Labour’s racist immigration policy / FRFI 193 October / November 2006

FRFI 193 October / November 2006

Prior to 2000 the Labour government’s immigration policy was to grudgingly welcome a small number of asylum seekers into Britain, whilst attacking the majority of would-be refugees as selfish, materialistic ‘economic migrants’ pretending to flee persecution in order to increase their income or improve their life-style. This policy was then completely turned on its head and now, after six years of propaganda about ‘managed migration’, we have a tiered immigration policy. NICKI JAMESON reports.

At the top of the pecking order are skilled workers and professionals who are encouraged to settle in Britain. Then there are the lower paid workers from EU accession states who are allowed into Britain to seek work but whose welcome is far from assured. At the bottom of the ladder are asylum seekers, who are defamed, detained and deported. Below even those on the lowest rung of this precarious ladder are an increasing number of foreign national prisoners. The racism becomes apparent once you consider that a significant number of the ‘top’ group are white people from former Commonwealth countries, while the second group are overwhelmingly white, East Europeans and the majority of those in the ‘bottom’ groups are from Africa and Jamaica respectively.

Attacking foreign prisoners
On 19 July Immigration Minister Liam Byrne updated Parliament on the steps to crack down on non-British prisoners and make sure they would be swiftly deported as soon as, or if possible even before, their sentences are finished. He dramatically announced that at midnight the immigration rules would change ‘to confirm the presumption that all such prisoners should be deported’, adding that there were further plans to remove exemptions, such as that for Commonwealth nationals who came to Britain before 1971. The government is also seeking to make it easier to deport people detained under mental health law.

Attacking asylum seekers
A week later Home Secretary John Reid announced the findings of the Review of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) that he had promised to carry out when he replaced Charles Clarke. Clarke was made the scapegoat for the embarrassment caused to the Labour Party in the run-up to the May local elections by the so-called ‘foreign prisoner scandal’ (see FRFI 191) and by the general inefficiency of the IND.

Ridiculously entitled Fair, Effective, Transparent and Trusted: Rebuilding Confidence in our Immigration System, the review sets out four ‘key objectives’: to strengthen borders using tougher checks, fast track asylum decisions, ensure and enforce compliance and ‘boost Britain’s economy’.

Proposals include:
• exit controls on people leaving Britain by 2014;
• extending border checks on people before they travel to this country, particularly via ‘high risk routes’;
• ‘strengthening the powers of the borders service’ with ‘a more visible uniformed presence’; doubled spending on enforcement by 2009/10;
• biometric residence permits for
foreign nationals in 2008;
• anyone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to have unique, secure IDs to be able to travel to Britain by 2011;
• granting or removing 90% of new asylum claimants within six months by 2011;
• increased deportation, use of detention, tagging and monitoring;
• removing in-country rights of appeal;
• fines and seizure of assets of employers employing illegal workers.

Reid boasted that the government had already ‘made significant progress’ in deporting more ‘failed asylum seekers’, reducing applications, cutting illegal immigration and speeding up asylum decisions. He went on to say that IND now ‘needs to be more visible and equipped with the right skills and powers to conduct its work effectively’, with ‘the resources, increased powers, new technology and increased visibility required to transform our border service’. He pledged to ‘take away the barriers currently preventing deportation of those who should no longer have the right to call the UK home’.

From the repeated mentions of uniforms and ‘visibility’ it is clear that Reid’s aim is to change IND from a glut of inefficient bureaucratic civil servants into a new paramilitary immigration policing service.

‘Real progress’
The annual statistics on immigration published on 20 August showed the government had indeed deterred and deported more asylum seekers in the second quarter of 2006 than in the first. Asylum applications fell by 15% from 6,455 to 5,490, with the top applicant nationalities: Afghanistan (580), China (535) and Eritrea (535). The number of applicants from Zimbabwe fell 52% to 355. Removals increased by 3%. 4,480 principal applicants were deported, a 36% increase on the same period last year. Home Office minister Tony McNulty described this as ‘real progress’.

Workers come to Britain
Meanwhile, the total number of work-permit holders and dependants admitted to the UK was 137,000 in 2005 – 10% more than in 2004. There was an increase of 29% in the number of people settling in the UK in 2005 to 179,210, with employment-related grants of settlement rising by 49% to 63,015.

Although McNulty announced future controls on these groups, the entry and assimilation of these mainly middle class immigrants has so far caused few concerns for the government. The same cannot be said of the lower paid workers of varying skill levels who have come to Britain in large numbers from Eastern Europe.
447,000 people applied to the Worker Registration Scheme between May 2004 and June 2006. In the last quarter the number of individuals applying fell slightly to 52,195 (of which 49,850 were approved) compared to 57,105 (55,100 approved) for the same period last year. 78% of registered European workers earn less than £6 per hour, compared to just 20% of British workers.

Although capitalism is clearly happy to have a supply of cheap, reliable labour, more or less unfettered entry is sparking calls for control which are very similar in their panicky xenophobic tone to those raised in the 1950s and 1960s following the arrival of Caribbean and South Asian workers. There is no doubt that in the same way as happened then, when there is no longer a need for these workers the government will use the racist tide currently being whipped up as its justification for introducing controls.

The right to work
Unlike both groups of openly ‘economic migrants’, asylum seekers are actively prevented from seeking work. The government does not want them legally employed, as they cannot simply leave Britain whenever work ceases to be available. Furthermore their presence in workplaces, like that of their children in schools, encourages solidarity from members of the settled workforce, something the government is anxious to avoid. Asylum seekers provide an unpalatable reminder to the racists in power that it is their own vile activities around the world that have caused people from war-torn, impoverished nations to seek sanctuary here. Their situation here is a political one and talking about it to co-workers might politicise them into questioning Britain’s role abroad and domestically. This would not be in the interests of a government, which like all capitalist governments, rules by maintaining division.

The RCG opposes all British immigration controls. It has always been our position that in an imperialist country, immigration restrictions must necessarily be racist. This applies both to the ‘management’ of ‘economic migration’ and to the scrutinising of claims for asylum.

Oppose all immigration laws and restrictions!
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