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No Pasaran Youth against Racism in Europe magazine: Issue 11, Summer 2003
Answering the myths
The biggest issue that the British National Party exploited in the May elections was asylum. Asylum seekers and refugees are often blamed for housing shortages and a lack of local services. The root of these problems is the pro-big business policies carried out first by the Tories and now by New Labour.
But New Labour, rather than changing their unpopular policies, are determined to scapegoat asylum seekers. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has regularly made verbal attacks against asylum seekers - like his comments in April 2002 about asylum seeker children 'swamping' schools.
Attacks on asylum rights carried out by the New Labour government have also reinforced prejudices against asylum seekers. For example, at the beginning of this year the government scrapped benefits for most people who apply for asylum after they've entered Britain (around two-thirds of all asylum seekers).
This has left many asylum seekers destitute, and may still be ruled illegal by the courts in Britain. It also encourages people to think that the meagre benefits asylum seekers receive in Britain are a major reason why they claim asylum in Britain, rather than any other country.
Lies by politicians
The government likes to pretend that policies like scrapping benefits for many asylum seekers are the reason why asylum applications have dropped over the last few months. But, as research commissioned by the Home Office has reported, most asylum seekers don't even know what benefits exist in Britain when they make their decision to come here (see box: Understanding the decisions of asylum seekers).
In fact, one of the reasons for the drop in asylum applications recently is that the government cynically slapped a visa restriction onto people visiting Britain from Zimbabwe (see box on Zimbabwe).
However, the lie that asylum seekers come to Britain in order to claim benefits is a convenient one for New Labour. They would much rather people believe that, than have an honest discussion about the real reasons people are forced to flee their home countries.
Or about the role of the British government in supporting and arming dictatorships and repressive regimes around the world. This is because the government know that enormous sympathy still exists in Britain for people fleeing persecution and torture.
Prejudice and tension leads to violence
The long-term problems of poverty and neglect were undoubtedly the main causes of the riots in Wrexham at the end of June, but the immediate trigger for them was tension between Iraqi refugees (whose right to asylum had been recognised by the British government) who had moved into the area recently and local residents.
The Wrexham riots were made possible by the climate of prejudice against asylum seekers that New Labour, as well as the media and the far right, have encouraged. The level of physical attacks against asylum seekers has been rising, and several asylum seekers have been killed in racist attacks over the last year or more.
Can we trust the government's statistics?
New Labour have come under criticism for 'massaging' the asylum statistics to make themselves look better. There is some truth in this accusation: in Blair's pledge to reduce asylum applications by half he deliberately picked the month with the highest asylum applications as the figure that had to be halved.
This was October 2002, where 8,900 applications were received. When Blair made the pledge, in February, the level of asylum applications had already been going down for several months.
This kind of sleight of hand is a feature of New Labour that people are growing increasingly cynical towards. We have seen it before: in NHS waiting lists and other statistics that are meant to make the government look good while hiding the real situation.
New Labourís dangerous game
But New Labour are playing a dangerous game. The more cynically they twist statistics to make themselves look good, the less they will be believed. The government's combination of attacks on asylum rights and the scapegoating of asylum-seekers for the rundown in public services that their Tory policies have caused, are feeding hostility towards asylum seekers just as much as the right-wing press.
This feature aims to puncture some of the common myths about asylum seekers and arm you with some of the arguments you will need to counter the prejudice against asylum seekers spread by New Labour and the media and exploited by the BNP.
None of the arguments against asylum seekers spread by the BNP or by the media will help save public services in Britain or solve the housing crisis. Instead, the prejudice and division that these ideas create make it much harder for local communities to unite together and fight for the services and facilities that they need.
The YRE fights for jobs, homes and services for all. We campaign to unite local communities, against the division and hatred that the big business system we live under - capitalism - creates.
Defend the right to asylum
We fight to defend asylum rights, against attacks both from the government and from the media, supporting refugees' right to asylum and support in rebuilding their lives. And we also fight against corruption, repression and war internationally, giving solidarity to movements against war, poverty and dictatorship.
The only way that the asylum crisis will ever be solved is by putting an end to the wars, repression and exploitation that force people to leave their homes. YRE fights for an end to the injustice of capitalism; for world run democratically for need not profit.
The Home Office report on asylum statistics for the first quarter of this year says that one of the reasons the proportion of initial decisions granting asylum fell from 11 percent to 7 percent was because 'fewer decisions [were] made on Zimbabwean cases'.
The biggest single drop in asylum applications - 61 percent - has been from Zimbabweans (comparing the first quarter of 2003 with the last quarter of 2002). This is not because the human rights situation has improved in Zimbabwe. It is because the British government imposed visa restrictions on travel from Zimbabwe to Britain in November last year, making it even more difficult for Zimbabweans under threat from the regime there to seek asylum in Britain.
This visa restriction was imposed a month after Amnesty International made the following serious criticisms of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe: Ďa pattern of gross and systematic violations of fundamental human rights . . . Amnesty International continues to receive information indicating a pattern of arbitrary arrests, torture and intimidation, condoned or facilitated by the state.
ĎAmnesty International is particularly concerned about the continuing violence in the aftermath of the elections held on 9, 10 and 11 March 2002, especially following the departure of international election observers. The organization has received reports of attacks and abductions by militia groups against perceived supporters of the opposition in the first few weeks after the election.í This makes it clear that New Labour's so-called commitment to allow 'genuine' refugees the rights to asylum is so much hypocrisy.