Archive article from The Socialist Issue 342
Immigration: Fact And Fiction
TONY BLAIR'S latest government crisis has been over immigration policy. As this issue hit newspaper headlines, New Labour MPs went into shock at the prospect of it spiralling out of control and the possible electoral consequences.
Immigration and Terrorism Minister, Beverley Hughes, was forced out of office following pressure from Blair himself. Home Secretary David Blunkett declared the day she went as the worst of his political life.
A politically motivated message had been sent to the Tories, accusing the Home Office of disregarding their normal vetting procedures on immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, accepting many in with forged documents or false reasons in order to reduce the backlog of applicants.
The issue was then whipped up by right-wing papers like The Times, Telegraph and Sun, accusing the government of hypocrisy as well as mismanagement, considering their claim to be fighting crime and terrorism.
Further allegations were made that Blair had agreed to relax UK visa requirements for Romanians provided they don't claim asylum and that immigration officers have failed to investigate suspected illegal immigrants out of fear that they would ask for asylum.
Any increase in the number of asylum seekers would cut across Blair's pledge to halve the number of asylum claims in one year.
The government's present crisis is another indication of their duplicity. On the one hand they want to encourage immigration of skilled workers to take up mainly low paid public sector jobs. They also realise that an influx of legal and illegal immigrants is welcomed by their friends in big business who can exploit them as a pool of cheap labour.
An Essex construction firm boss summed up the situation in The Observer (4 April) when commenting on his workers from Eastern Europe: "It's all about cheap labour. Building is extraordinarily expensive and naturally people want the cheapest price... British people don't want to do building work because the wages are so bad".
But on the other hand, the government realises that if they appear to be encouraging illegal immigrants or to be rapidly increasing the number of legal immigrants, this will be used against them by the media and the Tories as it is at present.
TORY SHADOW home secretary, David Davis, spearheaded the attack on Blunkett and Hughes, hoping to use the issues of immigration and asylum against New Labour in the run-up to the June elections and the next general election.
Tory leader Michael Howard has reiterated his party's proposal to set up offshore centres for asylum seekers, saying that: "No one will be able to come here and claim asylum".
The far-right BNP will also try to reap rewards, by playing on the fact that net immigration has increased three-fold under New Labour, while at the same time public services are worsening.
They are helped by media coverage such as a recent editorial in the Sun newspaper that declared: "The huge number of illegal immigrants who have sneaked into Britain is a major worry to voters because of the strains being placed on schools, hospitals and housing".
Net immigration, officially estimated at around 150,000 per year, though increasing, is not very large when added to a population of 59 million. Only around 7,000 applications per year come from Romania.
But a YouGov poll carried out after Hughes's resignation came up with the figure that 80% of British people don't believe the government's policies on immigration are tough enough and 75% believe that Britain is already overcrowded.
These high percentages stem partly from the propaganda whipped up against asylum seekers and illegal immigrants by the media and main political parties, including by New Labour politicians. But they also result from fear among working and middle class people that living standards that are already suffering under government attacks will get even worse if there are more people in need of jobs or benefits.
To counter opposition, the government strategy has been to try to separate the issues of asylum and immigration, ruthlessly cutting the number of asylum seekers and appearing to be only allowing legal immigration under strict criteria. But this strategy now lies in tatters with these latest revelations.
To try to limit the damage, Blunkett suspended all visa applications from Romania and Bulgaria. Blair organised an emergency meeting of senior ministers and intelligence officers to concoct new measures so he can appear to be tough on vetting immigrants.
However, such measures will not stop people from resorting to migration to try to escape the many horrors inflicted by capitalism worldwide, whether it be extreme poverty or threats to life itself.
They will lead to more underground networks run by people-trafficking profiteers and to increased suffering for asylum seekers and economic migrants.
Socialists oppose the scapegoating of these sections of society. While rich migrants usually have no difficulty in gaining entry, others face ever greater obstacles.
While defending the rights of asylum seekers and other immigration applicants, we link it to our fight for living conditions to be improved for all working people and to the need for socialism.
It is only through successful battles for more resources that fear of deteriorating living standards can be reduced and immigrant and indigenous workers be united in struggle against the capitalist system.