By Rosalind Robson
No one at Solidarity will mourn the loss of Immigration Minister Beverly Hughes, who resigned this month after a row over so-called "scam" applications of East Europeans migrants for entry to the UK. We will not forgive her, or the rest of her government, for presiding over a brutal and inhumane asylum and immigration policy. It is a policy that denies thousands of persecuted people a safe life.
That Hughes tried to portray herself as the champion of "genuine" asylum seekers and steadfast against xenophobia is beyond belief. Deterring, intimidating and dealing harshly with asylum seekers has been the constant of Labour's policy.
But Hughes was not forced out by a backlash against her mean, racist policy. She was forced to resign by the vicious propaganda war between the Labour and the Tories over who can be tougher - in their language more "competent" - over immigration.
The tabloid press conducts a parallel competition of its own - which paper can be more racist, more xenophobic, cause more scandal over asylum seekers.
What happens when the politicians and press engage in this kind of ideological competition? People who may otherwise be sympathetic to people living in persecution or poverty - but who are not informed about the reality of asylum and immigration - lose confidence in the "system". According to one poll, 50% of British voters think all immigration should be stopped!
Racially-motivated attacks are perpetrated by a very small number of people. Nonetheless the political climate affects how often they happen. When racism rises, principles of toleration subside, social solidarity goes by the board.
The tabloids are saying that 95% of asylum seekers are bogus. Children think it is okay to shout "asylum seeker" at any Asian, Black or apparently Muslim or "Middle Eastern" person they see.
If the tabloids say the immigrants are taking our jobs, then hostility towards all black, Asian, Kurdish, Afghan etc people grows. In some parts of the UK racially motivated attacks are growing. In Northern Ireland they have grown by 60% in recent years.
The debate is complicated by the fact that the government wants to have its cake and eat it on these issues. It wants to be tough on asylum seekers, but welcoming to certain economic migrants.
British bosses need migrant labour. The British state needs migrant labour.
The tabloid press complains about health tourism. They say people will "flock" from Eastern Europe once it becomes part of the EU to take advantage of "our" doctors and nurses. That same EU provides so many doctors and nurses for the Health Service!
The British middle classes need migrants - to look after their children and clean their homes.
Although many working class people see migrants as competition for jobs, in fact mostly migrants do the jobs that other people do not want to do? And by their presence they enlarge the economy and increase the supply of other jobs.
As for migrants undercutting wage rates, there is a simple answer to that. The unions should unionise migrant workers and fight for higher wages for all. It has been done before and can be again.
The facts about people who come here as asylum seekers are a million miles from the lies pedalled by the tabloids.
It is time to organise our campaign to counter the lies and unite the working class across the racial divides.
Some facts about asylum
- Asylum and immigration costs £1.7 billion a year. Immigrants and refugees contribute £2.5 billion a year to the economy.
- Poor countries such as Tanzania, Guinea and Armenia take more refugees than Britain.
- Most asylum seekers come from countries which abuse human rights.
- Hundreds of asylum seekers have been refused any financial assistance or housing. The cash people receive is 70% of basic income support.
- Refugees are dispersed to some of the worst estates in the country.
- The UK detains more asylum seekers, including children, than any other European country and detains them for far longer.