Socialist Worker

Tortured on the streets of Britain

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1840

THE LIE that refugees are living a life of luxury in 'soft touch' Britain was exposed in the High Court last week. Judge Justice Collins ruled that New Labour was forcing refugees to face destitution in Britain or return to the persecution they fled from.

The government introduced a law in January that means refugees could be denied any benefits or shelter if they did not apply for asylum the moment they entered Britain.

Six test cases of refugees suffering under this law were brought to the court. They included an Iraqi Kurd who fled from Saddam Hussein's regime. He travelled to London in a lorry. His first night of freedom in Britain was spent in 'a tunnel by a telephone box'.

He was refused any benefits or accommodation because the immigration authorities claimed he gave a 'lack of detail' on his journey to Britain. Another case was a woman from Rwanda who had been beaten and raped. She travelled to the immigration offices in Croydon, south London, only to be denied any support because she did not apply at the airport.

A 22 year old Angolan man had his family home raided by soldiers. They shot his father and raped his mother and sister. He escaped to Britain and ended up having to sleep rough outside the Croydon offices.

The judge said the decision to refuse benefits to these six refugees should be quashed. The ruling opens the way for other refugees who have been hit by the same decision.

'To deny individuals access to food and shelter and potentially leave them to starve or freeze on Britain's streets is a degrading, humiliating and wholly unacceptable policy,' said Shami Chakrabarti from the human rights organisation Liberty.

Home secretary David Blunkett was not horrified by the revelation in court that refugees are sleeping rough and going hungry. He boasted it is a 'robust policy'. The government is deliberately putting refugees' health and welfare at risk to act as a deterrent to others. 'This measure is an important part of our asylum reform programme,' he said. Blunkett ranted about how 'fed up' he was that cases uncovering the plight of refugees were winning in court.

He is planning to appeal against the ruling. New Labour's determination to pander to the right wing press by keeping up the attack on refugees provoked an angry response from TGWU union leader Bill Morris.

Morris has been an outspoken critic of the New Labour government's anti-refugee policies. Last weekend he spoke out at the Unite Against Racism conference hosted by the TUC.

He said that communities were not 'swamped' by asylum seekers. Such language from the government gave the Nazi British National Party 'a signal of permission to attack black and Asian communities'. Ministers were indulging in 'cheap and nasty populism', he said.

He called on Britain to accept a fair share of the increased number of refugees who would inevitably flee Iraq if any war starts. 'As the US and Britain prepare to rain down bombs on Baghdad, it is time to ask how many displaced Iraqis will the US take? How many will Britain take?' said Morris.

Doreen Lawrence, mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, also laid into New Labour for abandoning a commitment to fight racism. 'The government has lost interest in race,' she said. 'Almost ten years after the murder of my son I am saddened that not a lot has changed. The only way to deal with racism is to tackle it head on.' But New Labour is feeding racism by repeating all the racist lies about asylum seekers.


Bigots fanning hatred

THE RIGHT wing press has eagerly reported protests in Lee-on-the-Solent, near Gosport on the south coast, against plans to put refugees in a former RAF base. The issue has been whipped up into a frenzy by the local press and the area's Tory MP.

They are shrieking about the proposal to house up to 400 male refugees in HMS Daedalus, which used to house...400 airmen. An Afghan asylum seeker was beaten to death in Southampton, which is in the same area as Lee-on-the-Solent, only two weeks ago. The Tories have been tearing themselves apart recently.

They have never recovered from being booted out of government after 18 years of systematic attacks on working people and public services. Now Gosport's Tory MP, Peter Viggers, is trying to shore up his political career by picking on vulnerable refugees.

The local council has also put its weight behind the anti-refugee campaign by voting to donate £5,000 to the group. The local Daily Echo newspaper sponsored placards on the anti-refugee march. The paper is part of the Newsquest group, which is the second largest publisher of regional newspapers across Britain. The US multinational Gannett owns it. Gannett made $6.4 billion in operating revenues last year.

It profits from spreading its business interests and exploiting workers across the globe. Yet it campaigns against refugees who have been forced to leave their country because of war and persecution.

New Labour's dispersal policy has fuelled such campaigns against refugees. It wants to dump refugees in abandoned camps instead of letting them integrate into local communities and providing extra resources.

A group of 80 local people stood up to the racism against asylum seekers, joining a rally in Gosport last Saturday. Sarah, a local resident, spoke at the rally, saying, 'We should not discriminate against asylum seekers. Most of us in the last few generations of our families have relations who came to this country. What sort of welcome would we have appreciated? I think if the refugees end up coming here we should organise something to show they are welcome.'


Community wants the Kraujas back

'GET THE Kraujas back' is the campaign in Nottingham that is fighting to get a refugee family returned to Britain. Local people are outraged that a family from Latvia were deported last week. 'I'd like to ask somebody why they had to go,' said Dave Burton. 'Everybody's really distraught. The upstairs rooms in the pub look like the Mary Celeste. They left so quick.'

Dave Burton is the licensee of the Queen's Head pub in Watnall which Kaspars Krauja and his wife, Sandra Krauja, had been managing. They left Latvia in 1997 seeking political asylum in Britain. They have lived in Nottingham since then and their nine year old daughter went to a school in Watnall.

'But last Friday they were rudely awoken by the heavy knock of police and immigration officers in a dawn raid,' reported the Evening Post local paper. 'They were given just half an hour to pack.' One pub regular said, 'I went upstairs and the little girl's teddy bear was just lying in the middle of the room. I just felt sick.'

The locals are organising a fighting fund to push for the family's return. Yet the national press has focused on reporting the campaign against a planned refugee centre at RAF Newton in West Bridgford, also in Nottinghamshire.

The people in Watnall have shown the other side of the anti-refugee hysteria. Where refugees are allowed to integrate into local communities, work and make friends the witch-hunt atmosphere against them can be undermined.


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Features
Sat 1 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1840
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