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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Get Asylum, Then Get Rich

Not long ago, a friend of mine from out of town applied for asylum in Britain -- thus avoiding the new rules which came into force the other day. The new rules say that a place to live and state support is no longer automatically available while an application for asylum is being considered. My friend got in -- I'm assuming; I haven't heard from him yet -- just under the wire.

I'm frankly unsure how I feel about this move. My friend wasn't noticeably being persecuted. In fact he led a relatively comfortable life -- comfortable, certainly, by comparison with the people of God knows how many other countries where torture and slaughter are the daily diet, and where a return home for political refugees can mean certain death.

I also think he's deluded. For life in Britain, even with state support and a place to live, is no bed of roses. Forbidden to work, the new arrival enters a sort of twilight world, with not enough money to really live on, and therefore forced to take whatever menial jobs he can do where no questions are asked.

There are office-cleaning jobs at the dead of night, for example. There are the garment sweatshops in the East End of London, where the Russian protection-racketeers are said to have moved. And there's employment with any number of slightly iffy Russian businesses set up by Russians who've been given work permits, to prey, one way or another, on their own.

Now this isn't an enormous problem -- nothing to keep the British National Criminal Intelligence Service awake nights. (They've got enough on their plate trying to keep up with all the funny money pouring into the country from Russia: The other day I heard of another $1,250,000 house in Hampstead bought by a Russian for cash.) Nor are there large numbers of asylum-seekers from Russia. The last time I heard, only about 1,500 people had applied from the territories of the ex-Soviet Union since 1989.

Still -- though not all of them are this way -- there are these slightly iffy businesses, which have followed one another in Britain as more and more Russians got onto each bandwagon and ended up glutting each succeeding market.

First there was the telephone-sales business, which consisted in selling Russian businessmen advertising space in cobbled-together journals and directories, and places at so-called "international" business conferences -- the real point of which, all too often, was to allow businessmen to come to the West either to deposit or visit their money. Agents for these telephone-sales businesses worked on commission, and they sometimes sold their friends lucrative packages, then walked away with their commissions on payments that never arrived.

Some of these companies still exist (now working the provinces). But the next "in" business was Russian-language magazines. This largely consisted in getting payments from Western advertisers that far outweighed the costs of producing the magazine. All well and good, you may say. But the magazine's proprietors were often guaranteeing the advertisers wide distribution in Russia -- a distribution which either didn't exist, or couldn't be achieved with the minimal number of issues they actually printed. Second editions of these magazines rarely appear.

Now, I've heard of a third business, which seems to be taking over from the others. It's the English-language business. Someone who's in it -- and quite legitimate -- recently told me that there are over 2,000 agencies in Moscow offering courses and places in schools in Britain. Some, no doubt, are on the up-and-up. Some, though, are clearly not -- and they're often being run and staffed by Russians.

The other day, for example, I had a call from a friend in Britain, who agreed to put up two Russian schoolkids in her house while they attended such a school. They arrived, she said, without any escort, and without any real sense of what they were supposed to do. And when she took them the next day to the address they'd been given, not only was it in a back-alley in north London among grimy sweatshops; it had also moved -- said a notice -- to another address.

When she finally found this address, it was run down, ill-equipped, and without proper English teachers: in other words, she said, "a con." But she didn't know who to complain to -- and the Russian kids didn't seem to know any better. So she called me instead and asked me what I could do.

Well, the answer is: not much. I can ask you to warn your Russian friends to be careful when it comes to choosing a place to study English in Britain. The only other thing I can do is to ask my friend who's applied for asylum not to get involved. In fact, I suppose, I can go one better. Grisha, get your ass home!