- Created: Wednesday, 23 September 2009 14:00
- Written by FRFI
As the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill 2005 goes through Parliament, the Labour government is stepping up its drive to deport more ‘failed asylum seekers’ and tighten controls on anyone entering the country to claim asylum. The latest Bill formalises the ending last August of ‘indefinite leave to remain’ status. It criminalises employers who take on workers without permits, reduces appeals yet further and increases the powers of border control officials to check identities, require fingerprints, obtain information about passengers and share information with the police, Immigration Service and Revenue and Customs department.
The government is making full use of its already far-reaching powers and has recently begun to electronically tag asylum seekers who register new claims at reporting/enforcement centres. Arrests, removals and deportations continue, with families torn apart and a rising toll of self-inflicted deaths among those who fear deportation will literally be a fate worse than death. However asylum seekers and their supporters are not sitting back and allowing the government to implement its racist agenda without a murmur. On the streets and inside the detention centres organisation is growing. FRFI comrades are involved in campaigns, many of which focus on the ‘reporting centres’ at which asylum seekers are forced to sign on weekly or monthly, with no allowance made for travel costs and no exemptions on grounds of age or disability. As it is not uncommon for immigration officials to arrest, detain and deport people when they go to sign on, reporting centres are places of fear. The more that campaigns focus on them and highlight their role in terrorising asylum seekers, the harder it will be for people to be spirited away to detention centres and deported.
Newcastle – resisting oppression
On 17 January Amir Saman Behzadian, who faces deportation to Iran, set himself alight in front of immigration officials outside North Shields reporting centre. He was taken to hospital with a third-degree burn on his arm and other burns on his back and neck. In the hospital journalists arrived to interview him but the police blocked access and transferred Amir to a police station before he had even been treated. He told FRFI that his action was a protest against the inhumane way asylum seekers are being treated. He had many problems in Iran but he never thought of killing himself. Now he can see no way forward and he feels that no one will help him. ‘I am not crazy. I understand well. I don’t want charity. Where can I live? I have nowhere to live. This is the problem of all asylum seekers, not just me’.
North Shields reporting centre is over eight miles from Newcastle city centre and costs over £3 by public transport. ‘Failed asylum seekers’ have to report every week even though they are given no means of getting there. Newcastle FRFI is planning to develop regular solidarity pickets outside the centre as part of the Tyneside Community Action for Refugees network, which brings together local and refugee communities in defence of asylum seekers.
Scotland – fighting back against attacks on asylum seekers
On 1 January, 4,000 ‘failed’ asylum seekers in Glasgow awoke to find a letter headed ‘Assisted Voluntary Return – £3,000 Assistance for Each Returnee’. Far from being the generous offer or easy money portrayed in the right-wing press, this is a sinister attempt to undermine the asylum claims of anyone who enquires about the scheme and to try and bribe asylum seekers into returning to the violence or poverty that they fled. It coincides with a push by the city council to evict hundreds of people refused asylum prior to the handover of asylum accommodation to private companies in February.
In the last FRFI we reported on the use of dawn raids and snatch squads. These have not stopped, however consistent mobilisation of activists has had a radical effect on their frequency. Prior to November 2005 there was an average of three raids a week; since regular early-morning protests at the Brand Street Immigration Offices began, there have been no more than two raids in total.
The weekly pickets began six months ago with just a single individual, Ahmed Khan, but have grown significantly. Members of the RCG and the No Borders Network, as well as various anarchists, liberals and asylum-seeking families themselves now protest every Saturday. There are also frequent early morning weekday pickets, often in reaction to rumours of a dawn raid. A Home Office source has described this level of activity as ‘unprecedented in the UK’.
On 12 December, African refugee and church groups organised a march of about 150 people for the right of asylum seekers to work. This is one of the major concerns facing Glasgow’s asylum communities. Far from being the ‘spongers’ hysterically denounced in the media, asylum seekers are prevented from working to supplement their pitiful state hand-outs. Others do not even receive this pittance, resulting in their being driven into destitution. Even the winter clothes allowance for asylum seekers in Glasgow has been withdrawn this year.
The march was led by Pastor Daly, who had just returned to Glasgow after he and his family were kidnapped by the British state in a deportation attempt that failed due to swift solidarity action. The main banner read ‘We belong to Scotland’. Overwhelmingly composed of poor asylum seekers, mainly mothers with small children, the march was a valiant show of strength by the most oppressed section of the Scottish proletariat.
The RCG was the only left group at this demonstration, marching with placards defending the right to work and calling for an end to Labour Party repression of asylum seekers and immigrants. The largest organisations of the left, such as the Scottish Socialist Party and even the mainstream Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, refused to come out in solidarity. A completely disproportionate police presence accompanied the march and attempted to prevent Pastor Daly and others from making speeches in George Square. This was courageously defied and Daly denounced governmental oppression and made the anti-imperialist point that many people flee their homelands in Africa for wealthy European countries because of famine and war caused by the colonial past and present of the rich countries themselves, so it is not the oppressed peoples of the world who owe Britain anything but quite the reverse.
So while asylum seekers and their supporters are protesting against these vicious policies, what does the British trade union movement have to say? On 24 November 2005, General Secretary Mark Serwotka and President Jane Goodrich of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), a supposedly ‘left-wing’ trade union, issued a statement regarding the protests against dawn raids and deportations: ‘Members’ health and safety is our prime concern in this matter. PCS is committed to ensuring that its members in the Immigration Service, and elsewhere, have a right to a safe and secure working environment, and to be treated with dignity...We will take every necessary step to support members in the Immigration Service.’
Some workers at Brand Street have shouted racist abuse at protestor Ahmed Khan, and one security worker was booked by police for threatening him with ‘poking his eyes out’. Presumably the PCS is more concerned about these people’s health and safety than it is about the fate of anyone facing deportation. An Indymedia report on Serwotka’s statement correctly described this as ‘not only racist but contrary to even the most elementary principles of socialism.’
Manchester – stop deportations!
As reported in previous issues of FRFI, Eucharia Jakpa and her four-year-old son Timeyi were refused asylum in Britain after fleeing the Niger Delta war zone in Nigeria. The Defend Eucharia and Timeyi Campaign (DETC) was set up last year with the help of Manchester RCG to fight for their right to stay in Britain.
Eucharia’s initial application was botched with her solicitor abandoning her at the last minute. Her appeal is proving equally difficult. In January a solicitor charged Eucharia £85 for a consultation and sent a letter to asylum offices saying ‘Mr Jakpa’[sic] was appealing on grounds of mental health, leaving out crucial evidence about Eucharia’s situation in Nigeria, where her husband and daughter disappeared in a war instigated by multinational companies like Shell.
On 27 January Eucharia was told to ‘prepare her travel documents’ and called to the notorious Dallas Court holding centre. DETC held a demonstration outside. It turned out that day was not ‘D’-day for Eucharia, but the mental torment continued as she was questioned her about her birthplace, ethnicity, schools, teachers’ names, dates and places of birth of family members and dates of her husband and daughter’s deaths. She was then pressured to sign the meeting’s minutes, and have her and Timeyi’s passport pictures taken. There were queues of tens more refugees outside awaiting the same uncertain fate.
Eucharia is keen to connect the issues of asylum with the situation in Nigeria, where Britain plays the insidious game of divide and rule to keep control of resources,
Justina Ogbe and two-year-old Yonre also fled the Niger Delta. Justina’s husband was killed within days of Yonre’s birth. The Home Office acknowledges that their story is true, but says they could live elsewhere in Nigeria. In reality, all deportees to Nigeria are immediately arrested, and over 95% of Nigerian prisoners routinely brutalised and tortured.
Innocent is seeking asylum from homophobic and political persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Following one of many arrests for protesting he was made to choose between 15 years in prison or Secret Service training. In Buluwo prison he suffered rape, beatings, and torture. At least 3.8 million people have died in the civil war since 1998, yet Labour deported 65 people to DRC in 2004, many of whom were then raped and tortured.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! opposes all deportations and will work with any individual or organisation who wants to campaign against the Labour government’s racist asylum and immigration policy.
Here to stay! Here to fight!
Louis Brehony and Nicki Jameson
Death in detention
On 19 January 26-year-old Bereket Yohannes became the seventh asylum seeker to take his own life in a UK detention centre. Bereket was found hanged in the showers at Harmondsworth; he was terrified of deportation to Eritrea and had found the appalling physical conditions in the detention centre unbearable.
Following Bereket’s death, Harmondsworth detainees formed a representative committee, staged a short peaceful protest and presented a ten-point letter of complaint signed by 61 detainees to UKDS, the private company which manages the detention centre (see letters’ page). UKDS exacted immediate retribution by moving all those involved to isolation cells. Many of these detainees have now been transferred to Colnbrook Short Term Holding Centre and two to Dungavel Removal Centre in Scotland.
FRFI 189 February / March 2006