- Created: Wednesday, 05 April 2017 14:08
The first months of 2017 have seen an intensification of the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants in Britain, as new measures are passed and previously announced policies take effect. From April new immigration checks will be introduced in hospitals, part of the package of measures introduced following the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. Checks also now operate in areas of everyday life, including private rented housing, employment, banking, and traffic enforcement. A further Immigration Bill is planned later this year. Refugees and migrants are under attack and there is an urgent need to organise and resist. Tom Vickers reports.
Children and families under attack
In February, Ministers capped the number of child refugees to be accepted under the ‘Dubs amendment’ at 350, and introduced a new rule that only those who arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 would qualify for one of the remaining 150 places. The open racism of the Conservative government has reached the point at which even a tiny number of children are seen as a threat.
On 9 March the Court of Appeal ruled that detention of underage refugees accused of being adults is unlawful. The same day the Home Office introduced a new rule, which was first announced by Theresa May as Home Secretary in her 2015 Conservative Party conference speech: refugees coming to the end of their temporary five years’ leave to remain will now be subject to a ‘safe return review’, which could lead to their deportation and which will further extend the uncertainty of their position in Britain.
Families are being torn apart by this state racism. In March Arthur Muir, who originally moved to Britain aged 13 and has a wife and two children here, was deported to Jamaica because his wife did not earn the £18,600 annual salary required for a spouse visa. The same week, 52-year-old Irene Clennell was deported to Singapore, away from her children, grandchild and husband of 27 years. She had been living in Britain since 1988. These are just two among the thousands of people deported every year.
The Labour Party is complicit
The Labour Party continues to be complicit . Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah wrote in The Guardian on 23 February that the Labour Party should not give up its commitment to free movement, but that migrants do undermine ‘strong communities’ by not speaking English and claimed ‘it is true that any increase in population puts additional pressure on local services such as housing and schooling. As well as the local economy, social infrastructure can also be affected’. This is blatant cheek from a politician who has stood by while the Labour-run council has devastated working class communities with cuts, expected to total £291m by 2020. They are the ones responsible for local services that are unable to cope, not migrants. In 2013, as tenants organised to fight back against the Bedroom Tax, Chi Onwurah refused to sign a petition calling on the council not to evict tenants who fell into arrears as a result.
On 8 March ‘left’ Labour MP Diane Abbott responded to the latest ‘charter flight’ mass deportation to Jamaica by writing about her concern for deportees’ welfare while assuring us that: ‘There are also sometimes very good reasons for deportation’. This is letting the racist state off the hook. It has always been the position of FRFI that all Britain’s immigration laws are racist, as they are there to further the needs of capitalism and imperialism.
Labour-run councils are also complicit. In March Corporate Watch released a report exposing collaboration between London councils, homelessness charities and immigration enforcement to deport homeless migrants. This has been going on for years but has intensified since May 2016 when the Home Office passed new rules enabling somebody to be removed if they spend a single night on the streets. Nearly half of London’s rough sleepers are from another EU country, particularly Romania and Poland. This reflects their position as part of a reserve army of labour, with limited access to state welfare, who can be forcibly removed from Britain when they are no longer useful to employers. Labour-run councils which collaborated in immigration raids against rough sleepers in 2016 include Camden (24 operations), Tower Hamlets (16), Lewisham (15), Hammersmith and Fulham (14), Southwark (5), and Ealing (2). Some other boroughs reported they are not directly involved in raids but allow raids to be conducted in their borough through the Greater London Authority. Charities St Mungo’s and Thames Reach receive payments from the Home Office according to the number of migrants they report.
At the same time as it increases restrictions on migrants’ rights within Britain, the government is also increasing its use of offshore immigration enforcement. On 3 February Theresa May announced support for a UNHCR/IOM programme to resettle refugees attempting to enter Europe in countries in Asia and Latin America, as part of £30m in ‘aid’ that also includes funds to build factories where resettled refugees will be expected to work. Britain is already funding immigration enforcement activities in African countries including Libya, where an estimated £10m in 2017 is helping to finance sea patrols and immigration prisons. This is part of a growing tendency for British border controls to operate internationally, to monitor and control the movement of people fleeing the wars, repression, environmental destruction and poverty that result from the imperialist capitalist system.
28% of EU migrants applying for permanent residence in Britain are currently being rejected, but Brexit will not mean an end to migration to Britain. In March a House of Lords report suggested an end to free movement from the EU would be unlikely to reduce net migration and warned that if numbers were reduced this would lead to severe labour shortages in low-waged roles in sectors such as social care, the NHS and agriculture. EU migrants accounted for 7% of the social care workforce in 2016, 92,000 people, a 40% increase since 2013. British capitalism needs migrants’ labour, but the ruling class will take every opportunity to further strip their rights in order to subject them to more intense exploitation. Immigration controls are applied overwhelmingly against working class people and migrants from oppressed countries: the only people they help are the rich, whose movement across borders is smoothed by biometric IDs. Demands for the right to remain in Britain therefore need to be connected to equal rights to work and to access state support.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017