Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The latest Immigration and Asylum Bill is the fifth piece of such legislation in the last 11 years. Each has been more repressive than the last, with the latest including measures such as electronic tagging and the removal of children from failed asylum seeker parents if the latter refuse to return to their countries of origin. It is disheartening that the left’s response to the government’s plans has been so muted. If ever there was a repressed and marginalised minority asylum seekers are it. They are the bottom of the pile. In the most basic terms asylum seekers, especially failed ones, are the poorest people in society.
We have allowed the government, particularly home secretary David Blunkett (though we can’t be sure how much Tony Blair is backing him on this issue), to make the running in terms of policy on immigration and asylum seekers – not only in the UK, but in Europe as well. There has been a good deal of protest from the liberal press, pressure groups and the left that has secured some successes, the most notable being the withdrawal of the food-vouchers scheme. But nobody seems to be making much effort to formulate a realistic alternative that might unite this opposition and mobilise the mass of the people against government asylum policy.
The truth is that many of us working with refugee organisations are so immersed in the desperate daily problems facing asylum seekers that we have had little time to stand back and work on a comprehensive alternative. Any such programme must involve countering the demonisation of asylum seekers in the media. This demonisation conflicts directly with the government’s stated aim of community cohesion. Red Pepper wants to use its pages to stimulate an urgent debate to produce such a programme. First we need to be clear about what we are up against.
The main thrust of government policy is to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK. This is to be achieved by making it very difficult for people to get into the country and by making the period in which people must wait for decisions on asylum applications as unpleasant as possible. Superficially, the policy seems to have worked. The number of people claiming asylum has halved over the past six months.
The likelihood is, however, that just as many people are entering the country as before but that 50 per cent of them are not bothering to claim asylum. There is only anecdotal evidence of this, but if it is the case then the government may have simply compounded the burden on refugee communities supporting relatives and friends, and increased the numbers of super-exploited workers paid below the minimum wage.
On the Continent the focus is on border controls in the EU’s perimeter countries. EU member states have agreed to share information so as to prevent people from claiming asylum in more than one EU country, and to allow the UK to return asylum seekers to other European countries that they may have passed through previously. Discussions are continuing about harmonising – effectively to the lowest level – support for asylum seekers.
The stated aims of the British government are four-fold: asylum seekers should spend the minimum time in the UK before a decision is made about their claims; assistance should be at a sub-Income Support level, and asylum seekers should have a minimum level of rights compared with UK citizens; asylum seekers should be closely tracked and monitored while in the UK; and failed applicants should leave the country immediately following a negative decision.
The UK’s already biased and unfair process of making decisions on asylum applications has been made much worse. There is now radically reduced access to competent legal services. Financial and material support has been reduced to the extent that people cannot always afford food. The final brutality is that the government has removed access to support for people facing deportation; the idea is to force failed asylum seekers to return home ‘voluntarily’. These measures have reinforced the media frenzy against asylum seekers that has fuelled the kind of fears and xenophobia that drive people towards the BNP. Polls show that over 30 per cent of the British public believes the issue of asylum seekers is their number-one concern.
What alternative policies are currently under debate? The mainstream liberal line is that we just need to make existing agreements work properly: there is nothing wrong with the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, the problem is to do with the way the convention is exercised; there should be a fair immigration system, in which people’s claims are carefully but quickly considered and they are given permission to stay in the UK or are returned to their countries of origin; while they remain in the UK, asylum seekers should be supported decently by the state.
This view is based on the suspect belief that it is right to distinguish those who have been persecuted from migrants who may be moving because they have no possibilities of earning a living, they have been displaced or they have suffered in any number of other ways. But suffering feels much the same whether it is caused by a repressive regime or grinding poverty.
More recently the mainstream line has embraced the concept of managed migration. This acknowledges the highly problematic relationship between developed and developing nations. It legitimises the present situation of effectively setting quotas by which the state decides how many new economic and other migrants it is prepared to let into the country. However, it is entirely unclear on what basis decisions are made about quotas. And the principle of managed migration is based on the questionable assumption that the UK is really able to control its borders.
The radical alternative, and the one that many of us feel in our hearts is the right one, is the idea of ‘no borders’: people should be free to go wherever they please. The nation state is a recently created and dangerous racist fallacy that should be opposed. This solution takes the moral high ground, but to make it a feasible policy we need to go on to debate the steps that must be taken to get there. It is essential that asylum seekers themselves should participate in that debate.
Any such debate must:
-# put the latest wave of migration into its proper historical context by highlighting the importance of immigration to the cultural and economic history of the UK;
-# address the reasons why people migrate, including the relationships between developed and developing countries;
-# take place within the context of a wider European debate about immigration;
-# address the issue of forcible return; this is the most difficult issue for many of us, but if there are to be any kinds of control then it needs to be discussed;
-# recognise the level of public concern about immigration, not just dismiss people because we don’t like what they are saying;
-# address the impact of migration on employment rights, particularly with regard to enforcement of the minimum wage and exploitation of illegal workers;
-# deal with the issue of numbers, both to dispel myths and to address real issues including sustainability and regional distribution;
-# address the impact of migration on local services, including health, housing and education; and
-# promote active integration; the state has a responsibility to enable and hasten integration, and must address related issues of citizenship and community cohesion.
This would not be an easy debate. But we have to provide an alternative to government policy, or we will fail the migrants that we want to welcome to the UK. We need to be leading the debate for realisable alternative policies, not just responding to the next wave of repressive legislation. Many asylum seekers still see the UK as a tolerant, multi-racial beacon of democracy. This is something to be proud of but which we are in danger of losing.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite