Asylum or Sanctuary?

Who says words don’t matter?  The Evening Standard reports on study from the Independent Asylum Commission which concludes that ‘asylum’ seekers should be renamed ‘sanctuary’ seekers due to the negative connotations of the word ‘asylum’.


‘most associated the word “asylum” with a place for the mentally ill rather than with safety for the persecuted, the poll said.’

It had never really occurred to me that asylum in this context meant anything other than a place of safety. I’m not entirely convinced that a shift from using the term ‘asylum seeker’ to ‘sanctuary seeker’ will do anything except outrage that section of the populous that chooses to be outraged when ‘politically correct’ think tanks try to change the so-called wonderful language that we have.

I have a cynical sense that the process would backfire and present the less tolerant with a reason to be even more intolerant.

The article goes on to report that

Co-chair and former High Court judge Sir John Waite said: “Unless we take action to restore public support and confidence, the outlook for the UK’s tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution is bleak.

“The public overwhelmingly supports the idea that we provide sanctuary to those who need it and they are on the whole proud of our history as a safe haven – but there is a profound disconnection in the public mind between the sanctuary they want the UK to provide and their perception of asylum seekers and the asylum system.”‘

Again, I have to retain a somewhat cynical view here. People like to feel that they have a basic humanity and support those who need assistance.

When it is in their street, their town and their city and the people who arrive are ‘different’ and obviously so, I don’t think that a name change would be enough to create a completely welcoming environment in itself.

Perhaps a different light being presented in the media – a focus on the situations and issues that are left behind by those who are forced to seek asylum in a country which is so far away from home, greater insights into the pain and difficulties that are experienced by asylum seekers in this country and how many challenges are placed in their path before they are even at the point of being considered for residency and less of the ‘they’ get all the council houses – there would be more of a possibility of greater understanding.