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Shielding refugees

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| Shield Refugees | Hunger strikers | Council tax | Missing benefits |
Issue 1891

Some 100 people in South Shields on Tyneside protested outside local Labour MP David Miliband’s office on Sunday in support of a Colombian family threatened with deportation.

Miliband is New Labour’s schools minister. Slogans on protesters’ banners said Miliband had ‘blood on his hands’. The Reyes-Prado family was due to be deported on Monday from Heathrow airport.

They include three children aged 13, eight and three years old. The family fled Colombia in 2000 after the father was threatened by right wing paramilitaries. New Labour ruled the family were ‘bogus’ refugees and must be deported. The family won support from local people in South Shields, who have now forced the Home Office to reconsider.

On hunger strike

THREE ASYLUM seekers in Glasgow have sewn up their lips and gone on hunger strike to protest the government’s refusal to grant them leave to stay. Faroq, Fariborz and Mokhtar are from the Kurdish minority in Iran. They are refusing all food.

Faroq told Socialist Worker that they fled Iran three years ago after the threat of arrest and torture. ‘We left everything-our country, family and friends. We risked our lives to flee to the UK,’ he said. The men were lying on thin mattresses on the floor of their Glasgow bedsit. Fariborz and Mokhtar were barely conscious.

There are growing fears that their refusal to drink water could mean the men may die in a matter of days. They insist the protest is a desperate, final act. Faroq was barely able to make himself heard as the cotton stitches cut into his lips.

He said, ‘If I had the choice of dying here or in Iran, I would rather die here. We hope our hunger strike will force the government to acknowledge our situation, and the problems faced by all refugees.’

Key trial collapses

AN IMPORTANT trial collapsed this week at Kingston Crown Court, London, of six people accused under the Terrorism Act 2000. The judge threw out the case, saying, ‘Were this prosecution to continue, it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.’

Most of the defendants were political refugees from Turkey. They came to this country and were granted asylum. A key part of the case involved the sale and distribution of a magazine. The prosecution maintained that this was ‘terrorist property’, yet it is sold entirely legally in Turkey and Europe.

A week before the trial the defendants produced a letter from the Home Office saying the organisation they were working for had never been banned.

Profit, profit everywhere

HSBC CALLS itself ‘the world’s local bank’. So it is. It rips off its consumers whichever part of the world they live in. HSBC raked in £6.8 billion profits last year-that’s £248 a second. The 33 percent rise made it the most profitable bank in Britain. The bank’s top bosses grabbed £75 million between them last year, while its workforce got a below-inflation pay deal.

HSBC makes over 25 percent of its profit abroad. So while it makes millions from squeezing people with mortgages and rising debt in Britain, the bank screws people in the poorest parts of the world too.

Clobbered by council tax

COUNCIL TAX bills are to go up by an average of 6 percent this year-well over double the rate of inflation. Band D households in England will be paying around £1,168 a year. In some areas the rise of council tax could be even higher-up to four times the inflation rate.

The government wants wage rises kept down to around 2 percent, and many won’t get even that much. But cuts in our living standards due to council tax rises will be accompanied by cuts in council services.

Government funding limits to local councils will mean leisure centres, libraries, road maintenance and social care all face cuts.

Tapping us for cash

ELECTRICITY AND water bills are also soaring. Water bills are set to rocket by 74 percent, taking bills in some areas from £173 to £425 a year. Peter Bowler of the Water Watch consumer group says, ‘The water industry treats its customers as a cash cow.’

Water bosses are not the only ones bleeding us dry. Average electricity bills have gone up by around 5 percent, double the rate of inflation.

The first 225 units of electricity used each quarter are charged for at a higher rate than the rest. This particularly cruel system penalises the old and the poor who try to cut down on their electricity to save money. Business, of course, gets a lower rate altogether.

Missing out on benefits

SOME OF the poorest people in Britain don’t get benefits they are entitled to. Some £6 billion in means-tested benefits went uncollected last year, which saw the worst ever levels of take-up. Fewer than 20 percent of pensioners claim under the minimum pension guarantee scheme introduced last year. They are missing out on some £2.56 billion a year. Also unclaimed are around £1.23 billion in housing benefit and £1.44 billion in Jobseeker’s Allowance.

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