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Issue 36, March 1999

Asylum Seeking Scapegoats

TOUTING NEW proposed measures on asylum and immigration as 'faster, firmer but fairer', New Labour's Home Secretary, Jack Straw, introduced a new bill on 10 February - the latest in a long line of vicious immigration legislation. The main features of the new proposals are the removal of social security benefits and their replacement with vouchers; for asylum seekers to be found accommodation anywhere in Britain without choice; the granting of greater powers for immigration officers to enter asylum seekers' homes; for registrars to act as snoopers for the Home Office; and increasing the notice required for marriage from one to 15 days. The bill also includes plans for a new financial bond scheme. People intending to visit Britain will need someone to sponsor them. Sponsors will have to make a payment as a guarantee of the visitors' intentions. If the Home Office judges that visiting conditions have been breached this deposit will be forfeited. This measure implies that everyone who is poor who visits Britain wants to abuse the benefit system. The result will be increased harassment, particularly of those with little money, and to treat these people as criminals. The government claims to be acting 'fairer' by wanting to speed-up the appeals procedure so every asylum seeker will get an initial decision within six months. Whilst no asylum seeker should have to go through the agony of waiting years for a decision on their case (10,000 have been waiting since 1993) the current system is designed to harass and intimidate people rather than offering them genuine help. The new bill will remove the right of a second appeal. Also, by separating people from their communities, where they have greater access to advice and help, the government will further isolate asylum seekers.

  One measure which, at first sight, seems positive is ending use of the 'White List' of countries. (Anyone coming from 'White List' countries was automatically assumed to be 'bogus'.) Yet the government still refuses to recognise the problems that political opponents and ordinary people face in a whole number of countries; one example being Cameroon in Central Africa. The Home Office claims that Cameroon is a multi-party democracy yet there are innumerable, well-documented cases where members of the main opposition party - SDF - face harassment, imprisonment, torture and deaths in custody. The Home Office have even tried to refuse asylum on the grounds that a death threat made against a Cameroonian seeking asylum had (obviously) not been carried out! Why is the government introducing this legislation now? New Labour readily point to 'scroungers' and a so-called 'abuse of hospitality'. At the same time, they turn a blind eye to unscrupulous landlords who cram asylum seekers into overcrowded and unhealthy conditions and employers who exploit asylum seekers as a source of virtual slave labour as many have no option but to work illegally. Throughout Europe various right-of-centre parties are trying to rebuild the support they have lost over the last few years. They are attempting to shift the problems caused by the capitalist system - exacerbated by the developing world economic crisis - onto the shoulders of the immigrant community. In Germany, for example, the Christian Democratic Union and the Bavarian Christian Social Union have organised a petition against the government's plan to give foreign workers dual citizenship. Now the social democratic parties are following suit. In France the Jospin government denied papers to 63,000 immigrants last year.
  In Britain, too, this legislation goes hand-in-hand with Blair's talk that we are all middle class now. New Labour are trying to develop their social base by playing on people's fears of job insecurity and housing problems. The attempt is being made to scapegoat asylum seekers, making them the target of people's fears and diverting attention away from the failings of the government. A glimpse of the potential that this gives for the rise of racism and racist attacks was the hysteria created by the media coverage of the Roma asylum seekers in Dover. All socialists should be fighting to prevent the implementation of this bill as well as the removal of all racist immigration legislation. The resources are there to provide everyone with a decent home, job, health care and education. The problem is the profit-driven capitalist system - not whether the resources exist, but who controls them.

Chris Newby

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