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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Asylum: Pandering to racists?
One of the UK's leading trade unionists, Bill Morris, has strongly criticised the Labour government over its policies on immigration.
Mr Morris, a staunch Labour supporter, accused the government of giving "life to the racists" by heralding measure after measure to stop people entering Britain. He said ministers were fostering a "climate of fear and loathing" on asylum and immigration issues.
The government rejected the charges and said that promoting race equality was a key priority.
So who is right? Has the asylum issue been handled sensitively by the government, and indeed by other parties? Are the government's policies the right ones? And is the situation in Britain is different from that in the rest of Europe?
Although I have no figures to prove it, I truly believe that the majority of asylum seekers are not bogus. It's just the problem like you have in school when someone in a classroom steals the teacher's apple and when asked to own up, no one does. As a result, the whole class gets detention, all because of this one person. By refusing to take asylum seekers, it will only do more harm to people than good.
Vinod Dawda, UK
There is a difference between welcoming asylum seekers (good) and being targeted by criminals and scroungers (bad).
As with many things the wicked minority causes the hard-pressed majority to suffer (again). The balance has swung too far in favour of premeditated criminals - the pendulum is simply correcting itself. Better a minor correction now - than a real backlash later.
There is poverty in Britain; there is homelessness in Britain; There are aged people in Britain; there are unemployed and there are sick people in Britain. When I pay taxes I want those people to see the benefits. Only once we have created the perfect place can we afford to allow yet further people into this country. At the moment there is no room left and if there was then we wouldn't be having this discussion.
Britain is obviously regarded as a 'soft touch' yet we simply cannot afford neither economically nor geographically asylum seekers in such numbers as seventy thousand a year. Some of the comments in this section particularly from Americans calling us the most prejudiced are rather rich considering they 'invented' ethnic cleansing in the nineteenth century with their policy towards the native Indians.
Once processed don't give them money, give them a bit of self esteem, a job, schooling for their children and like American citizens ensure that they have a basic understanding of English before you allow them to stay in this country for ever. We should be like Australia and not allow them to live off the state. But don't stop them coming here, a lot of the immigrants are better workers than our own citizens.
Angela Severn-Morrell, England
Let us not forget that most of these people who are claiming asylum are running away from being tortured by devices built in the UK or the US. Lets also not forget that the reason why these countries are so poor is that they were looted during colonial times of all their natural resources.
Bill Smithers, UK
Why whenever questions of race and immigration arise do those people like Bill Morris just talk about the language being used. This is a complete red herring and reveals that they do not actually have a coherent argument. Would they let in the entire populations of Afghanistan or Somalia? Clearly this is unfeasible but instead of discussing the issue rationally they resort to quibbles over semantics and cry 'racist'. It is not a substitute for a real debate.
I am in total agreement with Cord of the USA. The British seem to forget that this country would be NOTHING if it were not for the many different nations that have helped the country over the years, both economically, and as allies during war time. Unfortunately though, the majority of people seem to think that it was just Britain and the USA that saved Europe, but the facts tell us that it was the other way round. Come on you intolerant's, how would you like it if the shoe were on the other foot?
If people want to go to a different country for a better life, then I wish them well. BUT, they should live within the laws of that country and be a productive member.
Paul Hargreaves, UK student in US
People have the right to decide how their tax money should be used. If they want it used for those of all races who are citizens and legal residents of the UK, then I don't think that is unfair. It isn't racism, it is a recognition that the number of people who want to be supported vastly exceeds the resources available to support them.
The Brits are the most prejudiced group in Europe, I am only
surprised that their true colour doesn't rise more often.
The biggest problem with the UK is that it is scared to take the bulls by the horns. Talking about those who abuse the system is not racist. All that William Hague has said is that measures must be taken to fight those abuses. There is no mention of race or religion in his comments. He must be congratulated for being the first politician to voice the concerns and opinions of the very silent majority on this issue.
Shame on us. I'm sick to death of our hypocrisy - here we are, leading a life our great-grandparents could only dream of, condemning people with little means of achieving such standards of comfort.
Let's give these people some dignity rather then treating them like farm animals. These people are coming to this country for a reason, which is to find a better life.
James Mockoski, USA
The government took over 10K in taxes
from me last year.
I don't begrudge them that if it means
that a pensioner gets that hip replacement
or an unemployed father of three gets the time he needs
to get himself back on his feet and working again.
Removing the emotion from the argument, the issue at stake is that the sheer number of bogus asylum seekers (or "economic migrants" to use today's language) is making it impossible to deal speedily with those in genuine need. We need to do whatever is necessary to ensure that those in need can easily gain asylum here, and that those seeking to abuse the system are speedily removed or dissuaded from travelling here. Once that is addressed, the cost of bogus applicants on the taxpayer will no longer be an issue.
David de Vere Webb, UK
It makes me angry to hear both politicians and the press talking about all asylum seekers as if they are all false. Also the people of this country seem to think that we owe nothing to any of these people.
It's not racist to speak out about immigrants, the media have twisted the word racist to include anyone concerned about immigration. That means my comments are racist. You can't blame people for wanting to find a better quality life, but why should it by at our expense?
Andy MacDonald, UK
With this world of open information flow, technology etc etc, people today are more ignorant and short-sighted than ever before!
It is ridiculous to say that race plays no part in the handling of these and
similar cases. As an illustration compare
the handling of the issue of Hong Kong
Chinese entitled to "British" passports
to that of people from South Africa or
I've no trouble with people coming here to visit, work, or seek asylum from a genuine political/war-related problem back home. However, the problem I have is when they get preferential treatment to British passport holders in terms of benefits and services. Equality should be equality - if you give asylum seekers money, then British people on benefits should receive at least as much.
Without politics and religion there would be no racism, the people of the world get along just fine until they are polarised by politics and religion.
I do believe that this is not a race problem but a culture problem.
I think that immigration must be controlled if any country is going to maintain their original identity.
There is an ethnic minority being persecuted in Zimbabwe right now. Whilst their status was acquired by dubious colonial means several generations ago those people should still be entitled to the protection of the law. They are being denied this by the racist attitudes of that country's government. Comforting to know we are all alike under the skin.
Andrew L., UK
I would like to say that the current issue of 'Asylum seekers' is not one of race or of who qualifies as being English or not. Nor is it a matter of racism on the part of those that live in the UK whether they be of European, African or Asian origin.
The issue is one of basic economic and social practicalities. We live in a small island, one that is home to over 56 million individuals, we can't take all the people who arrive at our shores without compromising our duty and ability to provide for those who
have been born in this country and those who have come here by legitimate immigration.
Andrew Baker, England
The 'silent majority' here are not intentionally racist, nor are they in any hurry to have their way of life changed or influenced by 'poor hard done by refugees'. A warning to politicians is that those who would not normally commit them selves one way or the other in public may well do so in the privacy of the election booth.
Immigration is a major part of human history. Man has been moving from one place to another in search of a economic and political security. For all those who argue against immigration and asylum, remember that at some point in the past your ancestors came to the UK from somewhere else. The process will go on.
Perhaps, we should refer to all new comers as "migrants" or "settlers" or "colonizers" to make them desirable, acceptable, & useful. After all we have sent millions of fellow Europeans to other parts of the world describing them as colonizers. These people, best described as aliens or parasites were never wanted by the native peoples of the Americas, Africa, and Australasia.
I guess the dynamics of European inavsions into the 'new worlds' were a result of a planetary economy, the same reason for refugees today, except that the European invasions were never a choice for the natives! Luckily we natives have choices but we still live in a planetary economy, not on an "island only" economy!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
It is a pity that the Home Office and the Tory front bench choose to scapegoat some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Local authorities should be recompensed through taxing the obscene bonuses paid to top executives (eg. Barclays Bank). The real parasites get off scott free!
Europe cannot continue to absorb such huge numbers of asylumseekers, without facing a total collapse of law and order.
I have no problem with asylum seekers. However, when they get here they should be accommodated within a Military Barracks, fed centrally and have their movements restricted until their case is heard. This would ensure that if their case is not approved, their location is known in they can be returned to their Country of origin.
Racism, Xenophobia and all forms of discrimination are unwelcome but until we build a society that can trust and support one another it has no hope of being able to 'tolerate' those outside its community. This in itself breeds hatred and distrust. The immigration 'problem' is not restrictive to the UK, Germany or France. It is a global issue where incidents over a thousand miles away may impact on countries like Britain. I think the UK is reaping what it sowed in the days of colonisation. Now its paying tenfold and all it can do is look to proportion blame for the economic plight it finds itself without really addressing the global problems that help initiate these situations.
Phill Edwards, uk
As an Englishman by birth, I happen to be white, I can't wait for the day when being English is defined by the country where you were born and not the colour of your skin. The majority of the public want to see asylum seekers treated fairly but not preferentially. By bringing colour into the argument, Bill Morris is playing the race card in reverse. It's a very feeble arguement and will not wash with the majority of sound thinking people.
The allowances for asylum seekers in Britain add up to about 7 or 8 times the average salary here. Even though there is no civil or state security threat, people still claim asylum which is bogus by any definition. Rather than burdening western Europe's economies with a seemingly endless commitment towards a lose-lose scenario, why don't you invest in poor countries, buy what we have to sell, come on holiday, or anything to help the East back to its feet. Simply luring away the poorest workers erodes our ability to produce anything and your ability to buy it.
I am a doctor, and I came to this country to attend university in 1976 from Trinidad and remained here. When I think of how many years of hard work and service I have given to British people of all races whom I happily looked after as patients in the NHS, I used to feel angry about the way that I used to be humiliated at the Home Office immigration centre every year that I queued there for days in the rain and snow, to have my visa renewed. I have always felt that the immigration arrangements in this country are deliberately inefficient, so as to put people off wanting to stay in this country. Well done Bill Morris, you spoke loud and clear for all the decent, hard working, law abiding non-white British people in this country.
James Denning, UK
Let the people of Britain decide on this matter. Only they have the democratic right to do so. How? Get rid of liberal democracy and replace it with universal democracy. This latter would mean that all parts of the government programme (including immigration policy) would be put to the people in a secondary 'policies' election (with alternative policy proposals from the opposition party/ies), after the primary election of those who are elected to be the executive. Such a DEMOCRATIC solution would, at a stroke, resolve all of the current debate.
I don't think anyone has considered the roots of the problem of why asylum seekers exist. The majority are genuine cases stemming from war-torn countries or countries where oppressive regimes are in power. Judging by a lot of the comments that have been posted on this board, there seem to be a lot of selfish, greedy and single-minded people in the UK.
For the past year or so, Londoners have been bombarded with negative statements about asylum seekers. 2 to 3 times a week, the Evening Standard billboards, which appear all over London, will carry some anti-asylum-seeker message, with no context and no justification. As is typical for the tabloid media, if you take the trouble to read the story which the headline supposedly summarises, you often find out that the link between headline and content is tenuous at best.
I believe the call for politicians and the media to 'modify' their language over this issue has dangerous censorship overtones. What I have found most informative was the programme on Radio 4 last week, visiting Roma gypsies in Romania. I drew my own conclusions from this. The vox pop from Woolwich on the Today programme might have better informed Mr. Morris of the views of many of his Union - after years and years of UK citizens queuing for public services like housing and health, the resources end up being expended on hopeful new citizens who have immediately bestowed upon them housing, health checks, special education etc. This is seen as slightly unjust. Asky any family who has been waiting for a council exchange from a small tower block flat for a house and garden.
You can't call people racists for wishing to safeguard the interests of their nationals first. We must remember that asylum seekers are a drain on national resources of their host countries and therefore only those who genuinely need it must be granted asylum. It is impossible to have a situation that observes no limits. Shall we be practical when we complain about serious issues?
Surely the problem is more fundamental that we are led to believe. If we are to provide a refuge for people of the world then we have to do so based on some criteria and, having established what that criteria is, we should then apply it to all who seek to set up permanent residence. The current procedures of delay and confusion when dealing with would be immigrants simply add to the confusion and make not only the problem worse but the perception that a catastrophe is in the making.
What the government should be doing is to make sure that would be immigrants know they will not be held in limbo awaiting a decision but will have their cases dealt and a decision made within a maximum of one week. It may take a huge increase in resources to achieve this initially but I believe that, when in operation with no backlog to process, we would have a situation which was manageable fair and just. It is not inconceivable to suppose that if the entry criteria were clear the number of applicants would fall to a level where most were genuine and not as is the case presently.
Simply trading an ever more strident stream of condemnation of the poor confused 'bogus asylum seeker' will help nobody and merely raise problems within a country which accommodates considerable populations of virtually every racial group in the world with a fair amount of success.
Racism has nothing to do with it. The international asylum system has become a severely abused anachronism, and should be overhauled.
It's common sense that genuine asylum seekers should go to the nearest safe country (geographically and culturally) to their own. As an island nation surrounded by peaceful, prosperous neighbours, the UK shouldn't be getting any appreciable number of refugees.
As a Ceylon Tamil who's family came here in the 60's for engineering studies, I while not been a asylum seeker myself have to say most asylum seekers from Ceylon are genuine but what is important for the government to understand is it cannot support such cases financially forever. Each applicant must be given a two-year period to become self supporting else, he/she should be returned to their country of origin. The tax payer should not be burdened indefinitely.
Phil Hall, UK
There is a germ of truth in what Mr. Morris says. Just take a look at typical tabloid headlines and bylines regarding asylum seekers. They are just one step away from the "Johnny Foreigner" mentality.
As an aside, Mr Ashall states "[the] left have had far too much influence in British politics in the last twenty years". Hmmm, that'll be the 1979-97 Thatcher/Major years then...
Many British children in our inner cities quite literally can have a better start in life by sailing out into the Channel and trying to get back in as refugees. Can this be right? Surplus money can be - and is - used to tackle poverty in other parts of the world. The finances of this country are not a bottomless pit.
Steve Wood, UK
I wholeheartedly agree with Dominic's view on concentrating on rebuilding our own infrastructure for the current UK residents. It is NOT a racist view to say that there should be a limit on immigration, as it happens to be logical and sensible view. If you look at the size and state of the UK, why don't other countries take in the equivalent percentage of immigrants? Look around our own society and be honest with yourselves rather than point the racist finger without thought.
Of course it plays into the hands of racists who will use the way the government are handling this issue. The very fact that the Government spends most of its time talking about "bogus" asylum seeks means that the same brush tars ALL. We should not be surprised by this approach, as ALL groups who are in need of help have to be stigmatised before they can receive help.
The spurious definition of economic migrants as
"people who enter the UK in order to receive benefits"
is proof if any were needed that those who shout about the
asylum issue mean to whip up base xenophobic emotions.
David S, UK
Bill Morris is "playing the race card" by describing new asylum laws as promoting racism. The asylum laws say nothing about the colour of the asylum-seekers skin. This is not a racial issue, so please stop trying to make it one.
The voucher system for asylum seekers is state discrimination. It stigmatises as well as impoverishes the most vulnerable of people. It is open to abuse from shops and supermarkets wishing to profit from the voucher scheme. To its eternal shame the government has got it totally wrong on this issue.
John S, UK
I have always believed the British to be more xenophobic than for instance the Germans. Have a look at some of the headlines in your tabloids, if you don't know what I mean.
Immigration and the issue of asylum seekers has nothing whatsoever to do with racism. It is a logistical problem, not a racial one. This country is only so big, and if the authorities keep insisting that Britain keeps accepting refugees and people seeking a better standard of living, the problem of racism WILL eventually raise its head.
I see the problem as being to do with economic migrants, who want to take advantage of our benefits system and who have no intention of putting anything back in. As far as I am concerned, the colour of their skin is not the issue.
John B, UK
The government is absolutely right to take a tough line on asylum seekers. The "intellectual" (and I use the term advisedly) left have had far too much influence in British politics in the last twenty years. They and their cronies in the media have twisted the word "racist" to mean anyone who does not agree that every single police officer in London hates black people, or anyone who advocates that our borders should not be open for all and sundry to abuse our benefit system.
I think Mr. Morris is gravely underestimating
the intelligence of the people of the
United Kingdom with his remarks. The
Government is facing a thorny issue with
immigration where no decision can give them
the moral high ground.
Britain's right hand stirs up political troubles in the Balkans and in other parts of the world to justify military intervention by Britain and her allies which, naturally results in naive, gullible, displaced persons from these areas in turmoil seeking safety, security and peace in Britain, western Europe and north America.
Sometime in the future when the country is "back on its feet" we can open the doors to migrant workers and refugees.
I also believe that it should be up to the EU to fund the refugees and the reception centres and not central government. This will lead to the countries that do not have a refugee "problem" helping with those that do equally.
I'm all for the free movement of people around the world. The problem isn't space - its money. When western countries offer welfare handouts that look like luxury they will attract all sorts and cost you lots of taxes. The best thing is not to have national welfare systems, but to leave all the borders wide open the world over. That will shock the busybodies from right and left! But it's the only real solution.
14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Labour accused of raising racial tension
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