Let Them Work

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

As a part of Refugee Week, London Amnesty Local Groups  and others including the Refugee Council organised ‘Still Human – Still Here‘,  a march starting at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment to a rally in Trafalgar Square. As well as marchers with placards and banners, there were a number of large puppets depicting refugees from different countries.

Among the other groups taking part in the march were the London Detainee Support Group ‘Detained Lives‘, Refugee Action, members of the Let Them Workcampaign, supported by Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Refugee Council, TUC, Brighter Futures, Barnardos, and Still Human Still Here,
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the Gay Activists Alliance International.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The UK’s treatment of asylum seekers is often inhumane and seems driven more by a desire to look tougher than the right wing on immigration than any sensible response to the issue. A report by the Independent Asylum Commission last year stated that our treatment of asylum seekers “falls seriously below the standards of civilised society“. In particular, as many including MP Iain Duncan Smith have commented, “the policy of making asylum seekers destitute is mean and nasty and has not worked.”

Many of those who come here have skills that would contribute to our society – and are keen to do so. One placard pointed out that there are over 1100 medically qualified refugees on the BMA database. Others emphasized the considerable contribution made by famous refugees, both historical, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and more recent refugees including Rashmi Thakrar, the founder of Tilda Rice, the first company to bring Basmati rice to the West, who arrived in Britain in 1972 when Idi Amin expelled Ugandan Asians.

Allowing refugees to work would also reduce dependence on public funds and avoid the degrading hardship faced by those who are forced to depend on charity and handouts. It makes sense in every respect, but to do so might leave Labour exposed to attacks from the ultra-right. Labour are running scared of the BNP.

Stopping locking up asylum seekers and would-be migrants in immigration detention centres when they have committed no crime would save considerable public expenditure and avoid the current denial of justice when many of them are unable to have access to advice and legal support. The detention centres – run by private companies to maximise profits at the expense of the detainees – have been repeatedly condemned for their mistreatment of those in their care.

Our treatment of refugees is a disgrace, and New Labour’s record in this area is sickening. There really is something gravely wrong with the priorities of British media (and perhaps the British people) when so little is made of this and other major issues and so much of the relatively minor expenses fiddles by our politicians.

More pictures on My London Diary.

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