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"Tough With The Workers, Toadying With The Millionaires"
New Labour and asylum: Blunkett's Callous Plans
THE PRINCIPLE of offering a safe haven to those in need is being subjected to "death by a thousand cuts". That was Amnesty International's response to New Labour's latest asylum proposals.
At Labour's conference Blunkett and Blair announced that they would slash legal aid for asylum applicants and massively restrict the appeals process.
They plan to allow asylum seekers only four hours with a solicitor in an initial consultation. But how can people with a different language and a different culture, who have lived through terror and may need medical and psychiatric investigations, possibly get a decent service in just four hours?
Blunkett claims there is a legal aid "gravy train" and undoubtedly there are some dodgy solicitors. This measure, however, will probably drive thousands of decent lawyers out of the work, and push more asylum seekers into the hands of unscrupulous legal advisers.
The appeals process is to be restricted. People coming from "democratic" countries (how many brutal regimes in the world have the semblance of elections? What about Chechnya, Zimbabwe, Iraq?) will be fast-tracked.
This probably means they will be presumed bogus.
Those whose claims fail will be removed "without further judicial interference" - so the one in five found by the appeals system to have a case after all could simply be sent back to their fate.
These proposals are the latest in a long line of draconian measures by this right-wing Home Secretary, including removing benefits from anyone who doesn't apply for asylum as soon as they enter the country, increased use of detention, increased removals, and forced dispersal of asylum seekers round the country to poor areas that are already overstretched and under-funded.
One of New Labour's barbarous policies has just backfired on them. Since 1994 the government has been prosecuting and jailing 500-1,000 asylum seekers a year for travelling with false passports.
But two have just won £130,000 in compensation because this is actually illegal under international law.
Now the government faces a bill for millions of pounds.
The government, trumpeting falling numbers of asylum applicants, claims it is due to their firm policies.
But the numbers of asylum seekers are much more to do with changes in conflicts, persecution or disasters.
Desperate people fleeing unbearable situations probably don't follow the ins and outs of the British system.
Whipping up hysteria
DAVID BLUNKETT says "we are not horrible evil people" and cites as evidence the fact they are granting record numbers of work permits.
This is due however to the flagging British economy having such poor levels of investment and training that workers from abroad are needed to plug the gaps.
It is also true that Britain is accepting 500 refugees from Liberia through the new UN nominations procedure.
But 500 is a drop in the ocean when matched against the appalling situation in Liberia.
Blair claimed that these measures will counter racists and the BNP. They deliberately ignore the fact that the hysteria whipped up by the press and fanned by New Labour helps these ideas to grow.
Imagine if instead of giving away £11 billion every year to the bosses of big business in tax cuts and spending billions on the war and occupation of Iraq, that money was used to build affordable houses, rebuild the NHS, fund education, provide jobs and decent wages.
That would go some way to countering racists and the BNP, who feed on the discontent and fears that can surround small numbers of refugees coming in to poor run-down communities.
In The Socialist 11 October 2003:
Labour and the unions
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis