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Majority in Britain back asylum rights

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Issue 1749

Hague and Straw scapegoat refugees, but poll shows…

Majority in Britain back asylum rights

TORY leader William Hague launched a racist attack on asylum seekers last week. It was a desperate attempt to pick up votes in the general election. He announced that every refugee fleeing persecution or poverty will be locked up in a detention centre if the Tories get elected.

Hague deliberately chose Dover to make his speech on asylum, as it is the first place many asylum seekers arrive at when they enter Britain. The detention centres will mean vulnerable people are deported even quicker. The Tories know they are going to be wiped out in the election and are wading in the sewer to try to resurrect their campaign.

Every attack on asylum seekers gives life to racists and Nazi organisations like the British National Party and National Front. Yet New Labour refuses to stand up to this racist Tory offensive. Jack Straw, the home secretary, said at the weekend that Labour would only allow a certain number of refugees into Britain.

Anyone applying after that would be turned away. This is effectively the end of asylum. John Edmonds, leader of the GMB union, attacked Straw’s disgraceful plans. “It’s bad enough when the Tories were threatening to deport so called bogus asylum seekers,” he said. “But here we have Jack Straw claiming he will shut the door on genuine refugees. We can’t win a Dutch auction with the Tories on who can be more brutal to asylum seekers, and we shouldn’t even be trying.”

Tony Blair wants to rewrite the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees which allows people fleeing torture and repression to come to Britain and other countries. Tory and New Labour policies over asylum are to the right of many ordinary people. The majority of people, some 51 percent, now say economic migrants, both skilled and unskilled, should be welcome in Britain. This figure came in a poll for the Guardian on Monday of this week. Some 18 percent of people-nearly one in five-say that all controls on immigration should be abolished. This is despite the wealth of anti-refugee propaganda from press and politicians. The number of people seeking asylum in Britain in 2000 was 76,000. This is just 0.13 percent of the population, a tiny amount of people for the fourth richest country in the world to take in.

People fleeing from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the repressive regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the civil war in Sri Lanka were the main applicants for asylum in Britain. Refugees are not allowed to work when they enter Britain, despite a third of them having a degree and two thirds being able to speak three languages. All the major parties support the free market system that brings war and poverty across the globe.

But when people try to flee the devastation caused by these policies they are treated like criminals and called “bogus”. “The Labour government is presiding over a system whereby genuine asylum seekers are being routinely refused and thereby labelled as bogus,” says Louise Christian, a lawyer and the Socialist Alliance candidate for Hornsey & Wood Green.

“Many of these refusals are for ‘non-compliance’ [failing to send in a complicated form within 14 days of arrival-even young unaccompanied children are refused on this basis]. But there are also many more who are refused because of whole countries such as Pakistan or Iraq being suddenly deemed as ‘safe’. The high court has declared ‘irrational’ Jack Straw’s decision to refuse asylum seekers from Pakistan based on its designation as a safe country. Iraq has not officially been placed on such a list but refusals have gone up something like 80 percent since last October.”

The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party say refugees are welcome here.

Fleeing poverty and war

THOSE seeking refuge in Britain come from the most poverty-stricken and wartorn parts of the world. The main countries of origin and the numbers of applicants in March 2001 was: (1) Afghanistan 680 (2) Somalia 470 (3) Iraq 425 (4) Sri Lanka 410 (5) Turkey 355 (6) Iran 295 (7) Romania 285 (8) Sierra Leone 255 (9) Yugoslavia 210 (10) China 175 (11) Pakistan 175 (12) Czech Republic 175 (13) India 165 (14) Zimbabwe 145 (15) Others 1,575

Welcoming refugees and against racism

by Mark Brown

Some 200 people joined a hustings meeting last week called by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees (pictured above). There were several trade union banners at the meeting, including from the TGWU, FBU and UNISON. Left wing Labour MP George Galloway was joined on the platform by socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan. They condemned the scapegoating of refugees by politicians.

“It starts with the reckless speeches by politicians, the flames are fanned by the tabloid headlines, and it ends with the blood of refugees seeping onto the cold streets of Townhead,” said Galloway. He was speaking as Kurdish refugee Habi Abbas was lying in hospital after being stabbed in the head in Glasgow’s Red Road area. Just days later three Sudanese asylum seekers were attacked by a racist mob in the Townhead district. These attacks follow the vicious assault on Palestinian refugees Haitham and Iyad Saada. There has been a 200 percent rise in racist attacks in the city in recent months.

Under home secretary Jack Straw’s draconian dispersal system Glasgow has received more asylum seekers than any other city in Britain. However, when they arrive refugees find themselves housed in areas of high deprivation and social tension. The New Labour supporting Daily Record has claimed that many asylum applicants are receiving 150 per week. In reality, a single asylum seeker gets just 36.54, mostly in vouchers. The meeting showed that many people in Glasgow don’t believe the Daily Record’s lies, and welcome refugees.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress has responded positively to a proposed demonstration in central Glasgow on 16 June. Sign the statement defending refugees, backed by John Edmonds, FBU executive members, Bruce Kent, Guardian journalist Nick Cohen, and many others. Contact the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers:

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