By Gerry Bates
Tony Blair and Michael Howard are trying to win votes by competing to see who can promise the most vicious “hard line” against asylum seekers.
This foul auction is boosting and nurturing the most dangerous prejudices.
Never mind the facts. That refugees and immigrants, if they’re allowed to work, contribute more to the country’s economic output than they take out. That many essential services rely on immigrant workers. That Britain has benefited for centuries from the cultural enrichment brought by successive waves of immigrants and refugees. That very few asylum-seekers would flee to Britain and brave the walls of official hostility if they were not desperate to escape persecution and suffering in their homelands.
Instead, Blair and Howard try to divert the blame for crumbling public services, unemployment, and crime away from the successive Tory and New Labour profit-oriented policies of privatisation and cuts, and towards asylum-seekers who had no part at all in those policies.
Two ways to try to turn the tide. Support the candidates of the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, who will speak out for asylum rights, in those constituencies where they are standing in the General Election. And fight in the trade unions for them to break the hypnosis of the “Warwick Agreement”, and speak out loudly for asylum rights, both in public and through the Labour structures.
New racist immigration proposals
By Rosalind Robson
“Your country’s borders protected” is one of the six “election pledges” announced by Labour last week.
What that will mean in practice had been spelt out in the Home Office document “Controlling Our Borders: Making Migration Work for Britain”, published just a week before Labour’s launch of its “election pledges”.
The document opens with the obligatory nod in the direction of the virtues of migration and the rights of refugees. Migration is “vital for our economy”, and the UK has a “moral duty” to protect refugees.
Then it’s down to the real business – increasing border and internal controls, making temporary and permanent migration more difficult, and further reducing refugee rights.
By 2008 anyone who applies for a visa to come to the UK will be fingerprinted. Airlines will be required to submit passenger lists to be checked against the Immigration Service’s central database. The “Iris Recognition Immigration System” is to be “rolled out” to all UK international airports.
The maximum validity of a visitor’s visa is to be reduced from six to three months. The right to appeal against refusal of a work visa or a study visa is to be scrapped. The right to appeal against refusal of a visitor’s visa, which has been largely scrapped already, is to be “tightened up”.
Any non-UK or non-EU citizen who spends more than three months in the UK will be required to carry an ID card, containing the person’s photo and fingerprints. Records of foreigners leaving the UK will be kept, in order to identify “overstayers”.
Quota-based schemes for low-skilled migrant labour — currently used extensively in agriculture, food-processing and the “hospitality sector” — are to be scrapped entirely.
Skilled workers will be admitted to the UK only if it can be demonstrated that the would-be employer cannot find any UK or EU citizen to fill a given vacancy. The workers will have to deposit a financial bond (forfeited if they do not leave the UK on time) and their employers will act as “sponsors” (that is, ensure compliance with the Immigration Rules).
Highly skilled workers (i.e., workers in demand by UK bosses) will be able to enter the UK even in the absence of a specific job offer. But they will have to work in the UK for five years (as against four at present) before being allowed to remain permanently, and will also have to pass tests in the English language and life in the UK (currently required only for persons applying for British nationality).
The “Working Holidaymakers” scheme (under which 20-something nationals of Commonwealth countries are allowed to spend two years working in the UK) will be restricted to “countries with a satisfactory returns arrangement with the UK”.
In practice, this will mean (white) Australians and Canadians will continue to be admitted, whereas (non-white) Indians and Bengalis will continue to be excluded in even greater numbers than at present.
The “Controlling Our Borders” document also promises an end to “chain migration” — an expression which conjures up images of persons allowed to settle in the UK being followed by their parents, grandparents, great-uncles-in-law and third-cousins twice-removed.
But the possibility of joining a person settled in the UK is already strictly limited and rigorously controlled.
The promise to end (non-existent) “chain migration”, if it means anything, will mean the final abolition of a right that has already largely withered on the vine.
In the late 1970s there was a storm of protest when the later Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed that Britain was in danger of being “swamped by an alien culture”. Although the “Controlling Our Borders” document does not actually use the same expression, the image of a UK being over-run by foreign hordes is certainly the sub-text of the entire document and the rationale behind its title.
And yet now, in 2005, there has been no comparable outcry about the document’s sub-text and proposals.
The fact that the document, and Labour’s “electoral pledge”, have not triggered a wave of protest is a reflection of the extent to which new forms of racism and xenophobia have become rooted in mainstream political argument, and of how far the left and the broader anti-racist movement have lost ground in the last two decades.
Behind the statistics
Abrahim is 19 years old. He was born in Afghanistan to a Hazara family. At the end of 2002 Abrahim’s father was killed. By Afghanistan’s then interim government, says Abrahim. “My father was accused of helping the Taliban, but that is not true.” Abrahim’s uncle helped to get his nephew to England, a move Abrahim has not regretted despite all the difficulties he has had to face recently.
As as an unaccompanied minor, Abrahim was granted leave to stay until he was 18. Now he is threatened with deportation.
“When I was 18 the government sent me a letter asking me to come for interview. They refused to let me stay. I didn’t make an application because I had no solicitor, I cannot get legal aid. In November 2004 the police came to my house and arrested me. They took me to Dover, to Oxford and then to Dungavel. I was booked on a flight to Afghanistan but at the last minute, due to unrelated circumstances, the deportation was cancelled. Now I have a solicitor in Canterbury and have applied again and am waiting to hear from the Home Office.”
Abrahim now has no family in Afghanistan. The Home Office have given him no advice about what to do when they fly him there. There is no help for people like Abrahim in Afghanistan. On the other hand Abrahim, a young person like any other, has made a life for himself here, he has plans and ambitions and friends. In 2002, as a teenager, a person whose life was beginning, he was thrown into a situation of terrible uncertainty. The government wants to do that to him again.
Abrahim is being helped by a group of anti-deportation activists in Kent.