Persecution begins at home
BRUTAL attacks on African migrant workers in the southern Italian town of Rosarno in recent days prompted the Pope to make a rare comment on contemporary events. Condemning the racial discrimination against and exploitation of immigrants in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Every migrant is a human being different because of provenance, culture and tradition but a person to be respected and having rights.’
But even in Italy, where the unashamedly xenophobic and racist Northern League enjoys widespread support, the President of the Lower House of Parliament, Gianfranco Fini whose party has its roots in neo-fascism, has proposed that migrants be allowed to vote in local elections, that migrants’ children born in Italy should have the automatic right to citizenship, and that the waiting period for adult citizenship be shortened.
By way of contrast, children who have been born in Britain and who know no other country than this one can be arrested in dawn raids by a dozen uniformed security guards, transported in locked vans for hundreds of miles (in some cases without either of their parents present), forcibly photographed and finger-printed, allowed only to take the few possessions permitted, and locked-up without time limit in a high-security prison surrounded by electric fences and razor wire.
Unless a successful campaign or legal challenge can be mounted, child detainees are subsequently deported to whatever fate awaits them. The British government does not track or monitor the children who it claims will suffer no persecution even when deporting them to a country whose language and customs the child has no knowledge of and where perhaps only one of the child’s parents were born.
‘Failed asylum seekers’ may not vote in local elections, are not entitled to any public funds or to access any services supported by public funds such as homeless shelters or women’s refuges. It is an imprisonable offence to offer such people a job and the fines that can be imposed on the employer are intended to be cripplingly huge.
The UK government believes that the waiting period for acquiring British citizenship is too short and intends to double the time it takes for working migrants to apply for citizenship from five years to ten years. Those who have been granted indefinite leave to remain will only have until next year to exercise their right to citizenship under the existing rules.
The British immigration minister is Phil Woolas, a former president of the National Union of Students, a one time activist in the Anti-Nazi League, and former head of communications for the GMB trade union.
Woolas says the immigration system ‘… has been too lenient and I want to make it harder’, and boasts that, ‘I’ve been brought in to be tougher and to change perceptions’. Woolas has certainly done that by shifting the Labour Party’s immigration policy further to the right than any other country in Western Europe, including that of Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy.
The Labour Party continues to call itself ‘a democratic socialist party’ while boasting that New Labour intends to enforce strict penalties against immigrants or their employers if they break the rules, including the establishment of new partnerships between local authorities and enforcement agencies to gather intelligence, disrupt illegal activity and track down illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers.
What New Labour’s website does not tell you is that the agency charged with removing record numbers of asylum seekers is the same agency that gets to decide on the merits of the asylum case and which hands out large bonuses to its managers for achieving its ambitious removal targets.
In Terry Gilliam’s film ‘Brazil’ the sinister and smiling interrogator, played by Michael Palin, returns home after a gruelling day extracting confessions from suspect terrorists to hug his young boys and embrace his charming wife. I am always reminded of this scene when reading former Immigration Minister Liam Byrne’s touching defence of child detention (New Statesman, September 2008.)
‘I know our contract staff in removal centres provide care with the utmost sensitivity and compassion in really difficult circumstances, because I have studied the situation at first hand. When I’ve spent time with immigration officers involved in removing families – often young public servants with families of their own – I have seen how physically draining the job can be. That is why it is a task conducted with such sensitivity and thought.’