By the end of 2021, the number of people displaced because of conflict, violence and oppression stood at 89.3 million, 27 million of them refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency. This is double the 42.7 million who were displaced in 2012, and before the war in Ukraine which is estimated to have led to 6 million Ukrainian refugees.
In mid-2022, an estimated one in every 77 people worldwide was forcibly displaced. This is more than double the rate a decade previously and is set to continue to rise. War, poverty and climate destruction – all symptoms of a capitalist system in crisis – continue to plunge increasing numbers into devastating circumstances, forcing them to flee their homes.
The first months of 2023 have seen a series of protests against migrants being housed in hotels around the country, many with far-right groups taking part or playing a role in organising.
As of September 2022, 37,142 migrants were being held in hotels, of the 143,000 people awaiting an initial decision on their asylum claim. Many are forced to live in intolerable conditions, with reports of rat infestations and child migrants being targeted for exploitation. Contractors making the arrangements make record profits. The backlog of asylum cases continues to grow, and decision-making has slowed despite the number of caseworkers increasing.
The UK government’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman has stated it is her “dream” to see a flight full of asylum seekers taking off to Rwanda. However, so far the Tories’ plans have been thwarted, although last year the High Court ruled that the scheme was lawful and the government had acted rationally! However in January campaigners won permission to challenge the policy at the Court of Appeal, so no asylum seekers have yet been sent. The Rwandan cruelty is just another example of the government’s hostile racist immigration policies.
Rishi Sunak has made ending English Channel crossings a priority for the Tory Party. The fifth of his five pledges in January was: “We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”. More than 45,000 people crossed the channel on small boats to come to the UK in 2022, the highest figure since records began, but still only 0.17% of the world’s refugee population.
40% of those on the small boats in 2022 come from just five countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan. “The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression”, says the Refugee Council.
Many choose to risk their lives in the hands of people traffickers and get into small boats with no alternative safe route to reach the UK. Asylum in the UK cannot be claimed from outside the country.
The government’s latest legislation; the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill, is a continuation of the ‘hostile environment’ which led to the Windrush scandal a few years ago. This saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the UK deliberately targeted by immigration enforcement as ‘illegal immigrants’ and stripped of their rights as UK citizens. They were barred from working, and denied access to the NHS and welfare benefits. In some cases, they were even detained and deported as they couldn’t provide documentation. The documentation they could provide, such as the ‘boarding cards’ when they entered the UK, were unbelievably destroyed by the Home Office.
The Windrush scandal continues. The failed Windrush Compensation Scheme has seen only 5.8% of people eligible to claim to receive the insultingly small compensation. Twenty-three people have now died without receiving a penny of compensation they were owed. (see ‘Windrush scandal Tories and Blairites must go’ at socialistparty.org.uk)
Labour voted against the Nationality and Borders Act and is set to oppose the Illegal Migration Bill. But, according to Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, the problem is that there has been a lack of deportation: “They need to process claims faster, get people out of the country if they’ve got no right to be here and get a grip of their failed immigration system which is not working for British people and it’s not working for genuine asylum seekers either.” In fact, Blairite Alan Johnson was the first to use the phrase ‘hostile environment’ back in 2010, when he was Home Secretary in Gordon Brown’s Labour government.
The bosses use immigration policies to try to divide the working class, blaming asylum seekers and refugees for a lack of housing, low pay, and collapsing public services – all the ills of capitalist society. They do all they can to distract from the responsibility of big business and the government for the economic crisis and austerity.
Cynically using the issue of migrants risking their lives on boats, the Tories can give confidence to far-right racist extremists to carry out anti-migrant attacks, like the petrol bomb attack on the migrant centre in Dover last autumn. Far-right activists have also participated, to different extents, in recent demonstrations outside hotels housing asylum seekers.
By failing to put forward an alternative; fighting for council homes, inflation-proof pay rises and fully funded services, and when in power locally carrying out cuts, Labour gives these forces a chance to get a foothold.
A major trade union campaign opposing racism, and uniting all workers in a struggle for real pay rises and for the services we need, is needed. It could play an important role in bringing migrant workers into the trade union movement, and ensuring all workers are paid the rate for the job. A trade union-backed, new mass workers’ party would further undermine the ability of the far-right to grow.
What we think
The Socialist Party demands an end to racist immigration controls. Asylum decisions cannot be left in the hands of this callous government. We demand that elected committees of working-class people, including representatives of migrant organisations and trade unions, have the right to review asylum cases and grant asylum.
Defending the rights of asylum seekers are linked directly to the fight to improve the living conditions of all working-class people. It’s not enough to say ‘”Refugees welcome here”; we have to fight for a decent standard of living too. We call for mass investment into jobs, homes and services for all. There is enough money to provide these things but it’s in the wrong hands. We need to take the wealth, major industries and banks off the super-rich so it can be planned democratically to meet our needs.
The only way to permanently end the refugee crisis is to fight for a democratic socialist world. On the basis of capitalism, there will always be people forced to flee their country, not by choice but out of desperation.
A socialist world would bring an end to war, environmental catastrophe and starvation. A democratic socialist world plan of production would be able to harness the enormous science and technique created by capitalism, and the world’s natural resources, to meet the needs of the population in every part of the world. Those deciding to move to other parts of the world could therefore do so out of genuine choice.