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Racism fuels the debate on asylum

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Issue 1747

Tory and New Labour scapegoating

Racism fuels the debate on asylum

TONY BLAIR led up to his announcement of the election with a major article in the Times against asylum seekers. He didn’t use the opportunity to offer solutions to poverty and underfunded public services.

Instead he said New Labour will try to change the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. This is the basis for laws allowing people fleeing torture and repression to come to Britain. Blair’s attitude to Tory attacks on refugees was merely that they were going about it in the wrong way.

“Our criticism of the Conservative opposition over asylum has not been about racism, but about opportunism,” he wrote. He then boasted that “asylum rules have been significantly strengthened in the last three years”, trumpeting the government’s repressive measures. New Labour agrees with the Tories that being against asylum does not make you a racist.

But anti-asylum rhetoric leads to racist conclusions. That link has been shown in a report in last Monday’s Guardian by two researchers studying the British social attitudes survey. The people who were the most hostile to immigrants held strongly racist views. “Outsiders”, or people who are in some way perceived to be different, get the blame for problems in society.

The argument then spreads-if the latest group to come to Britain are really “bogus” and scroungers”, then so are earlier groups. So black and Asian people, as well as refugees, can suffer abuse and attacks. The Tories’ open racism disgusts the vast majority of people. But Labour is also pandering to racist ideas.

  • A few days after foreign secretary Robin Cook’s speech attacking the Tories for their “myths of an Anglo-Saxon race”, home secretary Jack Straw said he would remove 30,000 asylum seekers from Britain, double last year’s total.
  • Last week Home Office minister Barbara Roche granted special powers to immigration officers allowing them to target particular nationalities.

Afghans, Sri Lankan Tamils, Somalis, Kurds, Roma Gypsies, Albanians and some Chinese are now liable for “special treatment” involving especially rigorous questioning. New Labour is attacking vulnerable asylum seekers while cuddling up to the rich. The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party want to tax the rich and welcome asylum seekers.

We back refugees

Here are two examples of where ordinary people have taken up the cause of asylum seekers.

A LETTER signed by GPMU print union members on the night shift at KRN, publisher of the Folkestone Herald, said: “The widely publicised racist advertisement placed by Tory MP Michael Howard in the Folkestone Herald was a clear attempt to play the race card in the election. The Tories in east Kent are desperate to cling on to those seats in the area they managed to save in 1997, and will descend to any depths to do so. It is a shame, therefore, that Tony Blair in an exclusive article for the paper a few weeks ago spent most of his time describing New Labour’s attack on asylum seekers, rather than refuting the myth of the ‘bogus’ refugee. We work for the company that publishes the Folkestone Herald-a paper which became notorious for racist reporting under a previous editor and proprietor. We had hoped that things had changed. Yours, six GPMU members, KRN chapel (part of Trinity Mirror).”

MESSAGES OF support, get well cards and solidarity collections have flooded in following the horrendous attacks on two Palestinian refugees in the Sighthill area of Glasgow at the end of last month. Members of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees got a fantastic response to their petition condemning the attack.

We linked them to both the Tories’ attempts to play the “race card” and New Labour’s racist asylum policies. The petition was taken up by the Scottish Socialist Party in the Springburn constituency which includes Sighthill. Socialists argue that refugees are not to blame for the poverty in areas like Sighthill.

We will fight for decent resources for everyone living in working class communities.

  • Mark Brown

No to BNP mail

POSTAL WORKERS in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, have voted not to deliver election addresses from the Nazi BNP. Local union reps raised the matter with management and demanded that people who wanted to opt out should be allowed to do so.

Bosses said it was “impractical” to have such a policy, and said they would allow a survey to be held to test what the real opinion was in the office. The survey then showed a clear majority who did not want to have anything to do with such leaflets. The union is now waiting for management’s response.

Around 80 percent of 151 workers in Huddersfield delivery office are white. There is an excellent record of anti-racism, and many workers there refused to deliver Nazi mail during the 1999 Euro elections. Every postal worker should try to follow the example at Huddersfield. Royal Mail has to be made to understand that workers do not want to assist in any way with the spread of Nazi filth.

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