On immigration, labour offer only more efficient cruelty

Like many, I’ve looked on in horror over the past few days at the Conservatives’ latest attempt to distract and divide the British people by targeting refugees with their racist Illegal Migration Bill.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday behind a lectern adorned with the words ‘Stop the boats’, Rishi Sunak explained that this new bill would not only mean that those found to have entered the country ‘illegally’ would be removed within 28 days, but would also be blocked from returning or claiming British citizenship in the future.

It’s important to say at this point that here is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, and it is not illegal to enter the UK to claim asylum. Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country.

The UN Refugee Convention also recognises people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means to escape and claim asylum in another country, and they cannot be penalised for doing so.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who said she dreams of sending refugees to Rwanda, admitted that she was unable to state that the provisions of this bill are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

It says a lot about this government that they want to make life even harder for the most vulnerable people and are willing to break international law to do it.

BBC presenter Gary Lineker was chastised yesterday for saying what we all know to be true: the Conservatives are evoking the dark days of 1930s Germany with their inflammatory rhetoric. But the problem isn’t limited to rhetoric; the substance of Tory policy is also deeply troubling.

Whether it’s the Public Order Bill, which would effectively criminalise our right to protest, the Minimum Service Levels Bill, which will reduce the bargaining power of trade unions, or the attempts to erase the trans and non-binary community by blocking the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland, the Tories have declared war on human rights and democracy.

People across the country are crying out for an opposition party to challenge the Tories head on. But the Labour Party are failing in their duty to offer a political alternative. Instead of taking a stand against the Tories’ racist war on refugees, they’re joining them.

Want to know what the main difference would be between a Labour government and a Tory government on immigration? The cruelty would be more efficient.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party Leader, said he would support GPS tagging of asylum seekers, which a coalition of charities said would amount to ‘psychological torture’. Remember, this guy is meant to be a human rights lawyer.

He remained silent as Patriotic Alternative, a neo-Nazi group, inflamed local tensions in Knowsley, Merseyside towards asylum seekers taking up residence in a local hotel. The protest descended into violence as protestors set fire to a police van and fifteen people were arrested.

Similar protests are now happening across the country.

By not denouncing this far-right activity, in the hope that they can appeal to a distorted and offensive caricature of ‘red wall’ voters, Labour are complicit.

Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, said the low levels of deportation were a ‘problem’ and she urged Braverman to speed up deportations.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper confirmed this morning that Labour would not scrap the Nationality and Borders Act, which criminalises those arriving by small boats, putting Labour on a collision course with the UN Refugee Convention.

The Shadow Minister for Immigration, Stephen Kinnock, posted a graphic on social media which further inflamed the rhetoric by saying the Tories had ‘failed on small boat crossings’, featuring headlines on the high cost of asylum seekers staying in hotels and the amount of people that has crossed the English Channel.

This is nothing new from Labour. Apart from a brief period from 2015-19, the Labour Party have always been right-wing on immigration.

During the New Labour years there was a whole host of anti-refugee bills pushed through by Home Secretaries under Tony Blair, who himself set a target to cut the number of people applying for refugee status in Britain by 50%.

Whether it was Jacqui Smith, who banned unskilled immigrants from outside the EU with a points-based Australian-style immigration system, Jack Straw, who stripped refugees of benefits and made them use vouchers to buy food, Ruth Kelly, who told councils to stop translating things into other languages to make life more difficult for immigrants who didn’t speak English, ‘as an incentive’, or John Reid, who whipped up anger against ‘foreigners who come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits’ .

And we can’t forget the worst of the bunch, David Blunkett, a current Labour Party advisor, who introduced a series of right-wing laws as Home Secretary, from banning asylum seekers from working while their claims were being assessed, to trying to force failed asylum seekers to do unwaged work in exchange for ‘basic subsistence’ or banning their children from attending state schools. He brought a bill to cut benefits for asylum seekers and then take their children away into care once they become destitute and even wanted to send all asylum seekers to offshore processing centres outside Europe (sound familiar?).

In 2007, Margaret Hodge, who is still a Labour MP, called for British-born families to take priority of immigrants in the queue for council homes, with her policy receiving backing from no other than the British National Party (BNP).

And who can forget the infamous ‘Controls on immigration’ mugs that Labour MPs posed with as something to celebrate under the leadership of Ed Miliband?

The list goes on and on and on.

Compassion is totally absent from the discussion on both sides, with the main differences in policy being over the efficiency of the cruelty being inflicted upon people that are fleeing war and persecution.

It is a commonly-repeated myth that asylum seekers must claim protection in the first safe country they reach – but it is simply untrue. Under the Refugee Convention, we each have the right to claim asylum in any country that is a signatory, and to get a fair hearing from that country.

Of those who crossed by small boat in 2022, at least 60% would be allowed to stay in the UK if their asylum claims were processed.

Many have ties to the country. They may have served with our military, have family members who live here, or speak the language. And they are needlessly having to risk their lives to come here.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. We saw with the Government’s response to the war in Ukraine and the people displaced from there that they we are capable of supporting refugees. But it seems that unless you are white, there are no safe routes open for asylum seekers to reach the UK.

The answer to this issue is simple: create safe and conventional routes for all asylum seekers, provide them with the support they need, allow them to work or go to school while their claims are being processed, and process their claims quickly so they can start rebuilding their lives.

This isn’t radical, it’s common sense: refugees should be welcome here.

We need a real opposition to the politics of racism and xenophobia. Here are our ten immigration policies, written by our members, based on justice and solidarity.