Socialist Worker

Doctors slam Sun's lies about refugees

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1839

THE SUN newspaper is putting people's lives at risk. Billionaire Rupert Murdoch's rag ran a scare story about refugees 'bringing deadly diseases into Britain' on Friday of last week. It says the rise in HIV/AIDS and TB cases is down to refugees and immigrants. The Sun is trying to make cheap, racist propaganda out of serious diseases.

This same paper peddled the dangerous myth that 'straight sex cannot give you AIDS' in November 1989. The Press Council forced it to run an apology on its editorial page. The Sun fed ignorance and prejudice that cost lives.

It now wants us to believe that AIDS and TB are an 'immigrant plague'. Kent has been at the centre of the anti-refugee storm. A Home Office pilot scheme there screened 5,000 refugees for TB over the last eight months. It has not found a single person with TB. The medical checks revealed evidence of gunshot wounds, whippings and beatings, and injuries from long, often dangerous journeys.

Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics for the British Medical Association (BMA), has spoken out against scapegoating refugees. She says that, while refugees are blamed for bringing in diseases, their health was worse two or three years after arriving in Britain.

'We are failing some very vulnerable people, whose health is deteriorating rather than improving in the safety of the UK,' she said in a BMA report published last October.

She highlights poor housing for making refugees' health problems worse. She argued that there should be voluntary health checks for refugees, not compulsory ones like the Sun is demanding.

'You can't force people to have healthcare. Very many of them will have seen people wearing white coats as part of the state apparatus that kills and tortures people,' she pointed out.

Dr John Coakley, medical director at Homerton Hospital in east London, told Socialist Worker, 'The Sun's articles are nasty, racist nonsense.' The highest incidence of TB in Britain is in east London and the City. The number of people in Britain with TB is rising, from 5,000 formal notifications in 1987 to 7,000 last year. It is still very rare.

Dr Coakley says, 'In the overall context of public health TB is not a huge issue. But it is a very nasty problem. It is mainly about overcrowding and poverty. Most medical people accept that. Immigrants and refugees are not likely to be people who have lived in affluent suburbs. Say a family comes over here and are put in a small bedsit. If one has TB they will very rapidly spread it to the others. We should ensure refugees have access to good quality healthcare, rather than dumping them on an estate. One solution is to stick them in the suburbs - that would be better for public health. But it would hardly go down well with the right wing papers! If we are going to get steamed up about public health, why not about unemployment, poverty, housing, deprivation, malnutrition, pollution, and decent public transport? These have a much greater impact on public health. But what is happening instead is part of the general nastiness against refugees. It's an excuse to have a go at people who are pretty desperate, who have a bad enough deal as it is.'

'An asylum seeker with AIDS or HIV poses no greater threat than anyone else in the general population,' said a spokesperson for the Terence Higgins Trust AIDS charity. 'The question is not whether refugees are bringing in AIDS. There is a home-grown epidemic and a global epidemic. The Sun is quoting 54,000 people as having HIV in Britain. The figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 29.5 million people. Instituting compulsory testing is the least effective way to combat rising rates of HIV infection. It is not cost effective, or effective at all. Countries with compulsory testing have failed to halt the rise. In the US there is a ban on visitors with HIV. It now has the highest rates of new infections. What the government needs to do is provide good consistent sex education. A large proportion of sexually transmitted infections are among 16 to 19 year olds. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea infection rates have doubled since 1995.'

The Sun has quoted Times columnist Anthony Browne as an 'immigration expert'. He claims refugees are a 'huge expense to the NHS'. Browne doesn't even think there should be an NHS. 'We must abolish the NHS as we know it, abandon our unique obsession that all healthcare should be free,' he says.

He helped set up the bogus group Migration Watch. This is run by two men who worked for Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. It has been pumping out scare stories about refugees.

The Sun has a history of scapegoating every vulnerable group in society, from single parents to migrant workers who were invited to Britain in the 1950s to do jobs no one else wanted. Now the Sun is targeting refugees, including those from Iraq, while backing Bush and Blair's war on their country. No one should fall for its lies.

The Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers is circulating an open letter against the media's hysteria over refugees. Phone 07941 566 183 or go to www.defend-asylum.org


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Sat 22 Feb 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1839
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