Tories have no solutions
Despite weeks of scaremongering headlines and reports about the desperate people encamped at Calais, British Prime Minister David Cameron still found a way to escalate the anti-immigrant bile. He described the estimated 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants camped at Calais as a "swarm of people".
This was a deliberate attempt to whip up some workers’ fears over the scale of immigration in order to falsely lay the blame for austerity at the door of migrants and asylum seekers.
It is preparation for the Tories’ plan to viciously ratchet up their cuts and their repressive and racist measures. But it also triggered an angry response and even a mini-swarm of articles that gave some facts on the situation.
The figures grant a glimpse of the human tragedy that exists. Since the start of June, ten people have died on the roads around Calais. A pregnant woman miscarried in her attempt to get on a lorry to Britain. There are 629 children alone in Kent needing support and care.
The false impression created that Britain is the main destination for migrants fleeing to Europe was also put in context. Last year France received 62,735 asylum applications, more than double the number in Britain. There were 626,000 asylum applications in the EU last year and 25,000 in Britain.
These people are mainly fleeing the horrendous situations such as in Afghanistan and Iraq. About one in five people seeking asylum in Europe have fled the war and chaos of Syria. But it is a tiny proportion of the people forced to leave their homes and lives in Syria. There are over two million registered refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.
A number of writers exposed the appalling paucity of provision in Britain against the myth that there is a ’soft touch’ approach here. Accommodation is provided for people who are seeking asylum – but this is either in a detention centre or in a room: not a house.
Asylum seekers are denied benefits while their applications are being processed and they are not allowed to work. Single adults receive £36.95 a week! Since the latest budget there has been a cut of up to 30% in the money paid to families.
The Tories have stepped up their divisive and racist measures. They want to remove the paltry financial support for those whose application for asylum has been rejected, condemning thousands of families to starvation.
Extra sniffer dogs and 100 more guards will be sent to Calais. Home Secretary Theresa May has ramped up the racist immigration bill with measures requiring landlords in England to carry out "right to rent" checks on each tenant’s immigration status before allowing them to move in. They will be free to evict those denied asylum without having to get a court order.
This is a racists’ charter in the midst of a housing crisis already massively loaded towards Rachmanite money-grubbing landlords. A 2013 survey of 750 adults by the Runnymede Trust found 29% of black people seeking private housing had experienced discrimination – compared to 1% of white respondents. Outrageously Labour has backed this legalisation of a modern strain on the ’No Blacks, no Irish’ policy that used to used by private landlords in Britain.
None of these measures will transform the situation. They will result in more poverty and desperation for the men, women and children who manage to get to Britain, and more deaths and injuries in Calais. A medical centre set up in the camp is treating people who have repeatedly attempted to scale razor wire fences – not out of choice but desperation.
The weekend’s investigations into Calais also reported signs of solidarity. Local teachers are volunteering to teach French at the camp’s school. In Britain there is also evidence of sympathy for those suffering the effects of war and capitalist crisis evidenced in the huge amounts donated to charity appeals.
In March, reports of the arrest of 20 year old Jimmy Thoronka, Sierra Leone’s top 100-metre sprinter who overstayed his visa fearing the ebola crisis at home, inspired a flood of donations and offers of support and help.
At the same time in Austerity Britain there is an understandable fear that public services are over-stretched. A housing crisis is raging. Cuts to benefits and sky-high rents mean that over 50,000 families have been moved out of London by councils in the past three years. The Tories’ hope the focus on asylum seekers and migrants will shift the blame off their failed housing policies and vicious austerity measures.
But there is not a shortage of resources. Councils in England are sitting on enough brownfield land to build one million decent council homes.
The ’big four’ property developers are sitting on enough land to immediately build 1.4 million homes. But knowing these facts – like those about the Calais situation – are not enough. We need organisations with a programme that fights for housing rights for all.
Why could that land and the biggest vultures in the construction industry not be nationalised, with compensation paid to current owners only on the basis of genuine need? Socialists would then build high quality council homes on an environmentally sustainable basis.
We defend the right of all working class people to a decent home and oppose evictions. That means building a mass campaign to fight for rent control and for investment in council housing.
Such a movement will need a political voice that can unite all those suffering under austerity and racism including defending the rights of asylum seekers.
The Socialist Party opposes all racist immigration laws and demands the shutting down of the detention centre prisons. The blame-game bandwagon can start to be stopped by the labour movement building an independent workers’ political voice.