Socialist Worker

Newspaper's tidal wave of hatred

Issue No. 1688

Media witch - hunt against refugees

Newspaper's tidal wave of hatred

By Helen Shooter

"THE TIME has come to get the beggars off the streets." So ran the disgusting editorial in last Friday's Daily Mail. Day after day the Mail has carried articles attacking Romanian women refugees reduced to begging coins from passengers on London Underground. The right wing paper has succeeded in whipping up a national witch hunt. It has now been joined by other tabloids, Tory and Labour figures, and the Metropolitan Police.

The levels of hatred against asylum seekers from Eastern Europe has reached fever pitch. On Monday of last week Mail journalists stalked refugees from 10am to 4pm, photographing them begging around London. The Mail spouted nonsense about commuters "forced to run a gauntlet of Eastern European women in a beggar's paradise". In reality you can travel from one end of London to another and back again without coming across a single person begging. Last year London Underground clocked up 800 million journeys last year. A tiny number,some 121 people, were arrested for begging.

Yet Mail columnist and Enoch Powell admirer Simon Heffer called last week for "deportation in significant numbers" for asylum seekers. New Metropolitan police chief Sir John Stevens wants "zero tolerance" on beggars. Women refugees are now being arrested with their children. At least 20 people a week are convicted for begging at central London's Horseferry Road magistrates court. The magistrate, Roger Davies, could be a character from a Charles Dickens novel.

As he fined another refugee last week he said, "Mothers and children are pouring into London, begging from the public. People are fed up with it. Tell all your friends that if they come before me they'll go to prison." Davies was following in the "tradition" of Old Street magistrate Herbert Metcalfe. In August 1938, in the run up to the Second World War, Metcalfe ranted, "The way stateless Jews are pouring in from every port is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest."

How they hunted down Maria Nistor

THE PRESS have singled out Romanian gypsy Maria Nistor. Maria, her husband and their three children were sharing a house in west London with another refugee family of two adults and three children. Maria's entire family are expected to live off just �117.50 a week. Yet the Mail has piled abuse on her and harassed her wherever she's gone. She has been forced to move house.

Press reports say that even the Immigration Service had targeted Maria, offering her asylum papers in return for informing on fellow asylum seekers. The Mail praised Sofia Pedro, the woman in Mozambique who gave birth in a tree surrounded by the floodwater, as an example of "Women:The Great Survivors". It spoke of her "fortitude and heroism". Yet how would the Mail treat Sofia if she tried to seek asylum in Britain and was forced to beg for money to feed that child?

Why Roma gypsies are forced to flee

WHY ARE some people, especially gypsies, fleeing Romania? At the moment one in three people in Romania live below the poverty line. Their country has been wrecked by the economic "reforms" imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The reforms were introduced in the wake of the revolution that brought down the dictator Ceausescu in December 1989.

People were told Western intervention would bring prosperity. But the IMF and World Bank's shock therapy has ushered in what one Romanian business paper admitted was "planned unhappiness". Between 1988 and 1998 the Romanian economy shrunk by an average 2.3 percent a year.

The new government, which included many of the old Communist politicians, ended price controls and subsidies to industry. Millions of workers lost their jobs. The plight of Romania's poor was exposed to millions when the network of state - run orphanages under Ceausescu's regime were opened up. Papers like the Daily Mail held financial appeals for those Romanian children. Across Eastern Europe we have seen the same misery. Politicians who have presided over economic and social collapse have then sought to scapegoat minorities, especially Roma gypsies.

Roma are a dark skinned people who originate from India. They suffer intense racism and are labelled "blacks" and "niggers". They are shut out of jobs and social provision. They are routinely the target of racist local politicians and murderous violence from neo - Nazi skinheads.

Rich are the real scroungers

THOSE AT the forefront of the attacks on refugees have a nerve labelling refugees as "scroungers". The Mail is owned by the Rothermere family whose inherited wealth runs to over �1 billion. The late Lord Rothermere dodged paying taxes by spending only 80 days a year in Britain, instead living a millionaire lifestyle in his luxury homes in Paris and New York.

The Sun newspaper attacks refugees for being "economic migrants" - poor people who try to find a better life in another country. Yet Sun owner and media mogul Rupert Murdoch has spread his vast wealth-some �4 billion-around the globe. He has five homes, three in the US, one in Australia and a luxury apartment at the back of the Ritz in London. He also owns an island off Australia. Behind the poisonous articles on refugees are people like Mail editor Paul Dacre, who has a salary in excess of �750,000.

The journalists who have taken so much delight in stalking refugees like Maria Nistor are paid around �50,000 - �60,000. They think nothing of having a good slap up meal on their expense account. They will never have to know what it is like to have to beg for change to feed yourself.

A life on vouchers

NEW LABOUR is to force asylum seekers onto a shadow benefits system in a couple of weeks time. Asylum seekers will be made to survive on vouchers worth just �36.54 a week to a lone parent. A couple with two children under 16 will have to cope on �109.37-an amount below the official poverty line. Home Office minister Lord Bassam admitted last year that the vouchers could be "more expensive to administer than cash payments" and that the "take - up of the provision is expected to be lower".

The big supermarkets are to take their slice out of asylum seekers' income. The private firm running the voucher scheme, Sodhexho Pass, has said that supermarkets can keep any change out of a voucher's value rather than giving the leftover money to the refugee. This is because asylum seekers are allowed only �10 in cash. This cash has to cover any extra expenditure on food, clothing or travel costs. Refugees are not allowed to work for the first six months. If they make the slightest slip up when applying for help, they can be cut off without a penny and left to starve. At the moment many asylum seekers live on the verge of starvation. That "punishment" is set to worsen.

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Sat 18 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1688
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