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From: The Socialist issue 277, 15 November 2002: Support the Firefighters

Search site for keywords: Asylum - Government - Asylum-seekers - Refugees - Britain

Asylum Laws: Blunkett's Vicious New Restrictions

HOME SECRETARY David Blunkett has added vicious new proposals to the government's Asylum Bill, causing a rare rebellion by New Labour backbenchers.

Naomi Byron

When the bill returned to the Commons after one of 52 defeats in the Lords, 42 Labour MPs opposed Blunkett's proposals to educate asylum-seekers' children in special accommodation centres. They wanted the children to have access to mainstream state education instead of being segregated from the rest of the population.

But the whole bill was eventually passed with minor amendments.

New Labour are still playing the race card to distract attention from their responsibility for the problems that working-class people and large sections of the middle class face.

Blunkett's bill revived the Tory idea of a "White List" of countries that the Home Office considers "safe". They could turn down asylum applications from people from these countries without considering their cases properly.

The first countries on the White List are those, mainly from eastern Europe, which are to join the European Union. But last year, even before the List, the Home Office did not grant one single asylum application from the Czech Republic, despite the horrific discrimination and attacks the Roma people face.

Only 1% (approximately nine people) were given Exceptional Leave to Remain on humanitarian grounds (which can be taken away by the government at any time).

Blunkett is seeking powers to expand the White List to new areas, possibly to Turkey. The Home Office's 1998 assessment for Turkey, which helps decide whether asylum-seekers from that country are at risk of persecution, asserted: "Outside south east Turkey, Kurds do not usually suffer 'persecution', or even discrimination, provided that they do not insist on their Kurdishness".

But many asylum claims by Kurds from Turkey are because the authorities there won't tolerate peaceful expression of Kurdish identity. That intolerance can lead to harassment, arrest, even deaths and disappearances.

Cynicism

BLUNKETT ALSO proposes that more asylum cases are processed abroad. The Home Office already slaps visa requirements on people travelling to Britain from any crisis-racked country they think likely to produce refugees.

Recently they sent immigration officials to the Czech Republic, with powers to turn back anyone they thought likely to seek asylum, with no right of appeal.

The scheme was temporarily suspended after accusations that officials turned back Roma people disproportionately. However, officials were soon sent back to the Czech Republic to continue their work.

The proposal to process cases abroad means that, as refugees aren't in Britain, they have no access to support networks that have helped bring the government to account for many unjust decisions. Will these people get a fair hearing?

Asylum applications processed abroad can be done more secretly and with less embarrassing repercussions for the government when they turn down refugees' applications unjustly. How will officials making these decisions be held to account?

Despite government assurances, some of the people whose cases will be processed abroad could be in more danger from the government or the forces they're fleeing as their application will mark them out.

Proposals to exclude people who apply for asylum in-country (ie after they enter Britain) from benefits - unless they can "prove" good reasons for not applying at their port of entry - repeats Tory attempts in 1996 to deny this group of asylum-seekers (65%-70% of total applications) financial support.

The Tories were then trying to starve refugees into submission and prevent them claiming their right to asylum. Blunkett's measures are done for the same reason, but even more cynically.

This July New Labour scrapped even the minimal rights asylum-seekers had to ask for government permission to work in Britain from six months after their application for asylum is lodged.

Now asylum-seekers have no legal right to work until their claims are decided - it can take some 18 months just for the initial decision (not including the time taken by appeals or judicial reviews), and many of them will have no entitlement to benefits if this proposal goes through.

Blunkett's Asylum Bill aims to make the unjust, bureaucratic, racist asylum system even less accountable to both refugees and Britain's population.


NEW LABOUR are trying to attract voters away from the racist right - by cynically copying their policies. By giving respectability to racist anti-asylum seeker campaigns, Blunkett is opening the door to the far right even wider.

It's not asylum-seekers who sack workers or pay them only poverty wages. It's not asylum-seekers who cut everything that doesn't make enough profit and privatise everything that does.

If you want a decent future for the world, defend the right of asylum. Scrap the Asylum and Immigration Act and join the fight against the real enemy, big business and capitalist cutters of jobs and services.

The real alternative to cuts is to build a united community campaign for proper funding of all public services.






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