Socialist Worker

Out to pile on more agony for refugees

Issue No. 1806

TONY BLAIR used the European Union summit in Seville last weekend to drive through more attacks on asylum seekers. Before the summit Blair announced that he wanted to 'force the pace of change' on asylum to make life even harder for desperate refugees. 'Tony Blair gets on better with the centre-right leaders than with his comrades on the left,' said the Financial Times.

Blair united with the right wing Spanish prime minister, Aznar, to try to cut aid to the world's poorest countries if they refuse to take back refugees. This part of the onslaught on refugees was not passed at the summit. Right wing French president Chirac opposed cutting aid only because he cares about maintaining trade relations with former colonies like Algeria and Morocco. North African countries would have been hit by any cut in aid, as many refugees use escape routes in the region.

The right wing press in Britain moaned that defeating the plans to cut aid means the asylum 'crisis' continues. 'Blair was humiliated in his bid to clamp down on illegal immigrants-a policy the Sun supports him on,' wrote the right wing rag this week. New Labour's response is to reassure such supporters that it will still repel refugees with force.

Europe minister Peter Hain was wheeled out to say that 'we've got exactly what we wanted' from the European Union summit. What is this policy on asylum that he is cheering? European countries aim to seal off their borders to refugees with a special European police force.

They want to force refugees back to the first European country they manage to land in, even if they want to be united with families, friends and communities elsewhere. 'Political measures' could be used to punish poor countries that don't readmit refugees.

European politicians invented the supposed demon of the 'illegal immigrant'. Yet New Labour and other governments make it impossible for people to enter countries legally because of visa restrictions. Home secretary David Blunkett following up with a meeting this week with the right wing French government's immigration minister. Blunkett is piling on the pressure to close the Sangatte refugee camp. He wants to force the refugees away from any sight of Dover.

The number of asylum seekers entering Europe in the first four months of this year was DOWN by one third compared to the same period in 2001. But that doesn't stop Blair leading the attack against the 'flood' of refugees. The Financial Times says of New Labour's asylum strategy, 'In seeking to head off the threat of the far right they are stealing its clothes.' New Labour is piling on the agony for refugees.

Blunkett wants British warships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to hunt down asylum seekers. This comes as at least ten desperate refugees drowned off the coast of Tunisia last week.

They died after the captain of a boat said he would only take on board the first 70 refugees who swam to his ship. Refugees who manage to get to Britain are forced to live off vouchers worth £37.77 for a single person or face imprisonment in 'accommodation centres'.

Blunkett's apartheid

NEW LABOUR is determined to press ahead with 'accommodation centres' for refugees. The government wants to dump refugees into camps in isolated areas around Britain.

The three areas proposed are the old RAF base at Newton in Nottinghamshire, Throckmorton in Worcestershire and Bicester in Oxfordshire. This has already provoked local opposition. The RAF Newton centre means adding a camp for 750 refugees to a community catering for 350 people. Some 2,000 people attended a recent rally over the RAF Newton camp. One local wanted to make her feelings clear with a banner that read 'I welcome refugees', but it was snatched away.

The far right want to gain a foothold by feeding off this racism. The BNP has leafleted the local area and given out placards with the words 'Warning: illegal immigrants operating in your area.' But many people hate New Labour's callous treatment of refugees.

Gary Younge in the Guardian compared the proposals to the laws in the US Deep South segregating black and white people, and ghettos for black people in South Africa.

Even the Labour dominated human rights committee found that Blunkett's plans had 'troubling echoes of educational regimes where children were educated separately on the basis of race or colour.'

Standing up for asylum seekers

SOME 5,000 people marched in support of refugees in London last Saturday. Campaigners travelled from Scotland, Plymouth, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and other areas to join the demonstration. Jeremy Corbyn MP was one of the many speakers at the rally.

He passed on the best wishes of Bill Morris, the TGWU union leader and outspoken critic of New Labour's asylum policy, who apologised for not being able to attend the march.

Jabez Lam, a representative of London's Chinese community, joined the marchers. He explained, 'This is the second anniversary of the 58 Chinese refugees found dead in a lorry at Dover. The government is trying to divide the community. I see today all communities, workers, trade union banners. We must unite and fight all the measures from the government.'

Keith Houghton and Heather Barham marched with their Bristol City Unison banner. 'I don't believe what I'm told in the newspapers about asylum. I don't agree with the Labour government, that it should say asylum is a problem. This just feeds into the BNP,' said Keith.

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Sat 29 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1806
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