Immigration: Labour criminalises refugees

FRFI 160 April / May 2001

In the run-up to the general election, the Tory party and the press continue to taunt the Labour Party with being 'soft on asylum-seekers'. Meanwhile, Labour is frantically trying to assure its racist supporters that it is not at all soft, by imprisoning and deporting refugees and using every means at its disposal to further criminalise immigrants.

The Daily Mail has carried a succession of virulently racist front-page stories, claiming asylum-seekers are being paid tens of thousands of pounds in benefits and that it is 'now official' that virtually no one whose claim is refused is successfully deported. In the race to attack foreigners and sell papers, The Sun is never far behind and in February claimed that 'Swamped immigration officials are kicking out just TWELVE new bogus asylum seekers a month – out of 3,200 who should be sent packing'.The source of many of these lies is the Immigration Service Union, an organisation too viciously right-wing even to be affiliated to the TUC.

In fact in January 2001:

  • 2,925 would-be immigrants were refused entry to Britain and removed, and another 820 people already in Britain were also forcibly removed, making a total of 1,282. These figures do not include dependants.
  • 414 asylum-seekers were held in detention centres and 920 in prisons, making a total of 1,334. Approximately 230 were additionally held in the Oakington reception centre, which the Home Office deliberately does not include in the list of detention centres.

In February, Home Secretary Jack Straw, who has repeatedly declared his desire to junk the United Nations Convention on Refugees, set out his ideas for putting yet more obstacles in the way of anyone wanting to settle in Britain, who is not one of the 'professionals' currently being selectively recruited from some former British colonies. Straw's plans centre around reviving old Tory plans for a proposed list of countries which are declared to be 'safe' and from which asylum applications are therefore automatically refused, and a system whereby applications for refugee status have to be made prior to leaving the country of origin.

In the meantime, British immigration officers are to be stationed in France to prevent would-be immigrants boarding the Eurostar. This plan had been in the pipeline for a while but has rapidly been talked

up since the East Sea ship, which was carrying 910 Iraqi Kurds, ran aground in southern France. Many of these refugees were detained for a short while in France but then freed, prompting the Evening Standard, which is every bit as vicious as The Sun or the Mail, to warn on its front page 'French Kurds heading here'.

The wreck of the East Sea and the plight of its occupants illustrate all that is worst about European immigration policy. The people on the ship had apparently been duped by smugglers into paying for their passage, desperate to escape from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in northern Iraq. But Britain, which condemns and vilifies both the Iraqi leader and unscrupulous gangsters who smuggle immigrants in this way, does not want them or anyone else from that part of the world coming into Britain. British and US planes continue to bomb Iraq ten years after the Gulf War, but among those who suffer most from this bombing are the people whom the aggressors claim to be protecting. A reporter from The Times interviewed some of the Kurds who had arrived in France on the East Sea and found them to be universally opposed to western intervention in Iraq; one summed it up 'Saddam Hussein is our enemy. He has persecuted us and killed us. But Britain and the US are not hurting him. You are hurting us, the Kurds. We are the ones who suffer. We are the ones who have to leave.'

In advance of Straw's 'safe list', the Immigration Service has unofficially declared northern Iraq to be safe and since January has turned down all claims for asylum from the region. Iraqi Kurds based in London have been meeting with lawyers and MPs in an attempt to confront and overcome this. On 28 February, 30 Iraqi Kurds began a non-stop protest and hunger-strike outside parliament in order to draw attention to the situation. They managed to stay there for five days before being evicted by the British police, who arrived in force, declaring the area to be 'a security zone'.

The latest weapon in the government's armoury is the Terrorism Act 2000, which replaces both the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. It extends the definition of terrorism from 'the use of violence for political ends, including... any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear' (PTA) to any action 'the use or threat' of which is 'designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public' and which 'is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause'. Such actions are defined as those which involve 'serious violence against a person' or 'serious damage to property', which 'endanger a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action' or are 'designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system'. It also extends the scope of the legislation from 'Irish terrorism' to encompass 'international and domestic terrorism'.

Under the Terrorism Act, the Home Secretary has the power to ban organisations, and on 28 February Jack Straw announced a list of groups which he planned to proscribe. Following a somewhat bizarre Commons debate in which MPs raised various misgivings about individual organisations in relation to their pet interests or the ethnic make-up of their constituencies, the list was voted on as a whole. As a result, in addition to the Irish organisations already outlawed under the PTA, membership of the following will now be illegal in Britain:

Al Qa'ida
Egyptian Islamic Jihad
Al-Gama'at al-Islamiya
Groupe Islamique Armee
Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat
Babbar Khalsa
International Sikh Youth Federation
Harakat Mujahideen
Jaish e Mohammed
Lashkar e Tayyaba
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
Hizballah External Security Organisation
Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades
Palestinian Islamic Jihad - Shaqaqi
Abu Nidal Organisation
Islamic Army of Aden
Mujaheddin e Khalq
Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK)
Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi – Cephesi (DHKP-C)
Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA)
17 November Revolutionary Organisation.

The first five of these are Islamic groups originating from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria respectively; the next two are Sikh organisations supportive of the movement for an independent Khalistan; the next three are concerned with independence for Kashmir; the LTTE fights in Sri Lanka for a free state of Tamil Eelam; the next are three Islamic and one secular organisation dedicated to the overthrow of Israel; the Islamic Army of Aden aims to establish an Islamic state in Aden; the Mujaheddin e Khalq is an Iranian opposition group; the PKK is the liberation movement of the Kurdish people; the DHKP-C is a Turkish revolutionary organisation; ETA is the liberation movement of the Basque people; the 17 November organisation is based in Greece.

The only thing that all these organisations have in common with one another is that they are considered in some way to be a threat to 'western interests'. Such a threat may be minor and many of the groups have little or no presence at all in this country and some have never killed, attacked or threatened anyone in Britain or from Britain. However the interests being defended are those of Britain's global capitalist alliances, so in some cases it is enough that the government of Turkey or Sri Lanka or Iran will be more kindly disposed to British investment if a group is banned.

In the case of the LTTE, ETA and the PKK in particular, the British government is sending a strong message to national liberation movements the world over that their struggle is not on Labour's agenda. Emancipation from oppressive occupying regimes by means of armed struggle will not be tolerated and the representatives of these struggles will be shunned. Furthermore, while the Terrorism Act ultimately opens the way for a wholesale attack on the rights of anyone in Britain to protest, the first use to which it is clearly being put is the criminalisation of refugee communities

When the PTA was introduced in 1974, it was used to frighten the Irish community in Britain and Ireland, warning it to distance itself from the war against British imperialism being fought by the IRA and INLA, or risk criminalisation and imprisonment. The Terrorism Act will be used in the same way to scare other communities and, in particular, to force Kurdish and Turkish people in Britain to abandon their support for their comrades in struggle in Turkey.

Proscription will also have a huge effect on asylum-seekers. Supporters of these organisations were previously able to make asylum claims which stated that their allegiance would lead to their persecution on return. Doing so will now be virtually impossible without admitting to the commission of a criminal offence in Britain.

The Turkish and Kurdish communities in London are extremely politically motivated. The DHKP-C operates as an open political organisation, runs a busy centre in north London, and has an active following. It is currently organising support for political prisoners in Turkey, many of whom are themselves DHKP-C members. While the PKK does not have a visible membership in Britain, support for the Kurdish liberation struggle is widespread and recent demonstrations in support of imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, have attracted thousands of participants. The British government dislikes any organised anti-imperialism in its heartland and was particularly terrified last year when May Day saw the beginnings of a developing alliance between radical anti-capitalist protesters and Turkish communist organisations, including the DHKP-C.

It is in the state's interest to break any such alliance before it develops and opposition to the Terrorism Act will be vastly strengthened if direct action protesters threatened by the widening of the definition of terrorism stand together with supporters of banned anti-imperialist organisations.

Nicki Jameson

Public meeting called by Campaign Against the Terrorism Act, Sunday 8 April, 1-5pm. Venue to be confirmed. Tel: 0202 7837 1688 for details.


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