Wednesday, November 26, 2003


You couldn't make it up. The most right-wing Home Secretary in British parliamentary history, Michael Howard, has (rightly) criticised the Labour government for its "shameful" new proposals on asylum -- which deliberately seek to remove children from parents seeking asylum from persecution, in order to 'encourage' them to return without appeal.

This disgraceful policy, pandering to the most reactionary and racist elements in the tabloid media, goes alongside further moves to cut legal aid, block entry and remove social support from asylum seekers -- who, it seems, are assumed to be 'guilty' (that is, cheats) until proved innocent. And the bar of 'innocence' is, of course, moved ever higher.

Mind you, Howard, now leader of the Conservative Party (and apparently a somewhat reformed character), doesn't have much to crow about himself. His Tory government started the current wave of judicial and legislative victimization rolling. And his party's current 'enlightened' policy consists of isolating asylum seekers on container ships!

Serious political debate and alternative policy options have now more or less been ruled out of the public arena by this current rush in Westminster to adopt ever-more draconian policies. Even the Liberal Democrats can come up with little more than adherence to the status quo.

Moreover, Home Secretary David Blunkett will tomorrow trumpet his government's 'achievement' in halving the number of applicants to 4000 over the past year. The idea that the arbitration and appeal systems are actually there to give people a fair hearing and a fair process is being abandoned. They are there simply to 'keep 'em out'! This flagrantly violates international human rights instruments in regard to the treatment of refugees.

Behind the present dispicable trade in dehumanising policy lies a myth and a problem. The myth is that Britain is being 'swamped' by refugees and 'illegals'. The problem is that the asylum system is being used (unfairly) to handle a whole set of complex migration issues which policy makers want to avoid: namely the fact that, historically, most migration has been 'economic' anyway, and that in a world where boundaries to capital movement are dissolving it is unfeasible to seek to reduce people movements to a controlled trickle.

Meanwhile the churches in Britain and Ireland are among those speaking out most vociferously in favour of justice (rather than expediency) towards asylum seekers and refugees. And brave networks such as the Refugee Council and Bail For Immigration Detainees are seeking to stem the tide of bile in the media and among vote-hungry politicians.

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