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From The Socialist newspaper, 31 August 2001

Asylum Seekers Kept In Squalor

EUROTUNNEL OFFICIALS are taking action in a French court to try to close a refugee camp near the cross-channel firm's French terminal at Sangatte outside Calais.

The British government plans to extend its penalties of 2,000 per person paid by lorry drivers for every "illegal immigrant" found on lorries to include Eurotunnel. This big company is trying to avoid this by closing down Sangatte camp.

The refugees live in squalid, overcrowded conditions - 1,275 refugees now huddle in accommodation meant to house 200 at most.

In the past few weeks, a number of asylum seekers have died taking desperate action to get into Britain. Merely closing the camp could kill even more asylum seekers.

Socialist Party member RACHAEL WEBB is an international freight driver. She shows below what happens to asylum seekers, many of them trying to escape barbaric treatment and poverty in their home countries, at Sangatte camp and throughout Europe.

Desperate Acts At The Channel Tunnel

IT'S TWO in the morning. Along with 40 other freight drivers I board the shuttle train at La Manche, France. One driver points out the window of the club car and says: "here we go again".

Then a group of young men run down the ramp onto the platform. Suddenly, sirens start wailing, police and security guards are everywhere.

After a while the car attendant and train driver say they're ready to move off - then the same thing happens again. This is a regular occurrence on summer nights.

Five hours after I entered the terminal, the train pulled out towards Cheriton in Kent. Before gathering speed it comes to a halt again; the driver heard that a person had made the dangerous attempt to jump onto the train from an overhead bridge, apparently he'd fallen onto the track.

At Cheriton we're asked to wait before leaving the club car, immigration officials check our vehicles for people hiding in or under them.

About 12 young men were sitting under guard on the platform. They'd been removed from various hiding places on or under the train. They were probably clinging to the train's under-sides as it exceeded 100 mph through the tunnel.

As I drove to London I started thinking about the implications of what was happening regularly.

The young men I saw were from the Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte. Each night groups of young men breach the shuttle's high security fence, including razor wire and hi-tech devices, roam over the terminal's extensive area and risk their lives hiding on or under the train or by jumping off bridges onto the moving train.

To prevent delayed departures Eurotunnel managers now employ 60 more security guards in an operation ominously named "zero tolerance". The notorious CRS riot police are also permanently stationed close to the nearby Sangatte refugee centre.

These people, fleeing injustice, torture and poverty, are fed and clothed as an act of 'charity'. But they have nothing to do all day, they're denied their place in a community, denied the right to work and robbed of their cultural identity.

The young men amongst them resort to desperate acts in order to escape to grotty, ill-paid jobs in the UK, where at best they live in sub-standard housing, at worst incarcerated in prisons.

Due to racist government laws, if "illegal" immigrants are found on our trucks we drivers are made to pay a penalty of 2,000 per person - ie 2,000 multiplied by each person found in or on your truck. Also, this is a penalty imposed by a Home Office official, not a fine. Any appeal is to another Home Office official. Appeals to a court are very difficult to procure.

Although I cannot risk paying 2,000 per person, I can express solidarity with them in their fight against racist immigration laws.

They are human beings, like us workers in the UK, fighting for a chance of a life.

Blunkett Blames Immigrants

NEW LABOUR Home Secretary David Blunkett is threatening to force immigrants to learn English as a condition of getting a British passport.

Blunkett dressed it up as concern for victims of forced marriages. But a genuine concern with the rights of the mainly Asian women who enter into forced marriages would need not just training in English but such practical questions as refuges for women who want to escape from marriages which New Labour show no signs of implementing.

Blunkett's suggestion bolsters the notion that immigrants with poor English are responsible for the racial tensions in Britain's inner cities. Most immigrants and asylum seekers pick up English without compulsion so such ideas give encouragement to far-right parties and politicians.

This was yet another capitalist politician justifying the criminalisation of asylum seekers.

The Labour government try to divert attention from their pro-big business policies - privatising services, abolishing free education, cutting disability benefits, etc. But such attacks won't resolve the problems working-class people in Britain face.

Capitalist exploitation causes social and economic problems both for refugees and the rest of the population. Only the bosses themselves benefit if workers blame "economic migrants".

New Labour enthusiastically backs globalisation and neo-liberalism whose repressive, exploitative policies force many asylum-seekers into exile.

Blair and Co. will do anything to boost profits of British-based multinationals whatever the cost to the underdeveloped world's peoples. New Labour still sells arms to the most repressive regimes for example.

Fight the cutbacks

In Britain, government cutbacks have hit many sectors - housing for example.

Many councils lie to families who've been waiting for years in overcrowded accommodation, claiming that they can't be rehoused because all empty properties "are being let to asylum seekers".

Yet a combination of council cuts and legislation such as the right-to-buy scheme mean that since 1981 two million council homes have been lost. This would have made the housing crisis appalling regardless of asylum seekers. New Labour carries on selling off council housing - socialists campaign for a massive programme of housebuilding.

The government's response to immigration is irrational. They worry about shortages of skilled labour (European Union countries need 1.6 million immigrants a year over the next 50 years just to fill jobs left vacant by an ageing workforce), yet New Labour talks merely of introducing a "green card" system for skilled economic migrants and giving asylum seekers limited rights to work legally in Britain.

Yet, at the same time as meting out harsh restrictions on some immigrants, the government hypocritically launched in August a worldwide advertising campaign to entice senior foreign doctors to work in the understaffed NHS - a panic measure to try and stem the growing shortages arising from underfinancing and consequent underpaying of health staff.

Similarly, teachers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are welcomed as Labour desperately tries to arrest the growing crisis in the classrooms, as teachers leave because of education funding cuts.

It seems the government is prepared to take in some migrants when it suits their interests, while at the same time cracking down on those that don't suit their purpose.

What We Say

SOCIALIST PARTY members are fighting to build a united movement of working-class people to demand socialist policies, including:

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In The Socialist 31 August 2001:

Labour Fails The Education Test

Workers Priced Out By Housing Crisis

Hackney Workers Prepare For Battle

Macedonia's Impending Civil War

Asylum Seekers Kept In Squalor

Come to Socialism 2001


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