HARNET came to the UK as a child with her mother at the end of 2003. Two years later, Harnet’s mother died of a chronic illness when they were still in the process of seeking asylum. Since the death of her mother, Harnet has been in the UK without recognised status.

She explained: “I have been an asylum seeker for almost 16 years. I became a lonely child after my mother died of an illness. My mother’s claim was withdrawn, and I had to apply for asylum. When I did so, I was rejected. I then made several fresh claims and provided new evidence, but, again, I was rejected every time I did so. No one seems to believe my story.

“For 16 years, I have been without any residence papers. I have no status, no home, no life. I have lived most of my life in G4S accommodations and, at times, I camp on the streets without shelter or food to eat.

After silently shedding tears, Harnet added: “To me, being a refused asylum seeker is like being in a grave. My grandma used to say ‘the soul is for God and the body is for the land’. In a grave your body decays until it’s rotten to debris. But if you’re a destitute asylum seeker like me, both your body and soul decay simultaneously until you become lustreless … You know, the asylum system fears neither God nor land; it’s evil. Nobody cares about you.”

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Can you imagine being reduced to the very lowest point of your life?

Imagine being stuck in the asylum system for 16 years like our friend Harnet, who came to the UK at the age of 12, was. For people like her, these are not imaginary situations; these are an everyday reality and a living hell. They have been abandoned in a wretched reality in one of the richest countries.

Unfortunately, Harnet’s story is not unique. Statistics, obtained through Freedom of Information Requests by the Scottish Refugee Council, show that despite having a 90%

asylum recognition rate, more than 300 Eritrean refugees are stuck under the rubric known, chillingly, as “section 4”, which means they are left to exist on less than half the social security minimum (£5.67 per day). This is UK state-sanctioned poverty, cold and severe.

Like Harnet, they are ferried between privately contracted asylum housing and emergency accommodation for months or even years without anything even approaching adequate support. Their dignity is stripped away, and they are forced to live in what the theorist Giorgio Agamben has deemed to be “bare life” – barely living, stuck in necropolitics – what philosopher Achille Mbembe calls a politics of death, of invisibility, of illegibility and of living in a “state of injury”.

Outside the UK, Eritrean refugees continue to face necropolitical experimentation throughout the transit and destination countries. We know, as we write, Eritrean refugees are facing modern-day slavery in Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Israel, the Gulf states and many other countries. We know thousands of other refugees die crossing the deserts and many more thousands have been tortured to death at the hands of traffickers in torture camps.

WE have watched the painful experience of a young Eritrean woman, Yohanna, being washed on to the shores of the island of Lampedusa on October 3, 2013, with her newborn baby still attached to her by its umbilical cord. In our work with refugees and people seeking asylum, we continue to hear stories of refugee trafficking victims being raped and buried alive; their breasts cut with heated knives; their organs harvested; burned with melted plastic and tortured to death. The Sinai trafficking, whereby people trafficked to the Sinai desert from Eritrea are tortured and their organs harvested for transplant needs in the rich world, and their relatives extorted for money to the cries of their pain, is a typical example of such necropolitical experimentation. The narratives of these experiences are the reason why there is a 90% success rate for asylum claims.

Despite these truths, the UK Government and politicians are accustomed to blaming the desperate refugees crossing the UK borders in the hope of reaching safety, but unable to recognise that it is the UK’s very own weapons and inherently colonial institutions that are complicit in the displacement of these people.

We, for example, have witnessed the Home Office’s declarations and enacting of emergency laws to prevent migrants, the vast majority of whom statistics show will be recognised as refugees but only after years of Home Office delays, crossing the English Channel and, at the same time, abandoning those would-be refugees who had to sleep inside disused military barracks, empty hotels and inadequately serviced asylum accommodation in the middle of a pandemic.

Likewise, some media reporting continues to relegate the stories of these desperate migrants to mere statistics, as have the Home Office and its asylum regimes. This is exactly what Harnet told us when we asked her how she wanted us to tell her story. She spoke of “we” and “us”, reminding us that she is not the only person thinking in this way.

HARNET explained: “If someone else was to tell our stories, the telling becomes our story, and our story remains untold. And, if we tell our stories ourselves, the telling itself remains untold in what is being told but we become the story. We want our stories to be the stories. We want to be the people with a story to tell. Would they be willing to listen to us? Would they be willing to hear our voices?”

People like Harnet keep telling us about their stories with the conviction that we, collectively, must denounce the injustice against people seeking refuge. Through their stories, they keep demanding not only radical solidarity but also action.

They appeal to us for a “restorative integration” that is grounded in restoring not only the rights and dignity of people seeking refuge but also our capacity to receive strangers. In the words of the philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres, we are called upon to “restore the logics of the gift through a decolonial politics of receptive generosity”.

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The statistics which have been revealed in the FoI obtained and analysed by the Scottish Refugee Council expose that even for people from countries with high refugee recognition rates, there are still significant numbers left inexplicably in either Home Office section 4 or abject destitution abandoned by a refugee “protection” system that, as their plight exposes, offers no such thing.

Asylum evictions restarted in England in late summer this year. The Home Office may begin to restart inhumane evictions from emergency accommodation which housed people over the pandemic in Glasgow this year. Should this happen, the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council will be notified.

The Home Office also plans to “consult on when, not if, to unleash asylum support restrictions latent in the Immigration Act 2016”. These changes will not only abolish section 4 but also remove the automatic entitlement for families and their children seeking asylum but not recognised as refugees to stay in accommodation. They face being rendered street homeless. The destitution of families appears to be part of the Home Office’s anti-refugee bill agenda. There needs to be a radical change of policy at the Home Office for all this to be stopped. The present and future situation is unjust by any measure. And it is not hard to arrive at the conclusion that institutional prejudice based on country of origin is firmly in place.

Hyab Yohannes has completed his doctorate at the University of Glasgow as the first Unesco RILA Scholarship award-holder and is a survivor of torture and trafficking

Alison Phipps is Unesco Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow and an ambassador for the Scottish Refugee Council Graham O’Neill is policy manager at the Scottish Refugee Council