With monotonous regularity, and especially when our rulers want to distract our attention from other issues, the topic of immigration is thrown back into the spotlight of media (and therefore public) attention.
Sometimes the attention is raised by a failed politician hiring a boat and causing a nuisance in the English Channel while a film crew hunts feverishly for an overloaded boat crammed full of desperate people that he can claim as proof that Britain is being overrun by these ‘enemies’. At other times, the attention is raised through tragedies that claim the many of the lives of these most desperate people.
Tragedy in the Channel taken as excuse to escalate anti-immigrant rhetoric once again
On Wednesday 24 November 2021, children and a pregnant woman were among at least 27 migrants who died when their small and overloaded boat sank while trying to cross the English Channel.
More than 150 people are known to have died crossing the Channel in the last five years, and the real total could be far higher. The number of desperate people who died while trying to get to Britain in 2021 is estimated to account for more than a quarter of migrant deaths in the whole of Europe.
In response to this tragedy, imperialists on both sides of the Channel rushed out their political managers to stand in front of the TV cameras splashing buckets of crocodile tears while wringing their hands in feigned regret.
Priti Patel, Britain’s visibly uncaring home secretary, after a few weasel words about having been “truly saddened” by the tragedy, went straight back to her usual script, warning migrants that the sinking should “serve as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs”.
We are not too sure how Ms Patel must come across to surviving refugees, but if they heard about her bright idea (now thankfully discarded) of using Navy ships to push overloaded rubber dinghies of terrified desperate humans back to France, we cannot imagine they are at all taken by her clumsy pretence of concern.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said with his best straight face that he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the deaths, adding: “Now is the time for us all to step up … to do everything we can to break these gangs who are literally getting away with murder.”
It is almost amusing to hear Boris and Priti talk of ‘ruthless gangs’ using the migrants for cash when the British and French ruling classes constantly use them to blame and provoke one other.
Humanity v political point-scoring
By way of honourable contrast, one bourgeois politician, Lord Alf Dubs, who was once a refugee himself, showed a genuine concern for the plight of people so desperate that they will risk their own lives and those of their young children in order to get to Britain:
“When Lord Dubs saw children being carried wrapped in blankets out of small boats in Kent, he was instantly taken back to the moment he arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport having fled the Nazis at the age of six. ‘What it made me feel is terrible pain for the people who are fleeing,’ said the 89-year-old Labour peer.
“‘People must be pretty desperate, having travelled so far anyway, to risk their lives in this way. It made me feel dismayed that our government is not enabling them to be safe.’
“Dubs still remembers the sense of ‘bewilderment’ he felt on arriving at Liverpool Street station in London to meet his father, who was jewish and had left Czechoslovakia the day the Nazis arrived. He was one of 669 children saved by the English stockbroker Nicholas Winton and thinks he was lucky compared to the children who are arriving across the Channel now.
“‘If I hadn’t gone on that Kindertransport, I probably wouldn’t have survived the Holocaust, but as a six-year-old I didn’t know that,’ he says. ‘I had two days on a train. These people have suffered enormously.’” (Alf Dubs: ‘Someone has to speak up for people who risk their lives coming here’ by Rachel Spencer, The Times, 25 December 2021)
Playing politics with the lives of refugees is standard practice for bourgeois parties across Europe. European Union dignitaries will happily accuse Belarus, and even EU members Hungary and Poland, of using refugees as some kind of assault force by pushing them across borders towards western Europe while themselves using the plight of those same refugees when they get to the English Channel as an excuse to bash Britain over a number of Brexit-related issues.
That being said, however, that is no excuse for the disgusting bourgeois politicians in Britain who stir up anti-foreigner sentiments by talking of being ‘overrun’ and the need to ‘defend Britain’s borders’ from refugees.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin scored an easy goal against Britain when he said: “France accepted 150,000 asylum applications a year, compared with 30,000 in the UK.”
In answer to the question about why immigrants risk crossing the Channel, he added: “Today, people who want to seek asylum in England have no other means than to cross the Channel. This is because there is no legal way for immigrants to go to Great Britain and because you can work without identity papers in England and that creates a demand.”
France’s European affairs minister Clément Beaune took Darmanin’s point a little further, accusing the UK of having “an economic model of, sometimes, quasi-modern slavery” that he said encouraged desperate people to attempt perilous Channel crossings.
These points that the French have raised are quite relevant to the question of why migrants risk the dangerous crossings. To claim asylum in Britain you need to be physically in the country. As a result of the Covid crisis, disputes around Brexit rules and lorry driver shortages, there has been a lot more scrutiny of lorries and containers arriving in Britain’s ports, reducing the opportunities to arrive via those routes. As a result, rubber dinghies have become far more likely to be used than they used to be.
The second point made by the French ministers was the fact that although, by current British law, an asylum seeker isn’t allowed to work while waiting for their claim to be processed, they are in fact very vulnerable people to the gangmasters who come to them offering long hours of work at very low wages. Accepting the work is risky, but it offers a means for earning a little cash and for easing the terrible boredom of just sitting and waiting day after day for months and often years on end.
If asylum seekers were allowed to travel freely to Britain to make their claims, and if while waiting for a ruling they were allowed to work legally, this would free them from both the ‘criminal gangs’ that herd them onto the rubber death-traps to try their luck crossing the English Channel and the ‘criminal gangs’ waiting to use them as virtual slave labour in illegal work bondage.
Workers encouraged to blame workers for problems endemic to capitalism
“The issue of immigration remains the Achilles’ heel of the British working-class movement, just as it was in Marx’s day, when he and Engels noted that the antagonism between Irish and English workers in England was the key to the impotence of the English working-class movement, despite the latter’s high level of organisation.
“If we are serious about building a revolutionary movement capable of overthrowing British imperialism, it is imperative that those working within the movement are able to see clearly on this, the most divisive of issues, and are confident in thoroughly refuting all the bourgeois prejudices that have been so carefully inculcated in our minds via school, literature, and the media.”
Comrade Brar goes on to point out and expose the political charlatans masquerading as friends of the workers:
“Listening to the leaders of the bourgeois racist parties of the respectable and not-so-respectable variety, ordinary workers might be forgiven for gaining the perception of immigration being a new, and dangerous, phenomenon.
“It is worth reminding them that immigration, the racist myths to the contrary notwithstanding, is not a novel phenomenon, which only began with the arrival of foreign workers in western Europe in the aftermath of the second world war from the erstwhile colonies and other poor countries – in the case of Britain from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent.
“To assert that somehow foreign workers would undermine national culture, stability and racial homogeneity is to make the bold and absurd claim that the countries of Europe developed in idyllic and splendid isolation from the rest of the world – a claim devoid of all foundation.”
With this current tragedy, we once again witness the media and political prostitutes of all hues leading the chorus in an orchestrated ‘debate’, waxing lyrical about the need to ‘protect’ British borders and British jobs.
The bottom line is that whether someone migrates from distant lands or was born in the next street, when it comes to getting a job under the capitalist system, they are both your competitor. Capitalism sets all workers at each other’s throats while the capitalists sit back lowering wages and goading the workers to find ever more ways of dividing themselves.
Capitalism is the cause of housing shortages, and homelessness, unemployment and poverty, racism and all other forms of backwardness that destroy our unity. If we can build that unity in spite of the xenophobic garbage we are drip-fed from birth, we can relieve the bourgeoisie of their command in order to put an end to the shortage of employment, housing, fuel and food that plague the workers today.
And not only that. We can build a society where education and jobs are guaranteed for all and where everyone’s talents can be developed and put to use for the benefit of society as a whole. It will be no easy task to achieve this ultimate goal of socialism, but the alternative is watching our world burn through the endless wars brought about by the unslakable greed and hatred of capitalism.