Socialist Worker

We reply to media lies on refugees

Issue No. 1689

The press want you to hate this woman and her child. Say no to scapegoating

We reply to media lies on refugees

  • Not enough houses?

THE NUMBER of empty homes in Britain leapt to over 772,300 last year, according to a survey by the government's Empty Homes Agency. About 637,000 of them are owned by speculators or landlords who keep them empty to drive up prices and rents. There are 114,100 empty homes in London alone. A third have been empty for over a year, almost exactly matching the 40,000 families officially homeless in the capital. The government itself owns 16,000 empty homes. There are enough homes to house everyone in Britain who is homeless, including refugees. The government could tax the rich to raise billions of pounds to repair homes and build better quality housing. Instead it wants to sell off the remaining 3.2 million council homes.

  • Too many people?

THE POPULATION of Britain is 59 million and predicted to fall. That is because a birthrate of 2.1 children per woman is needed to keep the population at a stable level. The birthrate in Britain is now only 1.8 per woman.

  • Stealing our jobs?

ASYLUM SEEKERS are not to blame for unemployment. There were very few asylum seekers in the 1930s. But there was mass unemployment. There was immigration from the Commonwealth in the 1950s and 1960s and Britain had full employment. Between 1973 and 1993 hundreds of thousands more people emigrated from Britain than came here. Yet unemployment in that period rose from one million to over three million, peaking at four million in the mid-1980s. Asylum seekers do not sit on the boards of the big companies which are throwing tens of thousands of workers on the dole.

  • Bogus claims?

THE TORIES made it extremely difficult to apply for asylum in Britain. New Labour has tightened it up further. Even so, the Refugee Council estimates that 50 percent of applicants are granted asylum after appeals are taken into account.

Sun and Mail bash old

  • THE SUN misquoted a spokesperson for the charity Age Concern on Monday of last week in its campaign to whip up hatred of asylum seekers.

It claimed that Lynn Caddy of Age Concern said that the charity's "post bag was full of letters of complaint from pensioners" about the "far better standard of living enjoyed by asylum seekers". In fact, Lynn Caddy said that the charity received many letters complaining about the poverty level of the state pension.

Andy Allsopp of Age Concern says, "We were very upset by the Sun's story. We contacted them immediately and repeatedly for several days, after seeking a retraction or clarification of what they claimed Lynn said." The Sun has not printed a retraction or even a letter from Age Concern.

  • THE SUN and the Daily Mail both ran an "exclusive" story last week about an Algerian refugee and his family. "Refugee Milks Us Of �32,000 A Year" ran the Sun headline. But that money is for 17 people. That's just �5.16 a day per person.

Rotten history of persecution

PEOPLE HAVE been forced to beg to survive throughout the history of capitalism. During times of economic crisis and slump bosses have thrown people into destitution, forcing them onto the streets and into begging.

In 16th century Britain, when the foundations of today's capitalist system were being laid, landowners began to "enclose" the common land. They evicted thousands of people and razed whole villages to the ground. The ruling class then passed brutal laws to punish these victims. In 1536 it was decreed that "sturdy vagabonds" should have their ears cut off for begging. The industrial revolution created armies of destitute people driven off the land by force or through poverty.

Those who had fought for Britain's rulers in the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century were left maimed and destitute when the wars ended. In 1824 the government passed the Vagrancy Act, to sweep the "wandering poor", including ex-soldiers, off the streets. The law is still in force today. The ruling class has repeatedly tried to discipline the poor. The 1834 Poor Law scrapped "parish relief", similar to today's dole, and forced the poor into prison-like workhouses.

In the 20th century those who had fought in the 1914-18 First World War were abandoned once the war was over. The experience of Harry Fletcher, a skilled shipbuilder, was typical. He held 46 different jobs, often casual and part time, between 1922 and 1938: "During the war we could not do enough for the country, but afterwards we were thrown on the scrapheap." The economic slump of the 1930s meant millions of workers were forced to beg for work. In his book about poverty in the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell wrote: "I remember the shock of astonishment it gave me, when I first mingled with tramps and beggars, to find that a fair proportion, perhaps a quarter, of these beings whom I had been taught to regard as cynical parasites, were decent young miners and cotton workers."

High unemployment in the 1980s meant a huge increase in the numbers of people forced to beg on the streets. The sight of young people begging in every big city became a symbol of Thatcher's hated Tory government. The Tories axed benefits for 16 and 17 year olds, forcing thousands of young people who could not live at home into a life on the streets. Now New Labour is rounding on "scroungers", beggars and refugees.

Why people are forced to flee across the globe

PEOPLE ARE forced to flee their own countries because of the way the global capitalist system is wrecking people's lives. But when a few of these desperate people arrive in Britain they are thrown into detention and branded "bogus". The Refugee Council says people flee because of "human rights abuses, political persecution, internal conflict and turmoil raging across the world."

Some 23 million people across the world are now officially classed as refugees. Many have fled murderous regimes, been tortured or raped, or seen their families murdered. Millions more people are the victims of the policies of governments and multinational companies around the world which have sparked wars and famine. The burden of Third World debt has created starvation and disease. Some 19,000 children die every single day as a result of debt. On top of this the greenhouse effect is devastating large parts of the globe, causing high levels of rainfall, cyclones and drought. An incredible $1.3 trillion a day zips around the world on the foreign exchange markets.

New Labour and newspaper bosses praise the global operations of giant multinationals and financial speculators-no matter how many jobs and livelihoods are destroyed in the process. Yet these same people want to deny freedom of movement and refuge to those fleeing the consequences of international capitalism.

New form of racism

THE HYSTERICAL attacks on asylum seekers are a new form of racism. Racism originally developed about 300 years ago to justify the enslavement of black Africans. But racism has survived the abolition of slavery, and racial discrimination today is not only based on colour.

Jews in Hitler's Germany looked no different from non-Jewish Germans. Capitalism constantly regenerates racism. It encourages people to uproot themselves and their families and travel from one country to another to fill the demand for labour or to escape the devastation the system brings.

The resulting mixing of populations can provide the basis for overcoming prejudice and division. But it also provides a ready scapegoat, in the form of recently arrived immigrants, when capitalism fails to deliver. An 1836 official report said, "The Irish immigration into Britain is an example of a less civilised population spreading themselves." The small number of Italian immigrants in the 19th century faced similar bigotry. The same kind of bigoted language was dressed up and used against West Indian immigrants in the 1950s.

Every new group of immigrants is vulnerable to such targeting. Today even some black and Asian people, whose families arrived here often 30 or 40 years ago, can fall into scapegoating refugees. They are forgetting that their parents and grandparents faced similar attacks when they arrived here.

The fact that people who face racism from the police, employers and racist thugs can scapegoat asylum seekers does not mean that refugee bashing is not racist. There is an answer to the scapegoating. It starts by recognising that the worker facing ruin in Longbridge, or fleeing war in the Balkans or in debt-wrecked Africa, are all victims of the same capitalist system.

They have more in common with one another than with any bosses. Capitalism forces workers to band together to resist the ever harsher demands of big business. But for that resistance to be successful, we have to fight every attempt by the bosses to divide us.

Truth on Romania

ROMA GYPSIES from Romania have been the targets of the tabloid newspapers' wave of hatred. The Roma face persecution and poverty in Romania.

  • Amnesty International has condemned Romania for jailing Roma Gypsies "solely because of their ethnic background".
  • Last year Western banks took �2.8 billion in debt repayments from Romania.

THE TOP 500 people in Britain have �98 billion in wealth. These fat cats are the scroungers. They include: RUPERT MURDOCH (Sun owner, above), with personal wealth of �4 billion, and PAUL DACRE (Daily Mail), salary over �750,000 a year and share options in Associated Newspapers, which owns the Mail, worth �365,000.

Fact and fiction on benefits

THE MEDIA claim asylum seekers are living the high life on state benefits. In fact many asylum seekers get no benefits at all as they did not apply for asylum immediately on entering the country. Those who do are entitled to just 70 percent of income support. A refugee family of two adults and two children gets �90.80 a week. An equivalent family of British citizens gets �129.70. The government is also to force asylum seekers onto a voucher system in April. The vouchers will replace cash benefits. A lone parent will be left with just �36.54.

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Sat 25 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1689
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