Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/199/8151
Asylum Seekers: Fact and Fiction
THE LABOUR Party's 600-page policy 'war book' of advice to campaign organisers thinks that the issue of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers could be vital during the election. The Socialist here answers some of the myths surrounding this issue.
Myth: "Asylum-seekers are coming to Britain because we're seen as a soft touch"
Asylum-seekers are only entitled to 70% of income support while they wait for their case to be decided; all but £10 of it is paid in humiliating vouchers.
Asylum-seekers' maximum weekly entitlement:
Single person 18-24:
£18.95 vouchers + £10 cash
£26.54 vouchers + £10 cash
£47.37 vouchers + £10 cash
Britain is one of the hardest countries for asylum-seekers to get into in the world. For those that do manage, 70%-80% of asylum applications in Britain are refused. The rest get either refugee status or Exceptional Leave to Remain (EL, which is temporary and can be withdrawn at any time).
Myth: "If their cases are genuine they will be allowed to stay"
This is a government lie. Thousands of refugees who have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured have their applications turned down for the most ridiculous reasons.
Ramin Khaleghi, an asylum-seeker from Iran, committed suicide earlier this year, days after his asylum application was refused, rather than be sent back to Iran.
He was a conscientious objector who was imprisoned for refusing to fight as a conscript in the army, then beaten and tortured in jail and forced to watch as his friends were executed. In prison, the guards smeared acid on his face because he had shaved off his beard (against Islamic custom in Iran).
It is common for asylum applicants who have false passports and immigration papers to be turned down by the Home Office for being "unreliable" because they entered Britain illegally.
Meanwhile, asylum-seekers with legal immigration documents are often turned down on the grounds that they wouldn't have been able to get a valid passport if they were "really" under threat. Refugees only seem to be considered "genuine" by the Home Office if they are dead.
Myth: "We're being swamped with asylum-seekers"
Only 5% of the world's refugees attempt to enter Western Europe; the vast majority stay in the same part of the world as their country of origin.
There are seven million refugees in Africa. In 1998 Iran received 1.9 million refugees, Jordan 1.4 million and Pakistan 1.2 million. The United Nations estimates that there are also between 25 million and 30 million people displaced within their own countries. These people aren't counted as refugees.
Last year Britain had nearly 98,000 applications for asylum (up from 91,000 in 1999). In proportion to our population, Britain has a low number of asylum-seekers. At 1.66 applications per thousand inhabitants Britain ranks tenth in Europe.
Myth: "We can't afford them"
In 1999 support for asylum-seekers cost £0.59 billion. The government is handing around £14 billion to big business every year in corporation tax cuts made in 1997.
The richest 1% of the population in Britain own almost 20% of the wealth while the bottom 50% own just 7%. Britain's wealthiest 1,000 people own more than £108 billion in assets. The wealth's there to support asylum-seekers and give everyone a good living standard - if it was redistributed as part of a socialist plan of production.
It's the way society is run, making the rich richer and the poor poorer, that we can't afford.
Myth: "Asylum-seekers are taking our housing"
Denying asylum-seekers the right to housing wouldn't solve the housing crisis. Everyone, including asylum-seekers, should have the right to good, affordable housing.
The only way to achieve this is by putting resources into social housing: repairing and renovating existing council housing; stopping the privatisation of council homes; bringing back rent controls for private rented accommodation and a programme of building new homes to provide enough for all.
Myth: "Things are hard enough for us already: shouldn't we start by helping British people first?"
If the government can get away with attacking asylum-seekers' rights they will come for the rest of us next. The Tories scrapped benefits for 70% of asylum-seekers before they introduced the Job Seekers' Allowance - a scheme to force the unemployed off state benefits.
If New Labour aren't forced to scrap vouchers for asylum-seekers, it will be a matter of time before they try to introduce them for other claimants.
This government, just like the Tories, is attacking the rights we've won through centuries of struggle. Asylum-seekers are the thin end of the wedge, being used as a scapegoat for the cuts the government want to force through at our expense.
But who decides government policy? Not refugees or asylum-seekers: it's New Labour and big business who run the government.
Myth: "I don't mind immigrants who work for a living - it's paying them benefits I don't like"
Asylum-seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months of their application. After that they have the right to apply to the Home Office for a permit to work, which can be refused or removed at any time.
Myth: "Britain isn't responsible for these people's problems - why should we have to help?"
The refugee crisis is a worldwide problem, but the British government's policies have helped to make it much worse.
Neo-liberal (i.e. Thatcherite) policies forced on developing countries in return for trade; arms sales to dictators like Suharto in Indonesia that are subsidised with taxpayers' money; putting British business's profits above human lives e.g. in Nigeria: all these have worsened existing crises and increased the numbers of refugees.
It's wars, conflicts and repression that force refugees to leave their homes. The Socialist Party supports struggles of working-class people and other oppressed sections of society around the world that strive to end the misery and conflict of the global capitalist system.
We're campaigning to end the dictatorship of the market, which is the root of the refugee 'crisis'. Join us in our fight for a socialist world, run democratically for need and not for profits.
Playing the race card
AS THE general election approaches, New Labour and the Tories are 'playing the race card'.
Despite the recent fighting in and around Kosova, Home Secretary Jack Straw is determined to deport Kosovan asylum seekers against their will.
Not wanting to be criticised by the Tories for being 'soft' on immigration, Straw is chartering aircraft to remove 30,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.
According to The Independent: "The first time that immigrants have been forcibly moved out of Britain en masse by aircraft".
Meanwhile Tory leader William Hague is hiring East European actors to portary asylum seekers in a party political broadcast.
Who are the refugees?
REFUGEES ARE people who have been forced to flee their home due to persecution, repression, civil war or disaster. The United Nations estimate there are 15 million refugees worldwide and 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Most refugees would like to return to their country of origin but cannot without risking imprisonment, persecution, torture or execution.
Asylum-seekers is a legal term for refugees who've applied for the right to asylum but haven't yet had a decision from the government. It takes over a year for an asylum claim to be processed in Britain.
The Socialist says:
ATTACKING ASYLUM-seekers' rights is no solution to the problems working-class people in Britain face. The Tories are trying to scare people into voting for them and New Labour are trying to use asylum-seekers as a scapegoat for their pro-big business policies.
We need jobs, homes and services, not lies about "bogus" asylum-seekers. There's enough wealth in Britain to provide decent living standards for everyone, including refugees. We need to build a united movement of working-class people to demand socialist policies like:
- The right to a job - good working conditions and the right to join a union.
- A minimum wage you can live on - over £7 an hour to lift people out of the poverty trap.
- End the sell-offs of council housing - for quality, affordable public housing to be available to everyone.
- Full funding for the health service and local services.
- Free, quality education available to all.
- End arms sales to corrupt and repressive regimes.
- An end to persecution of asylum-seekers - scrap racist immigration laws.
- A socialist society run democratically for need not profit.
"I am very, very puzzled"
"I AM very, very puzzled, in this country they say I am not allowed to kill myself, but on the other hand they want to return me to people who will kill me. "
Farrokh Shiri, Iranian asylum seeker. HMP Exeter, 15 March 2001
SHIRI HAD just discovered his appeal case for political asylum in Britain had been turned down. Very distressed, he threatened to take his own life. There was a four-hour siege by the police before Shiri was calmed down. He was then arrested.
Farrokh Shiri is at present in HMP Exeter, remanded until 20 April. Please write a letter of support to Farrokh Shiri, HMP Exeter, New North Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 4EX.
Councils - take the Liverpool road
IN THE mid-1980s, led by Militant (now the Socialist Party), Liverpool's Labour city council forced a public debate on the £270 million slashed from their budget by the Tories between 1979 and 1983.
A determined campaign by the council, with active mass support from the population and important sections of the unions, forced Margaret Thatcher to back down temporarily.
The council secured 10,000 jobs, built homes and increased public services. Eventually the Labour Party right-wing succeeded in betraying their members in Liverpool and the councillors were undemocratically removed by the Tories. But the 5,400 homes built by the Militant-led council still stand today.
Socialist Party members and councillors are campaigning for local councils today to take the Liverpool road. Rather than doing the government's dirty work for them, local councils should set needs budgets in consultation with council workers, local residents and community groups and challenge the government to give the resources needed.
In The Socialist 30 March 2001: