Don’t fall for divide and rule

THE SOCIALIST Party opposes attacks on asylum-seekers’ rights from the media, the far-right, Tory leaders and the New Labour government. NAOMI BYRON argues for a socialist, internationalist and working-class approach to the right to asylum.

THE TORIES are playing the race card, desperate to scare people into voting for them. The press, competing for sales in an overcrowded marketplace, are looking for stories to sell papers.

Preying on some existing prejudices – and growing dissatisfaction with government priorities – the press encourage an anti-asylum-seeker mood by wild exaggeration and by suppressing most relevant facts. New Labour meanwhile use asylum-seekers as a scapegoat for their own unpopularity.

The bosses use immigration controls to keep the poor and dispossessed “in their place” and divide and rule working-class people. To justify repressive new laws they want and divert attention from their own failures, establishment politicians use asylum-seekers as a scapegoat.

But attacking refugees’ rights won’t help solve any problems working-class people face, such as the crises in health, education, housing and transport.

Racism is clearly increasing in Britain as shown in a growth of racist attacks. The racist far-right, driven virtually out of public activity a few years ago, are again spreading Nazi lies.

The neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP) got a worrying 781 votes (23.7%) on 4 May in Tipton Green in the Black Country and 2.87% in the Greater London Assembly elections.

On the same day however, the Tories lost Romsey in a by-election. Most people are repulsed by Hague’s recent racist binge. Significantly, in Tipton Green (by far the Nazis’ highest vote) the BNP’s leaflet didn’t mention asylum-seekers or immigration: the racism it contained was relatively veiled and they pretended to be a local alternative.

Anti-asylum seeker propaganda has stirred up prejudice. We must combat this by explaining where the real problem lies.

When we show that the housing crisis is caused by privatisation, not asylum-seekers, most working-class people back our call for an end to the sell-offs and investment in public, affordable housing.

Such class-based policies will convince a broader layer of working-class and middle-class people to stand against the attacks on asylum-seekers.

Moral appeals and slogans like “asylum-seekers welcome here” appeal to people who are radicalised and already consciously anti-racist, but they can unnecessarily push people who otherwise have a good class approach into the racists’ arms.

THE ARGUMENT that stronger measures against economic migrants would protect “genuine refugees” is false. Firstly many “genuine refugees” aren’t protected.

A mountain of obstacles prevents refugees even getting into Britain: from fines on airline companies, ferry operators and lorry drivers who let people without the correct immigration papers into Britain, to the “safe third country” rule which deports around 10% of all asylum-seekers immediately without investigating their claims.

Thousands of refugees are imprisoned every year, with fewer rights than convicted criminals, for claiming asylum in Britain.

Many refugees genuinely fleeing persecution have their applications turned down because the Home Office refuses to admit that the regimes they fled are repressive.

Only political, public campaigns, linked to legal challenges to Home Office decisions, stop many thousands of refugees being deported back to persecution, imprisonment and possible death.

When they’re told the real facts of a case, most people strongly support refugees’ right to stay in Britain. We must develop this sympathy by explaining how the current system creates these injustices every day and every hour.

The government complains about ‘economic migrants’, but the exploitative policies of globalisation and neo-liberalism which New Labour maintains create them.

This government still sells arms to repressive regimes and supports British-based multinationals’ profits at the expense of the underdeveloped world’s peoples. These policies lead to repression and gross exploitation.

The world’s richest 20% consume 86% of the goods and services produced world-wide; the poorest 20% get only 1.3%; the income gap between these sections has risen to 74:1. In the last decade, income per head of population has dropped in more than 80 countries!

Enough food is produced to feed the world, yet governments pay farmers to destroy millions of tonnes of food every year to keep prices high and maintain agri-business’ profits.

TORY ATTACKS on economic migrants are utter hypocrisy. The Tories initiated most post-war immigration into Britain to provide much-needed workers. They also used it as an excuse to try and drive down workers’ rights by giving immigrants jobs on lower pay and conditions than existing British workers.

New Labour recently organised international appeals for foreign workers to come and work in the NHS and schools. It organises other schemes to bring foreign workers into industries where there’s a shortage of labour.

10,000 seasonal workers from Eastern Europe are brought into Britain annually between April and November under a government scheme to recruit farm labourers – few British people will do such intensive work for the wages offered.

The government sees immigrant labour as an alternative to improving wages and conditions. To cut across this, working-class people and the unions must fight against reduced rights being given to immigrant workers and take this weapon of divide and rule out of the bosses’ hands!

It is capitalist exploitation which causes problems both for existing populations and migrants. Blaming economic migrants for social and economic problems is falling into the bosses’ trap.

The UN reports that European Union countries need 1.6 million immigrants a year over the next 50 years to fill jobs left open by an ageing workforce, They need 13.5 million immigrants yearly to keep the ratio of workforce to pensioners stable.

THE SOCIALIST Party supports any steps towards better rights for refugees and migrants. But these rights will never be guaranteed under capitalism; we need to keep up pressure constantly..

As well as defending refugees’ right to asylum, we recognise that most refugees want to return to their countries of origin. We support their struggle to do so, by backing and organising movements of opposition to repressive regimes and the criminal waste of capitalism internationally.

We organise international solidarity to defend those under attack in their own countries. The CWI, the socialist international to which we’re affiliated, recently helped force governments in Kazakhstan and Nigeria to release political prisoners including our own members.

We campaign to end the imperialist grip of the multinational corporations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions have a stranglehold on most underdeveloped countries, forcing privatisations and cuts in social spending as a condition of aid or investment.

We argue for socialist policies to be implemented world-wide to ensure the democratisation and economic development of the ex-colonial world.

By democratically agreeing how the world’s resources can best be used in the interest of workers and other oppressed peoples, a socialist plan of production can utilise human talents to develop a world free from hunger, poverty and exploitation.

Human society has developed through constant migrations; the transportation and mixing of cultures, science and technology. Immigration laws control people’s movement in the interests of big business. They help block the future development of society.

Socialists stand for a society where people can move around the world and live free of fear, persecution or poverty.

This would allow people to choose freely where they want to live. This includes people’s right to stay where they are and not be separated from their family, friends, culture and lifestyle: a right denied to many millions today.

Refugees and asylum seekers – facts not myths

A REFUGEE is someone forced to flee their home due to persecution, repression, civil war or disaster. The UN estimate there are 15 million refugees world-wide and 30 million people displaced within their own countries.

“Asylum-seekers” are refugees who’ve applied for the right to asylum but haven’t yet had a government decision. It takes over a year for an asylum claim to be processed in Britain.

Most refugees world-wide stay in the same region as their home country; seven million refugees in Africa live outside their country of origin. In 1998 Iran received 1.9 million refugees, Jordan 1.4 million and Pakistan 1.2 million; Britain had asylum applications from 58,000 people in 1998 and 74,000 people in 1999.

Britain’s not a “soft touch” – it’s one of the hardest countries for refugees to enter, with some of the least liberal asylum laws. 81% of asylum applications are turned down at the first stage. This autumn the government is reducing asylum-seekers’ rights from two appeals against this initial decision to one appeal.

While they await a decision, asylum-seekers are entitled to, at most, 70% of income support. All but £10 of this is paid in vouchers tied to one or two supermarkets, humiliating refugees and marking them out for discrimination.

£590 million was spent on asylum-seekers in Britain last financial year – tiny compared to the gaps in the health budget, the housing crisis or the £10 billion a year the government gives away to big business in corporation tax cuts.

Laws reducing refugees’ rights have little impact on the numbers applying for asylum in Britain. The numbers are much more affected by the severity of the crises which produce refugees.

6,680 people applied for asylum this March. Most were from ex-Yugoslavia followed by Sri Lanka, China, Afghanistan and Somalia – countries with serious human rights problems.

98,365 asylum-seekers are awaiting decisions. This isn’t because of “floods” of asylum-seekers into Britain as Hague argues – a “bottleneck” would be a better description.

Like last summer’s crisis in passport processing, the backlog of asylum claims was caused by privatisation of part of the processing service. The new computer system failed and workers dealing with the cases have only just started catching up.

As a proportion of population Britain has a low number of applications for asylum: at 1.5 per 1,000 inhabitants Britain ranks ninth in Europe.