Derision greets BBC plan to turn asylum into a game

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Saturday May 31, 2003
The Guardian

The BBC is about to take the reality game show format to a new low - by asking the public to vote on whether individual asylum seekers should be thrown out of the country.

The planned programme, which has the working title of You, the Immigration Officer, is to be part of a BBC "asylum day" along similar lines to previous crime and NHS days of themed programmes.

The format of the programme, to be made by the BBC current affairs department, has provoked an angry reaction from some MPs and refugee groups.

Emails sent out by BBC staff to asylum organisations seeking suitable candidates to feature in the programme say it will be "an hour-long studio show" and will examine real case studies of people seeking asylum.

The programme makers want to feature half a dozen cases with actors playing asylum seekers who have already had their cases decided by the Home Office.

"Expert studio guests will debate the merits of each case to judge whether or not the person should have been allowed to stay.

"Having heard the arguments, the audience then vote by phone, online, interactive television, etc, and have their say on what they think should have happened. The real outcome will then be revealed to see whether the majority of our viewers and studio guests agreed with the immigration officer."

Neil Gerrard, Labour MP for Walthamstow and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, said: "This is a really stupid idea. How is an asylum seeker who has been given refugee status supposed to feel if the public votes to throw him out?"

Mike Jempson of the PressWise asylum seekers, refugees and media project, who was approached by the BBC for help in providing participants, said: "This is a ludicrous and ill-thought out idea."

The BBC said: "We are in the very early stages of planning, and it has not yet been decided what form any such programmes might take." Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003