Between Brexit, the immigration policies of an ultra-conservative and nationalist government, the pandemic, fascist groups and hate crimes, immigrants and refugees are being pushed to the fringes of British society.
Being one of the countries with the largest number of immigrants in the world, and thus essentially diverse and multi-ethnic, does not mean that multiculturalism is welcome throughout British society.
There are different factors that have brought this about. For example, the political use of immigration as an electoral weapon, the economic crisis and its aftermath of recession and unemployment, the offensive against the welfare state, institutionalised racism and myths about migration. In addition, the government, mainly in the last decade, has promoted not only policies but also anti-immigrant feelings, subtly but decisively.
All this has created what Theresa May called a hostile environment for immigrants. The figures and facts are evidence of prejudice, racism and discrimination. For example, in England & Wales since 1990 there have been 1,741 deaths in custody or following contact with the police. Black people make up 3% of the population, but 8% of these deaths. This excludes deaths in prison and immigration detention centres.
Black and Asian people are far more likely to be stopped by police, arrested, and remanded in custody while on trial; they receive longer sentences on average and are more frequently detained under the Mental Health Act.
Overall, ethnic minorities account for 14% of the population of England and Wales but 27% of its prisoners. This excludes the thousands locked up indefinitely without charge in Britain’s immigration prisons – where abuse from guards is rife.
This ‘hostile environment’ policy has encouraged racism and harassed people living legally in the UK.
Britain’s racialised minorities have lower average wages, and work disproportionately in low paid and insecure jobs.
They have higher rates of homelessness and overcrowded housing, higher rates of long-term illness and disability. This mix contributed to black people being four times more likely than white people to die from Covid-19.
In an in-depth interview, Samantha McGill, a supporter of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! on Tyneside and who will chair the virtual meeting “Freedom for immigrants – Justice for refugees – Fight the racist bill!” on 22 April, spoke to The Prisma about some aspects of the situation of immigrants in the UK.
The intimidating environment
Britain’s immigration system is blatantly racist.
British imperialism crafts a dual narrative of ‘good refugees’ and ‘bad economic migrants’ whilst obstructing entry to both.
The ever expanding hostile environment criminalises more and more migrants, for everything from working to renting a house.
As Tom Vickers, author of “Borders, migration and class in an age of crisis”, and one of the speakers at the meeting “Freedom for immigrants-Justice for refugees” explains: “Britain’s Sovereign Borders Bill and the proposed detention centre at Hassockfield continue a long history of state racism, and of resistance against it. Britain’s racist immigration controls are rooted in Britain’s imperialist role in the world, normalising the poverty and underdevelopment that result from imperialist plunder and creating conditions for more intense exploitation of migrants’ labour. As capitalism moves deeper into crisis and Britain’s international position declines, the racism of Britain’s borders is becoming particularly vicious – it must be exposed and resisted”.
Cheap labour and exploitation
In modern times, British capitalism has welcomed settlers because of the need for cheap labour, like the Caribbean and South Asian immigrants of the 1960s or the 500,000+ migrants from Eastern Europe who came to Britain for work in the last fifteen years, often at or below the minimum wage, in temporary jobs with no holiday or sick pay.
Overseas labour has long been the backbone of the NHS where 50% of workers are migrants.
Even when well paid, such workers are cheap as Britain hasn’t had to invest in their education or training. They form an international reserve army of labour, who can be brought in to work for low pay during economic boom times and kicked out when capitalism goes into crisis.
Immigration controls have forced many migrants in Britain into extremely exploitative conditions.
Recent immigration laws further restrict legal access to housing, healthcare, and other areas of everyday life.
They isolate migrants from other workers and strip them of their rights at a time when wages, welfare payments and services are being cut for everybody except the rich.
Successive Labour and Tory governments have introduced punishing Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Acts.
These laws are institutionalised racism, designed to refuse and deport people seeking asylum from wars fuelled by British plunder. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, teachers and health workers are encouraged to spy and report on pupils and patients. Dawn raids, detentions and deportations tear families apart and cost hundreds of millions of pounds. This is the reality of the hostile environment.
The Sovereign borders bill
The full text of the sovereign borders bill is still in its ‘consultation’ stage but Priti Patel has indicated it will entail a massive re-haul of the immigration system and has outlined some of the proposals the Home Office want to push through parliament.
These include discriminating against the claims of those seeking asylum based on their route into the country, regularly reviewing leave to remain so that refugees are constantly under threat of deportation and using offshore British territories as immigration prisons.
What does sovereignty even mean for Britain? it is not defending itself from any attack, Britain has never respected the sovereignty of any nation – how is that gold and coltan from Congo, oil from Nigeria and cheap clothes from Bangladesh can all travel freely to Britain?
How is it that the profits from destructive mining in Colombia and Sierra Leone, palm oil from Indonesia or the arms trade with Israel and Saudi Arabia can all flow freely into the British banking system, but the people displaced, bombed and exploited by these industries are denied entry, deported back to war zones or whatever supposedly “safe” country they pass through, denied safe passage, left to drown in the Mediterranean and Channel, locked in the ever expanding immigration detention network?
Profits at the expense of migrants
In 2014 Britain’s external assets totalled nearly £10,172 billion, five and half times the size of Britain’s domestic economy.
Returns from Foreign Direct Investment were 9% from investments in Africa and 13% from investments in Asia.
Between 1997 and 2016 the total international debt of low and middle-income countries grew by 251%, from $1,962bn to $6,877bn, despite these countries repaying $9,861bn over the same period.
Today an estimated net £40 billion is being extracted from Africa every year, with Britain and British multinationals playing a leading role.
This is super-exploitation, a parasitic relationship between Britain and oppressed countries. Without it, British capitalism could not survive.
“We reject the false dichotomy of legal and so called ‘illegal’ migrants and completely oppose, not just the proposals to be detailed in the Sovereign Borders Bill, but the existing immigration legislation. As communists in the oldest imperialist country in the world, we stand in solidarity with migrant struggles and oppose all of Britain’s racist immigration laws.”
Racism and far right organising
The Tory government and the media play the patriot game to direct local anger at migrants.
We know the real reason people struggle to find decent housing is because council housing stock has been systematically reduced by successive governments to open up housing as a source of profit.
Difficulties many working class people encounter accessing healthcare and other vital services are the result of cuts and privatisation. The Labour Party’s call for ‘British jobs for British workers’ and subsequent nationalist narratives backing Brexit and the Johnson government have spurred on racist groups.
These are the bullies on the street enforcing Britain’s right to send armed forces around the world. These are the thugs who are allowed to attack black and Asian communities and those organising against racism. They feed off the racist bile spewing from the main capitalist parties.
British state racism is inseparable from Britain’s imperialist wars and plunder throughout the world. It is inseparable from the austerity measures criminalising the sick, disabled and unemployed. As Malcolm X famously put it: you can’t have capitalism without racism.
“Freedom for immigrants, justice for refugees”
This slogan stands against the whole racist immigration system in Britain. It reflects that migrants are not ‘free’ in Britain.
There are a plethora of laws that mean people are required to prove their immigration status before being granted access to healthcare, the right to rent a house or drive a car, the right to open an bank account, work or claim benefits.
This has been termed ‘everyday bordering’ where border controls are brought into more and more of civil society, with everyone from GP receptionists to bank clerks being effectively turned into border guards.
This can only operate through racial stereotyping, where white people with British sounding names often do not get questioned on their entitlement to any service, but where people of colour are regularly asked to prove their immigration status.
Justice for refugees reflects the deep injustices faced by those seeking refuge in Britain. Britain is involved in creating the situations that many refugees are migrating from. Then refugees face the injustice of the racist asylum system, placed in unfit camps such as Napier barracks, split up from their families, denied the right to work, denied ‘recourse to public funds’, placed in hostels, detained, spending years waiting in limbo as they navigate through the labyrinthine asylum system.