A conference in Manchester on section 9 last Saturday was an important step forward in organising resistance to New Labour’s attempts to starve and intimidate asylum seekers into submitting to deportation.
Around 150 people attended – a mixture of asylum seekers, trade unionists and anti-racist activists. Flores Sukula spoke of how the actions of her teachers and local social workers had prevented her family from being thrown onto the streets and her younger brothers and sisters being taken into care.
Her family, banned from working or claiming benefits, had no money to feed or shelter themselves. Section 9 compels social workers to take away the children of “failed” asylum seekers who have no money to house themselves, unless their parents agree to deportation.
The brutality of this law, and the resistance to it has forced local councils in most of the pilot areas to block its implementation and led to several demanding its repeal.
Rosie Kane from the Scottish Socialist Party inspired the conference by describing the broad unity in Scotland to resist detention and deportation. Tim Lezard of the NUJ journalists’ union brought solidarity.
One of the most important speeches came from a delegate from the social workers’ professional body, BASW, which had sponsored the conference.
Workshops on resistance discussed ways of taking the campaign forward, including launching a national petition to condemn the laws and strengthening union organisation.
Unfortunately an opportunity to launch a broad based campaign was missed when a motion arguing that the campaign must include opposition to all immigration controls and support for self defence squads was passed.
The union delegates, BASW and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, could not sign this.
Despite this, the determination for united action dominated the day. The union delegates left the conference determined to find ways that everyone opposed to section 9 could be part of the campaign.
Asylum detainees at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre have been punished for protesting against conditions there after the recent suicide of Bereket Yohannes, an Eritrean asylum seeker. Officers moved the detainees to isolation cells. Many have been transferred.