By Ivan Bonsall, Socialist Alternative Brighton
Not a week goes by without another Tory politician competing to appear the most outspoken in their opposition to refugees entering the UK in ‘small boats’. Whether it’s Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, talking about “swathes of illegal immigrants, pouring into Europe” or ex-Labour councillor, now Tory MP, Lee Anderson, saying that refugees unhappy with appalling, dangerous accommodation can “fuck off back to France”; the volume of anti-migrant voices is amplified to new levels
The number of people making the dangerous journey across the English Channel to reach Britain, or across the Mediterranean to reach mainland Europe, is a sign of the instability of global capitalism. Wars, poverty, climate change, persecution, or often a combination of factors, are driving people to make the desperate decision to leave family and dependents in search of a better life.
Refugees seeking asylum in the UK are often drawn by language and family connections. In part, a legacy of the imperialist conquest of British capitalism, but also a result of centuries of movement of peoples across the planet, often because this oiled the wheels of profit for the few and exploitation for the many.
Capitalism throws migrants under the bus
British capitalism has always tried to look both ways on the question of immigration. After the Second World War, people from across the rapidly crumbling British Empire were encouraged to come here, filling the job vacancies in transport, hospitals and manufacturing as the post-war economy boomed. The Windrush scandal demonstrated the contempt the UK establishment had for those who made that journey and their dependents.
In recent years, large parts of the economy and public services have relied on workers born in different parts of the world. After decades of movement, many urban areas are genuinely multi-cultural. Young people today are surrounded by different cultures and traditions, reflected in art, music, literature, etc.
The anti-migrant rhetoric from sections of the British ruling class represents the other side. Capital always wants to be able to rely on division between working people when it suits. Much of this division is based on fostering a fear of eroding ‘British values’, or being ‘swamped’ by unfamiliar cultures and languages. Without a careful explanation, what can gain traction amongst some settled British workers is that migrants are taking ‘our jobs, our housing, or our services’.
The hypocrisy of this government is off the scale if they think that they can persuade us that desperate refugees are somehow responsible for decades of cuts and privatisation of public services, or for the failure of the parties of big business to provide decent housing and jobs for all.
The reality is that services have been run down or flogged off systematically to the point where only the very rich can be sure that they can access medical and dental services or housing. The rest of us must join the queue, and the simplified argument is that the queue would be smaller if we keep the immigrants out. The country is ‘already full’.
“The enemy doesn’t arrive by boat, he arrives by limousine”
Of course, it’s only small boats that seem to be a problem in the eyes of Sunak and co. The rich can fly in or out on their private jets, or cruise in on their yachts whenever they like. There are no restrictions on the movement of the super-rich if we’re relying on their wealth to dictate our lives.
Destitute asylum seekers, having faced wars or climate disasters, often the death of loved ones, have no such welcome, except the humanity and solidarity of working people helping them from boats, providing food, warmth, and shelter, and campaigning for better conditions while they wait for their claims to be heard. Asylum seekers are banned from legally working, forcing all into poverty and the most desperate into working illegally.
When tiny groups of racist bigots have tried to attack asylum seekers, in Knowsley or Llanelli, trying to whip up resentment from local people with the tired old arguments of crimes, jobs, houses, and hospital waiting lists, trade unionists and local campaigns have been there to combat them. Asylum seekers themselves have protested against the poor quality of their accommodation, and the Fire Brigades Union exposed Braverman’s plan to house asylum seekers on a giant barge as a “potential deathtrap” with serious fire and safety concerns, just before the discovery of deadly Legionella bacteria.
Socialists recognise that thousands of people crossing dangerous water (or land) to claim asylum is a major problem. It’s a desperate tragedy that people are put in such a hopeless situation that they feel the need to risk their lives in the hope of a better one. We demand a proper system which allows those seeking asylum to have their claims heard, impartially, without the need to risk their lives first.
The backlog of cases is, in itself, an indication of the crumbling state of Britain’s public services. The country is apparently ‘full’ and yet there’s a desperate need for work to be done to make the country a better place. How about building some social housing, or filling vacancies in schools and hospitals?
No solution under this system
The reality is that nobody chooses to become an asylum seeker. It is the economic system that is fundamental to the problems which force people to move.
Capitalist politicians have no solutions to this. All they can do is come up with limited measures, which are unlikely to reduce the numbers, while at the same time appearing to be tough on refugees. Starmer’s big plan is to be tough on people traffickers, or at least pose as being tough. It won’t stop people being desperate, any more than crackpot schemes to send them to Rwanda.
Working people want real solutions that make their lives better. Investing in jobs and homes by redirecting the wealth of the super-rich, would be a start. Detention centres should all be closed, and asylum seekers should not be treated as criminals.
Over a million homes sit empty in Britain – many hoarded as second homes or held by offshore companies exploiting Britain’s housing crisis for speculation. If these were taken out of the hands of the rich, democratic planning would make it possible to rehouse all asylum seekers, and all other people trapped in homelessness and subpar accommodation, near their families. The right to work and join trade unions should be extended to all, together with a £15 minimum wage.
Socialist Alternative argues for maximum unity of working people already in Britain with those settling here. We’re part of an international organisation campaigning for a socialist alternative across the planet. Only a socialist solution, where wealth production is collectively owned and democratically controlled, can guarantee that future generations will be able to travel and live where they want to without being forced to move due to war, persecution, or poverty