Racism and poverty in Britain

Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Some have seen the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London as a victory against racism – The Guardian claimed: ‘His election shows British Muslims they can succeed against the odds’. The defeat of Zac Goldsmith’s racist election campaign is welcome, but what does the election of London’s first Muslim Mayor mean for the majority of Muslims, ethnic minorities and migrants in Britain? Tom Vickers reports.

We are witnessing a rapid rise in state-driven racism, with thousands locked up in immigration detention, tens of thousands of deportations every year, routine workplace immigration raids, ID checks at London tube stations and ever more punitive surveillance and restrictions on access to services and state support for anybody suspected of being a migrant. On 14 May the 2016 Immigration Act became law, further intensifying this attack.

 

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35th anniversary of the Black People’s Day of Action

OBPDA 1981

‘We had to disrupt British society; that was absolutely clear.’

2 March 2016 marked the 35th anniversary of one of the most significant political demonstrations in 20th century British history, and one which deserves to be better remembered. Around 20,000 people marched across London to protest against the racist murder of 13 young black people in the New Cross fire six weeks earlier. The Black People’s Day of Action brought large parts of the capital to a standstill and marked a turning point in the struggle of black people against the racist institutions of the British state, laying the ground for the uprisings in Brixton, Liverpool 8, Moss Side and other inner city areas, which were to follow in the months and years ahead. FRFI took part in the demonstration and we wrote at the time that:

 

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Calais - Migrants fight for their lives

Thousands of destitute migrants including unaccompanied children are being forced to live in barbaric conditions in ‘the Jungle’, the makeshift campsite in Calais. They are faced with increasing repression from the French authorities. Most recently, demands have been made for all structures within 100 metres of a nearby motorway embankment to be vacated and moved or demolished. On 18 January, bulldozers were brought in, clearing the area. Many residents are anxious that these evictions won’t stop at the 100-metre mark, estimated to include approximately 20% of the camp, and the homes of 1,500 people. Amy Marineau reports.

Faking compassion, the French authorities set up a ‘container camp’ (shipping containers) to house the people displaced by the evictions. The camp is prison-like – surrounded by barbed wire, requiring a fingerprint scan to leave or enter. These evictions also disrupt the communities which have developed among the refugees. Many migrants are concerned that, if they are moved to this container camp, their options for residence would be restricted and they would perhaps be allowed refuge only in France.

 

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Prevent - criminalising Muslims

During the first ten months of 2015, a total of 1,355 people under the age of 18 were referred to the government’s ‘Channel’ re-education programme for ‘suspected extremists’. This compares to 466 during the previous year. Between 2012 and 2016, 415 children under the age of 10 were referred to the programme. While the government pretends that the Channel programme is built on dialogue with faith leaders and communities, this is clearly not the case – instead this ‘re-education’ forms a central part of the government’s strategy to isolate and criminalise the Muslim community under the guise of defending the country from the threat of violent extremism, targeting in particular young and vulnerable working class Muslims. Becky Fry reports.

The ‘Prevent Strategy’ was first introduced under the 1997-2010 Labour government, and, while claiming to target all forms of ‘extremism’, both political and religious, focused predominantly on mosques, university Islamic societies and, prisons with large numbers of Muslim prisoners. In FRFI 246 we reported on how on 1 July 2015 this ideological offensive became the statutory ‘Prevent Duty’; section 26 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 states that all employees of councils, police forces, prisons, health services and schools have a duty to exercise ‘due regard’ to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Everyone working in public sector service provision, from leaders to frontline staff, is expected to look out for symptoms of ‘radicalisation’ and take action to notify the appropriate authority of any suspicions, based upon finding antipathy toward ‘British Values’

 

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Red door apartheid for asylum seekers

Jomast, the company contracted by the Home Office to provide housing for asylum seekers in the North East of England has finally agreed to repaint the characteristically red doors on their properties in Middlesbrough after reports of years of racist attacks hit the headlines.

Jomast, self-styled ‘urban regeneration specialist and pre-eminent force in the UK property market’, holds assets of more than £250m. Allegedly to cut costs, Jomast bought a lot of red paint to be used mainly on properties housing refugees. The Home Office’s forced dispersal policy means that Middlesbrough is home to 982 asylum seekers, one per 173 of the population, the highest proportion in Britain, breaching government guidelines. Middlesbrough has the second highest unemployment rate in Britain at 14.4%, and the End Child Poverty campaign reports that 35% of children in the city live in poverty. Refugees, after facing huge obstacles to enter Britain, are lumped in one of the most deprived areas of the country and singled out with a bright red door.

 

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Imperialism is to blame for the refugee crisis

The responsibility for the large number of refugees and migrants coming to Europe, fleeing climate change, poverty, war and violence, must be laid squarely at the feet of the imperialist system. Britain, one of the world’s major imperialist powers, has meddled in the affairs of these regions for centuries – plundering, exploiting and massacring millions to bolster the profits of imperialism. In FRFI 220 we pointed out that the campaign against Libya was the 46th British military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa since the end of the Second World War. Since then, Britain has launched new airstrikes on Iraq, and has begun covert airstrikes on Syria. Britain is the world’s sixth-largest arms exporter. British imperialism is culpable in the causes of each flow of refugees and migrants. Any movement which fights in solidarity with refugees, must fight British imperialism. Toby Harbertson reports.

 

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Britain’s racist immigration history

Poster advertising public meeting in 1902 calling for restrictions on the immigration of 'destitute foreigners'. In 1905 Britain introduced the Aliens Regisration Act.

In response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s heartless stance in the face of the deaths of migrants, many commentators – from the Green Party to his own backbench MPs and Lords – have cited Britain’s ‘proud tradition’ of providing sanctuary to refugees fleeing persecution. NICKI JAMESON looks at the real history of Britain’s immigration laws.

Fleeing persecution – facing racism

Until the 20th century there were no laws regulating immigration to Britain. The first British immigration law was the 1905 Aliens Act, which was specifically designed to limit the numbers of impoverished East European Jews fleeing pogroms who could seek sanctuary in Britain. The Act was accompanied by a media campaign in which newspaper headlines railed against a threatened invasion of ‘dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner[s]’ (Manchester Evening Chronicle).

Further Aliens Restrictions Acts followed in 1914 and 1919, and in 1938 Britain introduced visa requirements for nationals of Germany or Austria. This directly reduced the possibility of seeking asylum for Jews fleeing Nazism.

 

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Cracks open up in Fortress Europe

Since the beginning of 2015, hundreds of thousands of migrants have crossed Europe’s borders; hundreds of thousands more are expected to try to do so over the coming months. The vast majority are fleeing the ravages of imperialist-backed wars in Syria and Afghanistan; others are escaping civil war, poverty, desperation and human rights abuses in Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East that are the legacy of years of exploitation, intervention and under-development by imperialist nations. Many have risked their lives to reach safety and embark on a better life for themselves and their families in the wealthy countries of northern Europe. Their sheer determination has overcome all the brutal and racist attempts of Fortress Europe to shut its borders against them, and has exposed the deep fault-lines of the European Union. Tom Vickers reports.

A crisis of Europe’s making

The so-called crisis is not the inevitable result of the numbers of people involved. Migration is a global fact. There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, in addition to millions forced to move because of economic necessity. The 500,000 unauthorised crossings since the start of the year reported by the EU’s Frontex enforcement agency is significantly higher than 2014, but still only amounts to 0.8% of refugees in the world and 0.1% of the population of the EU – a number that could easily be accommodated. The ‘crisis’ has been created by the response of the EU states.

 

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Islamophobia now a public sector duty

In a speech on 20 July, Prime Minister David Cameron identified the ‘struggle of our generation’ as ‘the fight against Islamic State’. Cameron defined ‘extremism’ as an antagonism toward British Values. His address to the nation was delivered from Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham, a school which was subject to an investigation by the Department of Education and other government agencies into the so-called Trojan Horse letter.* The speech deflected much media attention from the vote on the welfare bill that took place that evening in the House of Commons. It was a speech to inspire in a fearful public a message about British security and British Values.

 

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Close Yarl’s Wood immigration prison now!

© 2015 Peter Marshall www.mylondondiary.co.uk

Pressure is growing on the British government to close Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedfordshire. On 5 August 2015 the Movement for Justice led the latest in a series of large demonstrations in solidarity with Yarl’s Wood detainees and on 12 August the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick issued a critical report of an unannounced inspection in April, which ‘found that in some important areas the treatment and conditions of those held at the centre had deteriorated significantly, the main concerns we had in 2013 had not been resolved and there was greater evidence of the distress caused to vulnerable women by their detention’.

Yarl’s Wood is run by infamous private security company Serco and holds 350 detainees, the majority of whom are single women, with a few men and some family units. According to the inspectorate: ‘A few detainees were held for very long periods. At the time of the inspection, 15 detainees had been held for between six months and a year and four for more than a year. The longest had been held for 17 months. The Home Office’s own policy states pregnant women should not normally be detained, but 99 had been held in 2014.’

 

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Fight racist immigration controls

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.

 

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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.

 

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Support migrants in Calais!

The town of Calais in the north of France is witnessing a drastic situation, as asylum seekers and migrants from Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria and Ethiopia, continue to arrive, fleeing hunger and war and seeking a normal life of the kind that everybody should be afforded.

Across Europe there are twice as many empty houses as there are homeless people (‘Scandal of Europe's 11 million empty homes’ The Guardian, 23 February 2014). In the Calais area there are over 2,500 migrants living in the streets, in tents and on mattresses. This is a problem created by capitalism, which in turn cannot find a solution. The physical conditions which the asylum seekers face are inhumane. The very fact that they call the places where they live ‘the jungles’ shows that they are treated like animals. Most of the migrants have no shelter from the cold and rain; they have no sanitation and very limited access to running water. During a recent visit by Human Rights Watch (HRW)*, daytime temperatures were as low as 1C, with below freezing conditions at night time. Zeinab, a woman from Ethiopia interviewed by HRW, explained that ‘more than food, not having a bathroom is a bigger problem’. The majority of migrants depend on food provided by local organisations and volunteers.

 

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No vote for racists

As the 2015 General Election approaches, the racism of Britain’s ruling class is in full flow. On 20 November UKIP gained its second MP in the Rochester and Strood by-election, triggered by the defection of sitting MP Mark Reckless from the Conservatives. In a televised debate, Reckless admitted that UKIP supported the repatriation of migrants following withdrawal from the EU. UKIP leader Nigel Farage hastily issued a correction, but Reckless maintains that up to that point repatriation had been party policy. A few days later, Farage claimed that children born to immigrants in Britain should also be viewed as immigrants – a position this time defended by a UKIP spokesperson. Tom Vickers reports on the escalation of racism.

 

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No justice for Jimmy Mubenga as racists walk free

It seems that no-one will be held to account for the death of a black man at the hands of the British state after the three racist and brutal security guards who restrained the Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga were cleared of manslaughter at their trial on 16 December.

Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler and Stuart Tribelnig worked as detention custody officers (DCOs) for the private security company G4S, subcontracted by the Home Office to enforce deportations. The company is notorious for complicity with torture in the prisons it manages in Israel and South Africa, amongst other crimes. They were accused of forcing Mubenga’s head down and restricting his breathing as the deportation flight prepared to take off from Heathrow in October 2010. Originally they had not been prosecuted: the charges arose from the inquest into Jimmy Mubenga’s death in 2013 at which the jury found, by nine to one, that he had been unlawfully killed.

 

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Operation Skybreaker: Defending migrant rights

Supporters of FRFI in north London have been working with the developing campaign against the government’s latest attack on migrants in the capital.  

In a bizarre echo of a recent James Bond movie title, the current initiative is named Operation Skybreaker. Unlike its predecessor Operation Centurion, there was no media fanfare around its implementation and very little information about it is publicly available. Credit is therefore due to the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) charity, which has put the details of Skybreaker into the public domain and has provided information, support and training for those affected by it.

 

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Immigration Act intensifies exploitation

The Immigration Bill became law on 14 May. It includes:

  • the imposition of a racist regime of immigration monitoring at the point of access to health care, bank accounts, privately-rented housing and driving licences;
  • a new system of charging for health care for ‘temporary’ migrants;
  • removal of the right of appeal to many immigration decisions;
  • powers to strip British citizenship from naturalised citizens whose behaviour is judged to be contrary to the ‘national interest’, a euphemism for the interests of the ruling class.

These measures are the latest stages in a process of using immigration controls to divide the working class into special categories of super-exploited labour. They are a particularly vicious and racist element of the wider attempt to make it increasingly difficult to survive without accepting whatever work is on offer, no matter how low the wages or how poor the conditions. Tom Vickers reports.

 

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2014 European and local elections – UKIP the winners

Nigel Farage. © European Union 2012 - European Parliament.

The local and European elections on 22 May were always going to be about whether the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) would be able to demonstrate significant country-wide electoral support. That it won the most votes in the European elections, gaining 27.5% of the vote, beating the Labour Party into second place (25.4%) and the Tories into third (23.9%), shows the attractiveness of its simple anti-Europe and anti-immigrant message to Eurosceptic Tory voters. But it also appealed to sections of the working class who feel they are being left behind, and who blame their deteriorating position on EU immigrants who they think are getting a better deal than they are, especially in the areas of housing, free health care, jobs and welfare benefits.

 

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Racism and reaction: the Romanian and Bulgarian reception

On 1 January restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants working in Britain were lifted. Previously, the restrictions meant that workers from these countries would need to apply for an ‘accession worker’s card’ from the Home Office in order to work, were not eligible for benefits and were restricted in the forms of employment that they could accept. Now, with the maximum seven years for these restrictions having expired, Romanians and Bulgarians will be able to live and work here with the same rights as citizens of other EU member states. The response from parliament and the media has been an avalanche of racism, reaction and scaremongering. JAMES BELL reports.

 

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Racism, poverty, and imprisonment – the plight of Syria's refugees

Three years of war in Syria have created a major refugee crisis. At least 2.3 million people have been forced over Syria's borders. Britain, France and other European governments are happy to fuel the war with money and weapons, but less generous when it comes to accommodating these refugees. The entire European Union has offered refuge, under a UN plan, to only 12,000 people – 0.5% of the total displaced. The vast majority are living in Syria's neighbouring countries. Those seeking to escape from these overcrowded and deprived situations face the militarised borders of the EU, immigration prisons, hostility and racism.

 

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Racism, lies and violence: scapegoating the Roma

In November 2013, Labour’s former Home Secretary David Blunkett warned of a potential explosion in his Sheffield constituency if recently arrived Slovakian Roma migrants did not change ‘their behaviour and culture’. Deliberately raising the spectre of the 2001 uprisings in northern cities, by Asian youth who were described as insufficiently assimilated into British life, he accused the Roma of being anti-social, of dropping litter and congregating on the streets, saying: ‘We’ve got to be tough and robust in saying to people you are not in a downtrodden village or woodland, because many of them don’t even live in areas where there are toilets or refuse collection facilities. You are not there any more, you are here – and you’ve got to adhere to our standards.’

 

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Repression and resistance in immigration removal centres

On 15 September, The Observer published the testimony of ‘Tanja’, a former detainee at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre (IRC), run by private company Serco. Tanja described the blackmail and sexual abuse heaped upon detainees by Serco employees in graphic detail. Her testimony ranged from accounts of guards promising favours or offering to make life easier, saying they would have more chance of winning their case or staying in the country in return for sexual favours, to accounts of rape: ‘There were two occasions when I was made to do “blow jobs”... [The guard] was well aware that I did not want to’. Tanja’s experience is by no means unique. In her testimony, she stated that several other women were abused, one guard boasting of sexual behaviour with at least four women.

 

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Theresa May’s Immigration Bill – lies, half-truths and more repression

Amidst a climate of increasing state and media racism typified by government-sponsored vans featuring anti-immigrant ‘Go home!’ adverts and a Daily Express campaign against Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants which would not have been out of place in Nazi Germany, on 10 October Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the Immigration Bill 2013, which it is anticipated will become law in spring 2014. Nicki Jameson reports.

The Bill’s introduction was accompanied by a flurry of publicity, most of which centred on May trumpeting how living in Britain would become ‘tougher for illegal immigrants’. Most of the Bill does not relate directly to illegal immigration but this did not prevent May, when interviewed by the BBC on the morning of 10 October, using the word ‘illegal’ every time she said ‘immigrant’ and ‘hardworking’ every time she said ‘tax-payer’.

 

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Charges against Newcastle 14 dropped

On 1 August, after a ten week police investigation, the Newcastle 14 (N14) received letters from Northumbria Police stating that no further action would be taken against them. The N14 are anti-racist activists, including FRFI supporters, who were pre-emptively arrested before a national English Defence League march on 25 May. They were investigated under suspicion of ‘conspiracy to violent disorder’. Northumbria police used this as a justification to raid the homes of the 14, seizing computer equipment, mobile phones, cameras, literature and notebooks. It is clear that the primary purposes of this exercise were intelligence gathering and intimidation.

 

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Hunger strike in Yarl's Wood as women expose sexual abuse and the deportation of witnesses

More than 30 women have been on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, demanding justice and legal rights and in protest against ongoing sexual abuse. On 1 October, six of the women were deported, four of whom have witnessed and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of officers in the Serco-run centre. It will now be near-impossible to hear evidence from the women who were forced onto a charter flight to Pakistan, in what seems a deliberate attempt to silence them. The women who remain at Yarl's Wood continue their hunger strike.

 

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Defend the Newcastle 14!

On 25 May, 14 anti-racist protesters, including FRFI supporters, were arrested while leafleting for a counter-demonstration against the English Defence League (EDL) organised by Newcastle Unites. a coalition of Labour Party members, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Newcastle TUC. Newcastle Unites had told FRFI supporters we would be prevented from attending the demonstration because of our opposition to the Labour Party, and then worked hand-in-glove with the police to ensure this happened. Those arrested had their houses raided, and their computers and mobile phones seized. Since then the Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign (N14DC) has been active in mobilising support for the comrades, going from door to door with petitions, hosting speak-outs, and on 20 July, marching to the city’s central police station.

 

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After Woolwich

During the past two months, the killing of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May has been exploited to boost the propaganda offensives of both the British military and the English Defence League (EDL). The day after Rigby’s death, over 100 EDL supporters gathered in Woolwich, draped in St George’s flags, many sporting black balaclavas with the EDL logo on, chanting: 'No surrender to the Muslim scum', ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Eng-er-land’. Since then the EDL has held marches and rallies in Newcastle, London, Sheffield, Birmingham and elsewhere. Most of these events have not been especially well attended and anti-fascist counter-demonstrations have frequently been as big or bigger; however the increasing frequency of these set-piece events is only one facet of the ongoing backlash. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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UKIP - Loongate and the Kippers: storm in a British political teacup

Within weeks of a display of unity at the publicly-subsidised Tory day-out, Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (17 April 2013), the Conservative Party reverted to its more normal state of internecine warfare. The fundamental political fault line dividing the Conservatives is Britain’s membership of the EU, with immigration and gay marriage thrown in for phobic good measure. There is nothing new here.

What is new is a surge in the polls for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which dramatically improved its standing at local elections in England on 2 May at the expense of the Conservatives, when its candidates averaged 26% of the vote. With upcoming European Parliamentary elections in 2014 and a general election scheduled for 2015, this was the trigger for a serious outbreak of infighting in the Tory party. The eurosceptics immediately filed an amendment to their own party’s Queen’s speech calling for an early referendum on EU membership, swiftly followed by an attempt to derail the government’s reform on gay marriage.

 

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Immigration Bill divide and rule

‘My government will bring forward a bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system. The bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.’

Queen’s speech, 8 May 2013

As communists we strive to create a society which can provide for everyone according to their needs. In the current period of capitalist crisis and enforced ‘austerity’, we stand against all cuts and all attacks on the working class, and fight for proper social provision for everyone. We utterly oppose all ruling class and opportunist attempts to divide and rule us and pit one section against another. The recent Queen’s Speech and the Immigration Bill that it introduced are part of such an attempt to divide and rule by, yet again, using immigrants as scapegoats and creating a diversion from the government’s failure to provide sufficient housing for the working class, and from the massive attacks underway on the NHS, education and other social provision. Mark Moncada reports.

 

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The state that kills: Sean Rigg IPCC whitewash exposed

An external review has harshly criticised the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for its flawed investigation into the death of a black man who died in police custody in 2008. Sean Rigg, who was 40 and suffered from schizophrenia, was arrested as he walked down the road topless and performing martial art manoeuvres. Police restrained him in a prone position with his hands cuffed behind his back for over eight minutes. Still cuffed, he was taken to Brixton police station in south London and left in the van for a further 11 minutes, where he suffered a cardiac arrest. The IPCC found no police misconduct or negligence had contributed to Sean Rigg’s death.

 

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RCG Statement: The tragedy in Woolwich

On 22 May, two young black British men barbarically attacked and killed a young British soldier outside Woolwich military barracks in London. For the victim and perpetrators, their families and friends, this outrage is profoundly tragic. For the world, it has contributed to a wider tragedy.

 

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