Labour government attacks migrants

‘The message is clear – whether you’re a visa overstayer, a foreign criminal or a failed asylum seeker, the UK Border Agency is determined to track you down and remove you from Britain.’ Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, 18 March 2009

As Britain’s capitalist crisis increases its hold, the Labour government is stepping up its offensive against migrants, with an array of measures targeting all foreigners, other than the very rich. Whereas 20 years ago ‘genuine’ asylum seekers were reluctantly allowed in but economic migrants kept out, and more recently asylum seekers were repulsed and cheap economic migrants welcomed in, now no-one is safe. In February 2009 the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) announced ‘ten pledges for 2009’, covering all aspects of this attack.

Pledge number one, to open a new immigration removal centre, Brook House, next to Gatwick airport, has already been achieved. Administrative detention of migrants is a mainstay of Labour government policy and immigration detention capacity has increased from just 250 spaces in 1993 to 3,038 spaces today, with more in the pipeline.

Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) is the largest detention centre to be built in Britain yet, with a capacity for 426 detainees. The centre was developed as a joint venture between the British Airports Authority (BAA) and Morley Fund Management, an asset management company owned by Aviva insurance. It will be run by G4S, a global private security company and the largest in Britain. G4S already manages four detention centres and four prisons in Britain (as well as numerous detention centres and prisons in Australia and South Africa) together with ‘secure training centres’ where children are imprisoned, prisoner and detainee transport operations and electronic monitoring schemes.

Other UKBA ‘pledges’ for 2009 include:
• Using the points based system to tighten controls on migration of skilled workers
• Charging migrants fees for entering the country
• Reducing from two years to one year the threshold for prison terms for EU citizens which will lead to automatic consideration for deportation.
• Introducing visa controls for people from Bolivia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Venezuela
• Using facial recognition technology at major airports (it is already installed at Manchester airport)
• Issuing compulsory identity cards to foreign nationals.

Brook House is just the start of a massive programme of incarceration of asylum seekers and immigrants. UKBA plans by 2012 to increase its detention estate by 60%. Harmondsworth IRC is to be extended by 370 places and new IRCs are planned in Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. The Bedfordshire site is next door to Yarls’ Wood, which is notorious for its incarceration and mistreatment of vulnerable women who have fled rape, and for imprisoning entire families, including small children and babies. The Oxfordshire site, which will house 800 male migrants, is next to Bullingdon prison and was previously earmarked for an immigration ‘Accommodation Centre’. The government subsequently decided against building this kind of centre where asylum seekers would be forced to live but would not actually be imprisoned. A local group has been set up to campaign against the building of the centre (see )
On 17 March Borders and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas spoke to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee about plans to build a joint Anglo-French detention centre in Calais to imprison migrants attempting to come through France to Britain.

The government is making no secret of its vicious determination to deter migrants and deport those already here. For asylum seekers, migrant workers and non-British prisoners the picture is grim. But the state is not going to have an easy ride and the history of expanding the immigration detention estate so far has also been an impressive history of resistance and struggle. Almost every detention centre has seen repeated uprisings, protests, hunger strikes, escapes and fires. Even as Jacqui Smith opened Brook House, detainees in neighbouring Tinsley House were going on hunger strike.

Nicki Jameson and Annabelle Richardson

FRFI 208 April / May 2009


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