Britain attacks migrants at home and abroad

In the run-up to the general election, David Cameron came under attack for failing to meet his 2010 election promise to reduce immigration to Britain. For despite vicious, racist immigration laws and appalling treatment of migrants who make it past border controls, the numbers making the dangerous journey here keep on rising, fuelled by poverty, oppression and war. So this time round, with an eye to the millions who voted for the anti-immigration UKIP, David Cameron is making even tougher controls, at home and abroad, a central plank of government policy. The new Immigration Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech aims to make life unbearable for those who do make it to Britain, and make it more difficult for migrants to leave for Europe in the first place.

The border within…

The explicit purpose of the Immigration Bill is to further incorporate health, employment, housing, education and business sectors in surveillance and control of migrants. The priority attached by the Prime Minister to policing migration is underscored by the creation of a new ‘Immigration Taskforce’, chaired by Cameron himself. He is explicit in linking further restrictions on migrants’ rights with welfare cuts, in an effort to replace low-paid migrant labour with low-paid British labour, and with apprenticeships, in an effort to replace more ‘skilled’ categories of migrant workers with British workers.

Cameron promises that reductions in migrants’ rights to access state welfare will form a key part of government attempts to renegotiate the terms of EU membership. This will increase the pressure for EU migrant workers to accept whatever wages and conditions are offered by employers, consolidating the class position of EU migrants as a layer of highly ‘flexible’, super-exploited workers.

The new Immigration Bill will make ‘illegal working’ on the basis of a person’s immigration status a specific criminal offence, meaning the state will be able to seize migrants’ earnings as ‘proceeds of crime’. The 2014 Immigration Act already forces banks to check the immigration status of new customers and to refuse accounts to undocumented migrants; the new Bill will extend this to existing customers. The Tories will use their new majority to roll out the pilot they have been running for private landlords to monitor the immigration status of their tenants nationwide. An enforcement agency will be created, with the stated aim of tackling ‘the worst cases of exploitation’ of migrants. In reality these measures will increase employers’ and landlords’ hold over undocumented migrants.

…and the border without

The International Organisation for Migration recorded 1,770 deaths of migrants attempting to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean between January and April, 17 times as many as in the same period last year. This rise follows the EU’s scrapping of the Italian search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean last year and its replacement with a cut-price EU Border Agency operation designed to police the Italian coastline to prevent migrants getting through. In the face of the human catastrophe that has unfolded, the EU response has been a moderate increase in search and rescue operations, plans for a quota system for new asylum applicants, and proposals for military action against people smugglers based in Libya. The British government has contributed reluctantly to search and rescue operations, on the condition that none of those it rescues will be allowed to claim asylum in Britain. It also refuses to be part of a quota system, and is a leading proponent of a military attack.

Options for a military attack on people smugglers were outlined in an EU strategy document obtained by The Guardian, including a combination of air, land and sea forces, although EU spokesmen have since tried to play down the use of land forces. Military operations could begin as soon as 25 June, subject to agreement on a UN Security Council resolution. Both governments that currently claim authority in Libya oppose the plans, and militias along the coast are known to have powerful anti-aircraft artillery that could be used against EU forces. The plans propose targeting the boats used by smugglers, but these are often leased from local fishermen and moored in civilian harbours – the idea that the ships could be targeted without also destroying people in those harbours or killing migrants onboard is implausible. And such is the desperation among migrants seeking to cross from Libya that a shortage of boats is likely to lead to even more people being packed into each boat, leading to even more deaths at sea.

A document outlining the plan for the military operation, produced by the EU Military Committee and released by Wikileaks on 20 May, points out that there is no clearly defined ‘end state’ to the military operation. Cameron has hinted at wider objectives, calling for ‘a properly functioning government in Libya with which we can work’ and ‘fundamentally breaking the link between setting off in a boat and achieving settlement in Europe’. It is of course Britain, along with the US and France, that systematically bombed Libya in 2011 to dislodge its functioning government and destroy its infrastructure, creating the chaos which drives refugees to flee today. Britain’s imperialist interventions abroad are inseparably linked to its racist immigration controls. Both must be fought together.

Tom Vickers

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 245 June/July 2015


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