in 2003 a number of US soldiers deserted and crossed the border to Canada, where they tried to claim asylum.

For a number of years Private Bethany Smith has been fighting to stay in Canada, claiming she was persecuted in the army because she is a lesbian.

Smith, who now goes by the name Skylar James, told Canadian authorities she was repeatedly harassed and threatened with death, then denied an honourable discharge because her superiors wanted to send her to Afghanistan. In November a senior judge ordered Canada's immigration and refugee board to look again at her case.

If you are one of the Americans or Canadians who sought asylum in the UK or you know someone who is, please contact helen.pidd@guardian.co.uk