The Immigration and Asylum Bill –
a plot to evade Britain’s Geneva Convention obligations
The Immigration and Asylum Bill presented to the House of Commons on 9 February 1999 should have been entitled the Elimination of Asylum Bill. The Explanatory Note issued by the government in order to spell out the Bill” intentions admits in para. 359 that estimated costs of supporting asylum seekers under the new proposals are £350 million for 1999/2000, £300 million for 2000/2001 and £250 million for 2001/2002 “
compared with spending of about £400 million in
to July 1998, which would have increased to £800 million by 2002 if remedial action had not been taken.”
Of course, the government `justifies’ these savings by claiming that they will arise only because “
the new support scheme will be a disincentive to economic migrants who do not have a well founded fear of persecution.”
In fact, however, the intention is to make it well-nigh impossible for any asylum seeker, “genuine” or not, to enter the country in the first place.
“Genuine” asylum seekers, i.e., those in fear of their lives as a result of persecution in the country of which they are nationals, are those most likely to lack proper documentation, i.e., to have no passport or visa or financial means of any kind. Forced to flee without a penny to their names, these are the people most likely to try to enter the UK in a manner which by-passes documentation checks, i.e., stowed away in the back of a lorry.
Yet a major thrust of the Bill is to put a stop to people entering in this way. This will be done by imposing heavy fines on drivers of vehicles which turn out to contain stowaways (even if the driver did not know they were there) and enabling the authorities to confiscate the vehicles, boats and aircraft of people who deliberately bring in undocumented people. There is, of course, no question of cancelling the fine or relieving carriers of undocumented passengers of any punishment should it turn out that the passengers in question were “genuine” asylum seekers, to whom refugee status under the Geneva Convention has to be granted.
In addition there are swingeing provisions in the Bill to make the UK as unattractive a destination for asylum seekers, “genuine” or otherwise. Asylum seekers have already been deprived of benefits, though the Conservative Party’s attempts to leave them completely destitute was ultimately overturned by the Courts. The new Bill does not make the same mistake but ensures that asylum seekers get assistance only to the extent that they are completely destitute and then that the support is as minimal as it is possible to get. Asylum seekers requiring financial support will no longer be able to choose the area in which they reside, so as to be, for instance, close to family and friends, shops and cultural facilities where their language is spoken and where services and goods familiar to them are provided, but will be forced to go to areas chosen for them by the government. These areas will be those where there is a housing surplus, i.e., those most desolate and lacking in facilities. In winter one can expect the seaside resorts to be favoured. In addition, asylum seekers will be given little or no cash but will receive such food and clothing as they need either in kind or through vouchers. They will have no money for legal advice of any kind, though fares to visit legal advisers will apparently be paid. Bereft of the support of their communities, the chances of asylum applications succeeding are much diminished – be they “genuine” or not.
In its anxiety to prevent immigration, the government is now to turn marriage registrars into part of the immigration police. When a couple give notice of their intention to marry, the registrar must ask them their nationality and obtain proof of such. If he has grounds to believe that the marriage may be being contracted in order to gain an immigration advantage for a non-EU immigrant, the Registrar must notify the Home Office, who will be able to step in and prevent the marriage from taking place. Purely to prevent immigrants marrying to stay in the country, EVERY couple intending to marry will have to give at least 15 days’ notice of their intention. Special licences will be abolished – not just for immigrants but for everyone. In exceptional circumstances, however, the Registrar will be able to waive the 15-day delay;
– OK for the well-off
The government does appear to have realised that the British economy does benefit from the arrival of upper class and middle class tourists, regardless of race or creed, so some steps are likely to be taken to facilitate the entry of tourists by finding more effective ways of distinguishing them from people who might seek settlement in the UK by asking for asylum. If well-heeled tourists want to visit the UK, the government is proposing to clear their path by enabling the visa obtained abroad to give entitlement to enter the UK (rather than the permission of an immigration officer at the port of entry being needed in addition to the visa). It is envisaged that such visitors might in due course be issued with smart cards programmed with the length of their authorised stay and any conditions attached to their visit. They will then also be able to come in and out of the country as often as they like within the authorised period. This will constitute a great improvement for ordinary visitors, who have up to now been subject to the possibility of harassment at the hands of immigration officers – hardly an inducement to come and spend their money in the UK!
Nevertheless, to guard against error, the government will be experimenting with a system of financial securities to be provided by a visitor’s sponsor, which would be forfeited if the visitor did not leave the UK in time. In addition, if a sponsored visitor claimed asylum, the sponsor would be made liable for supporting him.
It is typical of bourgeois governments the world over to blame the workers and oppressed peoples for the problems caused by imperialism. In its never-ending chase after maximum profit, monopoly capitalism is not only depriving workers everywhere of the chance to earn a livelihood, it is also waging wars and inspiring civil strife in all corners of the globe, forcing workers to flee their homeland as political and economic refugees. Having thus driven millions of workers from their homes and countries, it then erects insuperable barriers to their entry into the heartlands of capitalist imperialism, denouncing them as “
refugees, as if migrating to improve ones economic position were the worst crime one could be guilty of. And this position is taken by the very people, whose ancestors conquered north America, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand – countries founded by economic immigrants and perpetrators of genocide.
Not being content with barring the entry of large numbers of refugees, imperialism incites the working class against those who manage somehow to get through the net, putting it out that the refugees deprive local workers of their jobs. As we have shown over many years, and also in this issue elsewhere (see the article on Longbridge), immigration or no immigration, it is capitalism which is the cause of unemployment and misery for the working class not foreign workers. The export of capital is characteristic of imperialism. Capital, and therefore jobs, are being exported, which no draconian immigration laws can stop.
This being the case, it is in the interest of workers to show solidarity with each other, to unite in their common fight against capitalism, and fight for the social emancipation of the working class. This is why the working class and its class-conscious representatives should oppose this the latest in a long line of anti-working class and divisive immigration legislation.