Socialist Worker

Refugees are not 'swamping' here

Issue No. 1805

THE WAR against refugees intensified again this week. Home secretary David Blunkett welcomed the election of a Tory government in France because he believes it will crack down on asylum seekers. Tony Blair is meeting European leaders at Seville to organise warships to sink refugee boats. He also wants European states to slash aid to the poor countries that refugees flee from.

The hysteria about asylum is drowning the facts. An opinion poll released this week showed that on average people believe that this country takes 23 percent of the world's refugees. Those aged 15-18 thought that the figure was 31 percent. The real figure is that just 1.98 percent of the world's refugees are in Britain.

Last year 71,700 refugees applied for asylum in Britain. That is just 0.12 percent of the population. New Labour claims it is reflecting people's fear about asylum. But this week's opinion poll also showed that most people are 'broadly sympathetic' to asylum seekers.

'They are four times more likely to display a positive rather than negative attitude towards this group,' said the pollsters.

Locals respond to attacks in Wigan

RACIST THUGS launched an attack on Wednesday of last week against asylum seekers living in Wigan. A group wearing balaclavas and carrying baseball bats descended on Stanley Road in the Platt Bridge area of Wigan around midnight. The area is known for housing asylum seekers, and police believe they were the target.

The gang hurled petrol bombs, and set alight a car and a gas pipe. This sent flames spraying across the street. Luckily no one was seriously hurt. But local residents said they feared more attacks after carloads of white youths toured the area jeering at the damage. This is the climate press and politicians have created. Racists feel more confident to physically attack anyone who doesn't fit their image of an 'all white' Britain.

The Nazi British National Party stood in the May elections in Abram ward that includes Platt Bridge. It came second with 571 votes, which was 23 percent. But some local residents have successfully campaigned to make refugees welcome in the area.

Kerry, who lives locally, explained to Socialist Worker what their campaign has achieved: 'It was a real shock to hear what happened in Platt Bridge. We have campaigned hard in our area over refugees. It is virtually all white people, with many elderly residents. When the council held public meetings about the refugees, people asked, 'Why are they getting housing?' But we explained why refugees are coming here. The last thing they need is persecution here, we said. Community groups began to pull together. We held collections round the estates. When the asylum seekers arrived we were able to give them basic groceries and toiletries. Many of them turned up in the middle of the night with just one bag. Community centres were opened for basic lessons in English. We got asylum seekers into school assemblies, so they talk to the kids about why they are here. Now the elderly residents say it's marvellous having people from other countries here, and what good neighbours they are. Of course, it has not been completely plain sailing. But it has made a difference.'

Hunger strike shows plight

THE DESPERATION of refugees has been shown by seven people in Plymouth who went on hunger strike to highlight their plea for asylum in Britain (see picture on page 1). The asylum seekers are Kurds from Iraq. They went without food while they camped outside the immigration office in Plymouth Hoe.

They have been waiting for up to three years with no status in Britain, and living off vouchers worth £37.77 a week. Their protest forced New Labour's Immigration Service to start dealing with their cases.

'To Home Office officials we're pieces of paper,' said Aniat, one of the hunger strikers. 'But we are human beings forced to live without faces or voices, in doubt and fear.'

When the protest finished all seven were taken to hospital suffering from dehydration and exhaustion. The refugees escaped from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

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Sat 22 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1805
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