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Don’t fall for myths about migrants

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Dean Ryan, Respect candidate for the London Assembly in the North East London constituency, argues why everyone should oppose the witch-hunt against immigrants
Issue 1896

IMMIGRANTS ARE under fire again. No one should fall for the lies the mainstream parties and the press peddle about immigrants and asylum seekers flooding the country. Beverley Hughes had to resign as a minister because New Labour whipped up a climate of hostility to satisfy the Tory press.

They stirred up hatred against immigrants and asylum seekers and made themselves vulnerable to the right wing who, every time they are fed, just bay for more. David Blunkett seems to revel in being seen as ruthless, right wing and unsympathetic to British Muslims and all asylum seekers.

Every time he opens his mouth, he gives comfort to hardline racists. It is disgusting, and it is also gross hypocrisy. The government knows the country desperately needs workers from overseas. The NHS, the agricultural industry, construction-none of these would survive without migrant workers. But the government has played to right wing bigotry and now Blunkett and Blair can’t just honestly come out and say that the country needs workers from Eastern Europe even though they know it is true.

They tried to out-Tory the Tories and they tripped up. They are caught in a trap they have made for themselves. Witch-hunts against immigrants have always led to an increase in racism in society as a whole.

I grew up in a council flat in Hoxton, south Hackney, in the 1970s. It was the eye of the storm. The National Front sold their paper every week in Hoxton market. People would literally come up and spit at me on the street and shout racist abuse at me. There was racist graffiti like ‘Wogs out’ and ‘Pakis go home’ all over the place-a real atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

That existed because of the failure of the last Labour government to deliver on its promises and its strategy of blaming immigrants for the failure. Immigrants were scapegoated by both Labour and the Tory party. It was the politicians who created the climate of fear then and they are doing the same now.

I heard that an elderly Pakistani man was killed in what could have been a racist attack in west London. It is exactly what happened in the 1970s-anti-immigrant campaigns led to racist murders. Politicians blame everything on immigrants, hoping to divert anger away from themselves.

And the result is racist violence and black and Asian people beaten up and even murdered on the streets. I work with teenagers. The crisis in housing in London is one of the biggest issues they face. Young people are driven to despair because they have no privacy. Young women have to share bedrooms with brothers, mothers, even stepfathers.

I work in Islington where these appallingly overcrowded estates stand side by side with houses worth millions. People see mothers driving their kids to school in their Mercedes and they haven’t even got their own bedroom. It’s not at all surprising that people are driven to real anger with the situation. And it’s that anger the government wants to turn against immigrants. Last year less houses were built in Britain than in any year since 1945.

Labour councils carry on Tory policies of selling off council houses. Profiteers make millions from building flats beyond the reach of ordinary people. These are the things that cause the problem. But the government want working class people to blame the foreigners or outsiders, not their own policies. While we are pointing the finger at people even more desperate than ourselves, we are not holding the government and the rich to account.

Unemployment and jobs are other huge issues for the young people I work with. They come to me full of ambition and hopes. They want to do jobs like carpentry and painting and decorating.

They are dumped on government schemes to keep them off the unemployment statistics. They call it the Entry to Employment scheme but for too many young people it is anything but.

When they get to a certain level, they get stuck because they need to be employed to progress further and no one wants to employ them. They are young and have no work experience, so they get stuck in limbo. Their ambitions end up being crushed. If they refuse to be supermarket fodder they turn to other ways of making money and get into trouble. The government and the opposition want us to blame workers from Eastern Europe for taking these young people’s jobs.

But it’s not a case of ‘either or’. It’s not true that if there were no Eastern Europeans employers would flock to take on the young people I work with. Because there is no proper training and no apprenticeships any more, the bosses don’t want them.

Young people’s lives are wrecked by government policy on education and training which writes them off and the logic of the market which dictates that young people with less skills are not suited for an intensely competitive field like building.

It’s not the Eastern Europeans who are to blame, any more than it was the Irish in the 1970s or my mum and dad before that. It’s the Labour and Tory parties who want to keep ordinary people at each others’ throats so we are not uniting against them. The government wants it both ways. It wants cheap migrant workers to do the dirty jobs and it wants to persecute foreigners to divert anger away from itself.

That’s why Respect stands for defending the rights of all asylum seekers and for challenging racism.


Getting it straight

THE TORIES and their media backers claim work visas are being dished out to tens of thousands of bogus workers from Eastern Europe who are on the brink of swamping the country. The facts tell a different story:

  • Around a quarter, 23 percent, of those classified as migrants into Britain between 1998 and 2002 were Britons returning from abroad according to the Office for National Statistics.

  • 120,115 people were granted permits to work in Britain in 2002. The largest number, 27 percent, came from the Americas. The number coming from other European countries was just 12 percent.

  • The top three occupations among those granted work permits were skilled and desperately needed-IT workers, health workers and managers.

  • Britain is not being swamped by Bulgarians and Romanians. Those countries do not even feature in the top ten source countries for immigration into Britain.

  • Immigration into Britain was 10 percent lower in 2002 than it was in 2001. Some 244,000 people entered Britain, while some 91,000 left, leaving a net gain of 153,000.

  • 90 million people pass through Britain every year.

  • One in every 35 people in the world is a cross-country migrant.

  • Of the world’s 6.3 billion population in 2002, 175 million were living in a different country from the one they were born in.
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