Socialist Worker

The team was lucky to get in

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1766

HUNDREDS OF Albanian football supporters travelling to watch their team play England in a World Cup qualifier were banned from entering the UK last week. Were these football hooligans intent on causing trouble? No.

They were banned because the British Immigration Service decided that if they were allowed into the country they would apply for asylum. Did the so called 'liberal' British media condemn the ban placed on Albanian supporters? Absolutely not. This story was tucked away in the small print of the Guardian.

I contacted a friend of mine who works at the Home Office. I asked him if it was possible to provide any examples of Albanian football supporters applying for asylum after attending away games. After checking with the press office and the Immigration Service he couldn't find one case.

The outrageous ban is just one small example of the myths used to attack those seeking asylum. In the end only 20 Albanian fans gained entry into Britain to watch the match. One Radio 5 commentator gleefully told his listeners that the lack of Albanian support gives English fans 'a great chance to really get behind Beckham and the boys'.

If there is any justice in the world Greece will beat England next month and end their World Cup challenge. Can you imagine the outcry if English football fans were treated in this way? Relentless attack But the ban was tolerated because it is part of a relentless attack on those seeking refuge.

Every day the Tories and newspapers like the Daily Express attack asylum seekers, calling them 'bogus' and 'scroungers'. The result has literally been murder on the streets. Instead of standing up to these racists, the response of this government has been to push through even more draconian measures designed to deter refugees from entering this country.

The hypocrisy of the football authorities knows no bounds. Every year football players from every corner of the world join British clubs. No one would deny that these players have rejuvenated the game. Immigrants coming to Britain from the West Indies, Pakistan, Turkey, or those fleeing poverty and persecution, have also enriched our society. They may not have glamorous jobs, but they have contributed far more than any number of football players ever could.

But because international football stars make huge profits for the football fat cats their visas and British passports can be obtained as quick as a flash. Many years ago I worked at the Passport Office in London. I remember a manager processing the South African athlete Zola Budd's passport application at breakneck speed.

It was to ensure that she could run for the British athletics team. When it comes to making money or gaining prestige, big corporations and sporting bodies are happy to ignore national borders. When workers and the poor attempt to find a better future for themselves, they face massive persecution.

That's why it is important to declare that all refugees are welcome here, whether they are football stars, a family wanting to make a living or a person fleeing persecution.

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Sat 15 Sep 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1766
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