ONE OF New Labour's sickest acts so far has been its relentless attack on asylum seekers. In reaction to the tabloid and government offensive a substantial number of people have started to fight back.
Teresa Hayter is one such person. She has been a tireless anti-racist campaigner, and a protester against the Campsfield detention centre in Oxford where refugees are locked up. Her book Open Borders blows through the asylum debate like a gale of fresh air. She announces her position in the introduction: 'Immigration controls should be abandoned.'
The next 170 pages are a reasoned and passionate argument to this effect. Hayter begins by demolishing many of the myths about immigration. Human beings have always migrated. It is only relatively recently that countries have thrown up controls against such movement. Hayter deals with the hypocrisy behind this.
When imperialist countries or multinational companies try to spread their influence across the globe, they are hailed for being 'dynamic' and 'innovators'. Yet when the victims of their policies brave incredible conditions to escape economic impoverishment or inter-ethnic wars, they are designated 'scroungers' and 'bogus'.
Hayter also shows how Tory and Labour governments, in times of economic expansion, have encouraged people to come and work in Britain. But when times get a bit harder they turn round and kick these people in the teeth by clamping down on immigration. One of the most powerful sections of the book is when Hayter exposes the link between racism and immigration controls. She says immigration controls are born out of racism. In almost every instance they have followed a sustained campaign by racists, bigoted politicians and some in the media.
Instead of combating this racism, the government of the day introduces more controls to make the lives of immigrants and refugees even harder. This in turn feeds the racism and bigotry. Hayter argues that today's inflammatory language and the use of misleading statistics, which are often pure lies, are all about scapegoating and scaremongering.
The chapter on resistance is a welcome relief. Refugees are beginning to fight back and have found allies in the anti-racist movement and the labour movement, and from socialists.
This book is vital reading for everyone who wants to continue this fight into the new millennium. Our rulers will never give up on their attempts to scapegoat refugees. But we will never give up our struggle to defend them.
Open Borders by Teresa Hayter, £12.99.