- Created: Wednesday, 05 August 2015 12:43
- Written by Tom Vickers
The capitalist crisis is driving a proliferation of wars, new forms of political persecution, and deepening poverty in many parts of the world. This is increasing the desperation of many people from oppressed countries to seek the relative safety and prosperity within the European Union (EU). These new migrants, and some who migrated long before, are being met with an increasingly sophisticated apparatus of racist repression and control that operates within EU member states, at the EU’s borders, and beyond them. Its purpose is to either keep migrants from oppressed countries out of the EU entirely, whatever the human cost, or to subject them to special conditions of exploitation. Tom Vickers reports.
Nearly 100 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean since April. Although the number of deaths has fallen considerably since 1,200 people died in a single week in April and the EU increased search and rescue operations, there are signs that the scale of the rescue operation is once again being reduced. Britain’s HMS Bulwark, which has been part of search and rescue operations since May, was replaced in June with HMS Enterprise, a smaller ship with a different remit, to help assess the feasibility of military attacks against smugglers based in Libya. When the British government cut support for search and rescue operations last October, its justification was that rescuing migrants from drowning created, in the words of Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay, ‘an unintended “pull factor”’ attracting migrants to Europe. Thousands of deaths followed: the government has blood on its hands, yet in the face of this horror its response has only been to increase rescue operations temporarily and to a small degree, and to push for military action against smugglers. The massive bombing campaign against Libya in 2011, in which Britain played a leading role, produced the chaos and civil war that now forces people to flee and gives smugglers the freedom to operate, yet the British government’s ‘solution’ is more of the same. The British government is already bombing Syria, another major point of origin for refugees trying to enter Europe.
Individual EU states are intensifying their exclusion of new arrivals, leaving thousands either stranded at the border or living in squalor, denied basic rights. The British government refused to participate in plans to share 40,000 asylum seekers across the EU, and proposals for mandatory quotas administered by the European Council collapsed at the end of June. In Hungary, a four metre high fence topped with razor wire is under construction along the border with Serbia, illegal border crossings have been made a criminal offence, and the government has run anti-immigrant billboard campaigns. In Italy, racist demonstrations took place in July, with rocks hurled at the first group of asylum seekers arriving at a new accommodation centre outside Rome. At Saint Ludovic, on the border between Italy and France, hundreds of migrants shelter under blankets and tarpaulin, prevented from moving further north by the French authorities.
The closest many migrants get to Britain is Calais. At the start of July migrants were evicted from their makeshift camps and squats in Calais and Paris, in an attempt to force them to move to a recently-opened ‘official’ camp around the Jules Ferry terminal, in the shadow of a chemical factory. A statement issued by migrants in March describes the new camp as lacking protection from the wind and rain, isolated from support agencies and heavily under the control of the police. Accommodation is only provided for women and children, with men forced to camp on wasteland nearby, with no access to toilets, electricity or clean water. In June migrants were driven away from lorries by French riot police during a strike by ferry workers. The British government responded by sending a two mile long, nine foot high fence that had been used at the 2012 Olympics, to help secure the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, and create a ‘secure zone’ for lorries. The Calais operation has become a twisted game of cat and mouse between migrants and their supporters, and the French and British authorities, with migrants putting up defiant resistance and showing incredible ingenuity in their struggle for survival, but paying with their lives. Calais Migrant Solidarity reports four deaths of people trying to cross into the UK between the start of June and 7 July.
Within Britain, measures are being taken to further increase the exploitation of migrants, particularly those from oppressed countries, and to limit their access to resources. On 16 July the Home Office announced severe cuts to the level of support for asylum seekers with children. An adult with two children will now receive £110.85 per week, a 26% cut. Previously they would have received just under £7,793 per year for the family, which the Home Office described as ‘significantly more cash than was necessary to meet their essential living needs’. This was the same day that MPs voted to increase their own salaries by 10% to £74,000. Clearly MPs’ idea of ‘necessities’ is very different when it comes to their own families! These cuts will affect more than 27,800 asylum seekers, deepening poverty and increasing pressure to work illegally, often in extremely exploitative conditions.
Oxford University’s Migration Observatory has warned that increasing demand from British employers for skilled migrants could lead to the government’s cap for migrants under Tier Two of the Points-Based System being reached for the first time this year. If this happens then priority will be given to higher-paid workers, and one more route for legal migration by lower-paid workers from outside the EU will be closed. This combines with new restrictions on Tier Two visas, which will come into effect in 2016, limiting those earning less than £35,000 to six years in the UK before they will be expected to leave or face deportation. Currently, at the end of six years somebody on a Tier Two visa can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, but this will no longer be the case. The Royal College of Nursing estimates 3,300 NHS nurses could be affected by 2017, leading to staffing shortages. This is a guest worker programme in all but name, benefiting capitalists because workers who are new to a country tend to have lower wages, in part because they are less likely to know their rights or to form alliances which could help them fight for better conditions.
In July new restrictions were also announced for students on Tier Four visas, including a ban on students at publicly funded colleges getting a part-time job alongside their studies, a ban on their ‘dependants’ taking ‘low or unskilled’ jobs, a reduction in the maximum length of visa for students in further education from three to two years, and new barriers for students to continue their studies in Britain beyond the end of their initial visa, or for them to transition to a work visa. Access to services also continues to be reduced, making migrants more dependent on their wage and therefore under pressure to accept the demands of employers. In April a compulsory up-front charge of £200 per year was introduced to qualify for access to NHS hospital care for people from outside the European Economic Area, with those unable to pay automatically refused a visa. This is on top of the costs for visas, which range from a few hundred pounds to over £1,000 depending on sector and length of stay, plus a similar amount for each dependant. In June a government proposal was announced to extend charges to emergency medical treatment.
Not everybody is putting up with these attacks. Protests have been growing outside Britain’s immigration prisons, including a demonstration at the start of June where a thousand demonstrators breached the outer perimeter fence at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. Resistance inside detention centres continues. In July Serco management at Yarl’s Wood confiscated up to a hundred pamphlets produced by Crossroads Women’s Centre giving detainees legal advice on how to fight their deportation. Following protests the Home Office ordered Serco to return the pamphlets. As part of their resistance women detainees at Yarl’s Wood are wearing T-shirts with handwritten demands ‘Freedom Now’ and ‘We Want Freedom’. Management have responded by placing women into isolation, confiscating belongings and refusing to print papers the women need for their bail hearings. Such resistance has created space for legal challenges: at the end of June the Court of Appeal ordered Home Secretary Theresa May to suspend the operation of the ‘detained fast-track’ asylum process which sees thousands detained every year and over 95% of asylum claims refused. There has also been more spontaneous resistance, with Londoners mobilising to stop an immigration raid in Peckham in May and to severely disrupt a raid in Walworth in June. More of this is needed.
The wave of racism sweeping Europe is driven by the capitalist crisis. Imperialist states are increasingly desperate to secure sources of profit abroad, and this is driving overt and covert interventions that are destablising huge areas of the Middle East and Africa. This compounds the awful levels of unemployment and poverty that also force people to move if they are to survive. As part of imperialist states’ attempts to increase profits within their own countries, immigration controls provide a further means of removing workers’ rights and creating categories of workers that are subject to super-exploitation. For many migrants, the right to remain within Britain is increasingly conditional on agreeing to whatever employers demand. If migrants’ labour isn’t wanted, they are expected to leave. Because refugees move regardless of whether their labour is wanted or not, they face particularly severe attacks. The interests of migrants and the working class are inseparable.
FRFI 246 August/September 2015