Save the Su family campaign
Community fights family deportation
By Helen Shooter
TWO HEADTEACHERS in schools in Greater Manchester are campaigning to stop the deportation of Lian Hu Su and his family back to China. "What we need is justice," Dai Williams, headteacher at Lyndhurst Primary School, told Socialist Worker. "The immigration department's slogan is 'Building a safe, just and tolerant society', but the government wants to throw the Su family out. "We realised we would have to do something quick or they would be on that plane."
Dai Williams and John Mayes, headteacher at Astley High School, have been key to the Save Our Sus (SOS) campaign. Lian Hu Su's three children, Miao Hong Su, aged 16, Jing Hong Su, aged 14, and Zhao Hong Su, aged 11, attend the two schools in Dukinfield, a small town on the edge of Greater Manchester. They cannot return safely to China, after Lian Hu Su was forced to leave in 1992 in fear of his life.
His "crime" was to help students targeted by the Chinese regime after the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstration. Many demonstrators were massacred by Chinese troops but others managed to escape. Lian Hu Su helped some students get out of the country. He had not been a political activist. But he felt the students were right, and the government was wrong to send in the tanks.
He became a target himself and applied for asylum in Britain with his family. But the Tories ruled that Lian Hu Su did not face persecution and ordered the family be booted out. Now New Labour is ramming through that decision.
On 16 October the Home Office issued "removal directions"-the family were booked on a plane to Beijing and if they refused they could be kicked out by force. The SOS campaign went into high alert. The two headteachers stood with the three Su children outside Astley High School and contacted the local media. "I've been a teacher for 17 years, and I am willing to sacrifice my job for these kids. What am I supposed to do, sit back and let it happen? If the police turn up they will have to go through me," John Mayes told the media. Zhao spoke on TV about what being deported back to China would mean. "My dad will be killed and I will never see him again," said the 11 year old.
As Dai Williams explained, "Mr Mayes and I were adamant we were not going to hand the children over. While they are inside the building they are under my jurisdiction, and I would refuse access to take them away." The Home Office officials never turned up to challenge this united show of solidarity.
The headteachers were able to take such a strong stand because they have the backing of the local community. Dai Williams explains, "A group of teachers got together to start the campaign in 1997. The level of support in the community surprised me. Parents collected 3,000 signatures on a petition outside the school, and on Saturday mornings in the markets and shops. The children have written letters to Jack Straw. One said, 'How would you feel, Mr Straw, if you were in Zhao's position?' The campaign has been worth it. Otherwise the family would have gone."
The government has been put under pressure by the campaign. In a reply this year to a letter from John Mayes it said, "The Immigration Service and Asylum Directorate are aware of the wide support that the Su family have amongst their local community in Manchester."
The legal process has reached its final stage, as Lian Hu Su's solicitor lodged an appeal against deportation under the new Human Rights Act. If that fails the campaign will again be in confrontation with a government determined to deport a couple and their three children. As Dai Williams says, "I hope I will see Zhao in school after Christmas. But I wouldn't put anything past this so called Labour government. "It is not the Labour Party I voted for. I thought they would replace 18 years of Conservatism with a bit of socialism and compassion. But it seems it is still a case of 'bash the Sus'."
- Contact Save Our Sus, 400 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester M8 9LE. All donations to Save Our Sus Campaign. Fax messages of support on 0161 740 7113.
Government's Catch-22 rules
THE government is pursuing its brutal policy against asylum seekers in Britain. Lian Hu Su and his family left China legally with travel documents. The Home Office has used this to claim the family do not face persecution by the Chinese authorities.
"It is a Catch-22 situation," says Tony Openshaw of the Immigration Aid Unit in Manchester. "If the Su family had left the country illegally it would have probably strengthened their case, as they could say they were not able to get permission and had to flee by illegal means." But New Labour knows the high price some people pay trying to get into Britain illegally.
Fifty eight Chinese immigrants who tried to get into Britain were found suffocated to death in the back of a lorry in Dover in June. Another refugee died last month from massive brain injuries after he fell off the underside of the lorry he had been clinging to when it arrived in Dover. The government is not moved by the desperate measures refugees take to build a new life in Britain. Instead it has tried to outbid the Tories over who is the toughest on asylum seekers. Home Office figures reveal New Labour has deported 128,353 people since May 1997.
BILL MORRIS, leader of the TGWU union, has again criticised New Labour's treatment of refugees. Morris's attack earlier this year on New Labour's voucher scheme for refugees encouraged others to speak out.
Many refugees are forced to live on vouchers worth just �36.54 a week, from which they cannot get change. The outcry against the voucher scheme forced New Labour to agree to a "comprehensive" review of the scheme at September's Labour Party conference. Morris is demanding that the vouchers are scrapped altogether.
He said last month, "This is also the view of the union movement, charity and church groups, and was the clear message from the party conference in September. "The government must understand that vouchers are an affront to human dignity on which my union will not compromise."
Shona Robison, convenor of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers, condemns the scheme as "morally wrong and expensive. It leads to people being stigmatised, while at the same time big opportunities have opened up for private businesses to make profits."
But the government has tried to water down its review of the vouchers. The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) is carrying out the review, due to end early next year. This is the same body New Labour set up to administer the voucher scheme.
Campaign success shows way to win
OTHER SCHOOLS have run successful campaigns to stop deportations. Some campaigns are on the Schools Against Deportations website, created by the Institute of Race Relations.
They include the teachers in Forest Gate School, east London, who forced the Home Office to allow a pupil, Angolan refugee Natasha Matambele, to stay in Britain.
And Lal Mohammed, another pupil in east London at Stratford's Rokeby School, was also allowed to stay after a successful campaign. The website address is www.irr.org.uk/sad/enter.htm