MISERY AND persecution. That is what home secretary Jack Straw has in store for asylum seekers this Christmas. This week Straw set in motion plans to forcibly 'disperse' asylum seekers around the country. His scapegoating of asylum seekers is an attempt to divert people's attention from the real problems of poverty in Britain, which Tony Blair was forced to pay lip service to this week.
Asylum seekers face being dumped in sink estates far away from London on the outskirts of towns. They will have to scrape by on food vouchers. They will be isolated from their communities in London. They are unlikely to have access to interpreters, lawyers or specialist medical help. They will be prey to racist groups and politicians who would love to scapegoat them. If, in desperation, dispersed asylum seekers move back to London, they will lose every penny of their benefits.
A vision of what is likely to happen is unfolding in Leicester at the moment. Asylum seekers are being put in run down estates where poor tenants' frustrations are easily turned to resentment and then violence. The Nazi National Front has leafleted one estate. A refugee worker in Leicester says, 'Young asylum seekers are saying to us, 'Why are you doing this? Do you hate us that much?''
The background to this is a sick bidding game between Tory spokesperson Ann Widdecombe and Jack Straw. During the passing of the Asylum Bill in the autumn, Straw and Widdecombe each boasted that they were hardest on asylum seekers. Anyone who tried to put a rational note into the debate was jeered at as being 'soft'. 'Soft' on whom? People who have been tortured, raped, seen their loved ones murdered, and then fled with nothing but their lives?
Never mind there being 'no room at the inn' this Christmas. If Straw and Widdecombe had their way, Mary and Joseph would have been stopped at the border, branded 'bogus', thrown into an internment camp, banished to a barren hilltop and then kicked out.