This won't make any headlines and most people will neither know nor care about it, but today saw a shameful landmark in the justice system. The Immigration Advisory Service has closed all its offices today and gone into administration, leaving around 24,000 cases (that's people) in limbo with no legal representation. People whose claim for asylum is due to be heard will have no voice, no way of putting their cases, no access to one of the most basic of human rights - the right to ask for asylum. If they were due to be represented at all, it's because their case-workers saw they each had real grounds for seeking asylum.
You can't claim asylum from outside the country. You can't enter the country without a visa. You won't get granted a visa if you come from any country that is a) very poor b) war-torn c) has famine/drought d) is in any conflict with the UK. Only the wealthy or the influential get in that way. So much for Britain having a fine reputation for granting asylum to those in need. So people risk everything to find ways into the country and then ask for asylum. They can then be treated as 'illegal' and then have to struggle endlessly against a culture of disbelief where they are treated like the worst sort of criminals. Their one hope has been to get legal advice, translators to be able to tell their story, to have their moment in court to counter the disbelief, the hatred from tabloid newspapers, the on-going racist stories about asylum scroungers etc. There's no longer legal aid for asylum cases so law-firms won't take them on. And now the Immigration Advisory Service has been forced into administration, most people will be deported, regardless of their background or story, which will never be heard.
Michael Howard wrote in 2003 "Britain has a proud tradition of providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution." I'd laugh if it wasn't such a bloody great lie. I was reading accounts of the prejudice and media hysteria whipped up in 1939 about jewish immigrants seeking asylum in the UK. The hostility they faced has been airbrushed out over time, to present a rosy collective memory of Our Generous Hospitality.