A series of mass drownings has brought the number of deaths in the Mediterranean this year to 4,700—20 percent more than the total for 2015.
The dead were largely migrants from Sub-Saharan African countries, setting out from Libya in inflatable dinghies that capsized or sank.
A European Union (EU) and Nato clampdown on traffickers piloting wooden fishing boats has seen many switch to sending refugees out alone on smaller, cheaper and simpler boats.
This was behind the worst incidents of last week. The clampdown has also driven more refugees to sail from Egypt—an even longer route.
More than 340 people died in just three days last week, including around 100 whose dinghy sank after smugglers towed it out to sea and abandoned them on Thursday morning.
Survivor Abdoullae Diallo, an 18 year old from Senegal, said, “At that moment I thought we were going to die. I knew we were not close to Italy and without an engine we could not get far.”
The 27 survivors were rescued by Britain’s HMS Enterprise, then transferred to a ship run by charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Those who survive the crossing are taken to Italy.
Charity worker Mathilde Auvillain said, “One young boy has been weeping, asking for his mother. Another has written a list of names of the people travelling with him and re-reads it over and over. He wants to know if his friends are on the boat or in the sea.”
The British navy’s presence is part of a process making the journey into Europe ever more difficult and deadly.
Tens of thousands of refugees are stuck in Greece, including on islands such as Chios, where fascists burned and smashed part of a refugee camp last week.
And once refugees get to Britain the whole system is focused on sending them back.
The Home Office regularly disregards medical evidence of torture when rejecting asylum seekers, charity Freedom From Torture has found.
It found 50 cases over a two-year period of “egregious mishandling” of doctors’ reports saying injuries were likely to be the result of torture.
Three quarters of them had asylum granted on appeal, including an opposition activist who was raped and burned by security services in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It’s really, deeply hurtful when you’ve been through torture and abuse and they seem not to understand and not to even believe your story,” she said.
Politicians who shudder hypocritically at the racism of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage are enforcing these cruel policies.
This drives refugees to take ever deadlier risks, and legitimises racists who complain when immigration continues anyway.
Breaking it down must be a central demand of the coming months’ Stand Up To Racism campaigning (see right), leading to the national demonstrations on Saturday 18 March.
The former site of the Calais “jungle” is now a barren expanse of mud—but most of the refugees who lived there are still being shut out.
Ibrahim and Baker, two Sudanese refugees arrested during the jungle demolition, faced imminent deportation back to war-torn regions this week.
Thousands more are scattered in small groups around towns and villages across France.
To get them to leave the jungle, the authorities told them they could apply for asylum in France. But refugees in Rennes began a hunger strike last week after being told they could be sent back to Italy under the Dublin convention.
“They promised us that the Dublin procedure was being stopped, and we believed them,” they said in a statement.
“Now we find out that it was all untrue.”
I am not happy staying in this accommodation, please, please take us out of here to the UK.
They have been pushed to fill in their asylum requests without a translator present. Supporters say this will lead to unclear requests that are easier for the state to reject.
A protest was also reported inside the reception centre at Laon in northern France last Sunday.
Far right protesters tried to storm the reception centre in the western village of Arzon last week and kicked down its gate before being arrested.
More than a third of the minors from Calais interviewed by charity Safe Passage UK said they had felt better off in the squalid, dangerous jungle. A quarter hadn’t been given clean clothes.
One boy said the reception centre he shares with adult refugees “looks like a prison”.
“I am not happy staying in this accommodation,” another added. “Please, please take us out of here to the UK.”
Some had been forced to do unpaid labour. “It is horrible,” said one boy who had been made to pick apples. “We just want to be with our family in the UK.”
The Home Office claims it is “absolutely committed to bringing all eligible children to the UK as soon as possible”.
But it issued guidelines last week saying that unaccompanied 12-15 year olds—eligible under the Dubs amendment—would only be accepted if they were Syrian or Sudanese.
Fewer than a sixth of the interviewed children had had any contact from the Home Office.
Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) groups around Britain were set to join campaigning around Islamophobia Awareness Month alongside Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) this week.
Six SUTR rallies brought together up to 400 people last week.
At one in Cardiff, local Mend chair Sahar Al Afaifi spoke passionately about the racism she had experienced wearing a veil—and the solidarity she had received from co-workers.
She said, “Every time I feel like things are hopeless, I remember the actions of my colleagues and it gives me the strength to be proud of who I am and my community.”
More than 50 people joined the meeting. There were also over 60 in Glasgow—where the STUC is set to hold its annual anti-racism march this Saturday.
More than 70 came in Edinburgh.
Its US Consulate will see one of several protests taking place in Britain on Friday 20 January when racist bigot Donald Trump is inaugurated as US president.
Unison union assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie told an audience of more than 70 people in Oxford on Thursday, “People have said things I haven’t heard since the 1970s when the National Front was on the rise.
“It’s great to be in a packed meeting but now is the time to act.”
At a 30-strong meeting in Harlow, Essex, campaigners announced a day of leafleting to bust myths about refugees and immigration—part of a nationwide SUTR Winter Appeal.
Sixth form students Ashleigh and Leon told Socialist Worker they wanted to argue with classmates who bought into anti-refugee myths.
Mira, a Polish woman who has lived in Harlow for 11 years, blamed Tory and Ukip politicians stirring up racism during the European Union referendum campaign for racist abuse she has received.
Around 70 people came to the meeting in Waltham Forest, east London on Saturday.
SUTR joint convenor Weyman Bennett said, “When the English Defence League turned up at the London protest against Trump I told them to leave. I could do that because there were hundreds of us and two of them.”
To beat the racists we must build a mass movement.
Campaigners in Manchester are fighting to stop the deportation of Zambian-born former nurse Dianne Ngoza.
Dianne was detained in a reporting centre in Salford last week after her application to remain in the country was rejected.
She has lived in Britain for 14 years.
Around 30 people protested outside, including Dianne’s daughter, blocking a van that was set to take her to a detention centre.
They were out campaigning in central Manchester on Monday. Dianne was then taken to the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire.
The Home Office bans asylum seekers from working legally, which has made Dianne destitute for years.
The campaign is raising key environmental issues
Boris Johnson is in trouble but still pushing vicious laws
We need struggle to crash their party
Findings of a government survey