We usually think of the United States as a country where people fleeing persecution come to seek asylum. But sometimes, American citizens flee their country in search of safety elsewhere.
The British Daily Mail reports that five Americans currently have asylum cases pending in the UK. The cases came to light earlier this month when a whistleblower, Rory Clarke of the National Asylum Support Service, made the information public. According to Mr. Clark, the Americans are in Great Britain to take advantage of the posh benefits available to asylum seekers. These benefits include free housing and healthcare, and £35 per week. In some cases, asylum seekers can receive benefits for years before their claims are rejected. Mr. Clarke says that he was so shocked by this abuse of the system that he resigned his job.
The five Americans are not the only U.S. citizens to seek asylum abroad. The Guardian reports that between 2004 and 2008, 45 Americans (and 15 Canadians) filed for asylum in the UK. All 60 cases were rejected.
The basis for most claims was not revealed. However, a US government source said the American applications were most likely submitted by self-declared “political refugees” claiming they faced discrimination under the administration of President Bush. An on-line posting by an alleged American refugee claimed that he was seeking sanctuary in Scotland because he had been “persecuted as a political dissident against US government war-mongering.”
According to the Guardian:
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 [she returned to the U.S. in 2008 where she pled guilty to contempt of court]. In June 2008 Texan mother Chere Tomayko and her two daughters were granted asylum in Costa Rica, also on the grounds of abuse.
There also have been cases recently of Americans seeking asylum in Canada in order to avoid service in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, there is a website devoted to war resisters in Canada.
While the idea of U.S. citizens seeking asylum abroad seems a bit suspect, I suppose I agree with Donna Covey, the chief executive of the Refugee Council in the UK, who says: “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.”