By George Banks
RISHI SUNAK’S government has been whipped up a ‘small boats crisis’ to push through its Illegal Migration Bill, sparking protests in London, Glasgow, and other cities. By throwing red meat to the Tory backbenches, Sunak is trying to dampen down the Tories’ ferocious infighting over tax rises and the European Union. The transparent divide and rule tactic is also aimed at whipping up racism to restore Tory electoral fortunes.
The bill has now passed its second reading. If enacted, it will place a legal duty on the government to detain and deport nearly all those who arrive ‘irregularly’, such as via small boats in the Channel or in lorries. The bill also cuts asylum seekers’ right to seek a judicial review against Home Office decisions—these have repeatedly obstructed Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s Rwanda deportation plan.
Last month she visited Rwanda, claiming it is a safe, democratic place to send refugees to, fawning over its autocratic president Paul Kigame who has ruled the country since 1994.
Human Rights Watch says Kigame’s regime ‘regularly fails to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace and fair trial standards are routinely flouted. Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of children, sex workers, and petty vendors occurs widely.’
Recent scandals have exposed the nature of Britain’s asylum system, where the only thing ‘bogus’ is refugee rights. The Manston processing centre, plagued by reports of guards assaulting inmates, detains lone children as young as 14 and houses thousands of refugees in tents, causing outbreaks of diphtheria and gastroenteritis. Hundreds of vulnerable young people have been abducted from Home Office hotels.
Braverman’s Bill also includes an annual cap on the number of refugees the UK will offer sanctuary, to be introduced only ‘once the boats have been stopped’—essentially an admission that the government will never introduce safe routes to make perilous crossings unnecessary.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has condemned the legislation, saying it ‘would amount to an asylum ban—extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be,’ adding, ‘this would be a clear breach of the refugee convention’.
Braverman told the House of Commons that she was ‘serious about stopping the invasion’ of migrants. Gary Lineker was right; this language is reminiscent of the language used by antisemites during the first half of the 20th century.
Let’s look at this unlikely ‘invasion’. Although 2022 was a record year for small boat crossings, it still only consisted of only 45,755 migrants—or 0.06% of the UK population— crossing the Channel. At this rate it would take 2,222 years for the 100 million refugees that Braverman claims are on their way to arrive!
The real ‘crisis’ is in the countries from which they are fleeing climate change, famine and war. The second highest number of boat refugees come from Afghanistan, which Britain occupied for 20 years and left in disaster.
Braverman has admitted in a letter to Tory MPs and Lords that there is a more than 50% chance the Bill would be struck down by the courts because it breaches the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Rabid Tory Brexiteers are using the opportunity to argue for Britain to withdraw from the convention (which is nothing to do with the EU).
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper sought to appeal to anti-immigrant feelings, arguing the small boats crossing were ‘undermining our border security’, and that her only reason for not supporting the bill was that ‘it won’t do the things the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary has promised’!
Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said ‘The asylum system is broken and the Tories broke it: more small boat crossings than ever; claims unprocessed for years; the taxpayer paying for hotels & criminal gangs coining it. We need an asylum policy that is firm, fair and fast, not this latest Tory bill which solves nothing.’
You won’t hear a word from Keir Starmer’s Labour Party about the rights of refugees, let alone a campaign against their appalling conditions or the Tories’ plans to hold migrants on ferries and in army barracks. These new Blairites cynically seek to shore up their votes by triangulating towards the Tories and accepting anti-migrant racism as the norm.
The Tories’ Bill, the mass media’s hysterical claims and Labour’s capitulation that there’s a ‘migration crisis’ have combined to produce fertile ground for the racists and fascists.
Recent weeks have seen significant anti-refugee protests organised by the fascist Patriotic Alternative. Socialists and class-conscious workers must defend refugees from the threat of racist violence and organise against the government’s inhuman deportation policy.
A solidarity campaign in the unions and Labour, calling for mass protests and street defence networks, such as those that blocked recent immigration raids in South London and Glasgow, is a priority. We need to wage a determined struggle to kill this vicious Bill and make all migrants welcome here.