Refugees Welcome Demo London Saturday September 12 2015. Wiki commons

Whether Ukrainian or Afghan, let’s show that refugees are welcome here – Sabby Dhalu, Stand Up to Racism

“Labour and the anti-racist movement must fight the racist Nationality and Borders Bill, which stands in the tradition of Enoch Powell “Rivers of Blood” Tories and gives succour to fascists and the far right.”

By Sabby Dhalu, Stand Up to Racism

Since the start of the Ukraine war more than 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine. Such a large movement of people in such a short space of time is unprecedented in Europe and set to sharply increase further still. As is often the case in wars the majority of people have fled to neighbouring countries. Poland and Moldova (Europe’s poorest country) have accepted the highest proportion of Ukrainian refugees. Britain is bottom of the refugees table. 

The British government’s response to such a crisis has been a shambles. It’s latest policy announcement – the “Homes for Ukraine scheme” relies on compassionate and caring individuals to register their interest in providing accommodation for refugees – who will then be put in touch with Ukrainian refugees via charities and faith organisations. A serious refugee policy cannot be based only on kind-hearted, generous individuals and the voluntary sector. 

Ukrainian refugees are still required to apply for a visa before entering Britain. Expecting people fleeing a war torn country to complete a long and complicated form for a visa with no processing timescale is a disgrace. Refugees should not be caught up in red tape. British people have said clearly that Britain must “wave visas not flags.” According to the recent Sunday Times/YouGov poll 75 per cent of the population agree with allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter Britain without a visa – of which 42 per cent strongly agree – but the government is refusing to listen. 

Now is the time to remember and learn the lessons of history. After the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust were exposed, the whole world said “Never Again.” Britain and other countries signed up to the Geneva Convention regarding the protection of civilians in times of war in 1949. A humane and compassionate response to refugees is enshrined in international law. That means people must be allowed to enter the country and complete the necessary paperwork on arrival – not before.

All refugees must be met with compassion and humanity. Sadly they are not. A few days ago a boat capsized off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea, leaving 19 people dead and only 4 survivors. For years African and Middle Eastern refugees drowning in seas has become normalised and dehumanised. 

The Ukraine war has revealed deep rooted racism in Europe. The UN confirmed that African and Asian people were subjected to racism in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials prevented African and Asian people from boarding trains departing the country, including a pregnant black woman who was told she had flee the war-torn country by walking. There were also violent attacks on those that managed to flee Ukraine. A Sikh woman was kicked and punched on a train leaving Ukraine and African men were violently attacked in Poland after a far right racist hoax falsely accusing Africans of raping Polish women went viral. Amidst the horror of war black people also have to endure the added trauma of racist violence. 

Europe’s “open door” response to Ukrainian refugees has been in stark contrast to the “fortress Europe” policy to those fleeing Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Eritrea,  Ethiopia and other African and Middle Eastern countries. These refugees have been stuck on the Polish-Belarusian border with a militarised, barbed-wire fence erected to prevent them from entering the EU. Makeshift camps of desperate and homeless people have been a permanent feature in parts of Europe. 

Similarly the government’s response to Ukrainian refugees has been woefully inadequate, yet it has been different to the Afghanistan refugee crisis and the response to mostly African and Middle Eastern refugees drowning in the Channel, in that the approach is not to limit the numbers and prevent people coming here. 

Refugees are making perilous journeys across seas and dying because they cannot travel to Britain safely – on a plane, Eurostar or ferry – without being turned away. Refugees drowning is a product of government policy. 

The government claims asylum seekers crossing the Channel are attempting to enter Britain illegally. However in December 2021 the Court of Appeal ruled against the government when four Iranian asylum seekers that crossed the Channel in a flimsy boat, were wrongly convicted and had their convictions quashed. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill is due to return to the House of Commons soon and seeks to overturn this court ruling, deeming asylum seekers that arrive in Britain as “illegal immigrants” thereby criminalising asylum seekers. The defeat in the House of Lords of the controversial and racist clause 9 that proposed removing the British citizenship without notice on spurious grounds from people, is a huge victory.  

However we cannot be complacent. What fight the government puts up against the House of Lords amendments remains to be seen. Labour and the anti-racist movement must fight the racist Nationality and Borders Bill, which stands in the tradition of Enoch Powell “Rivers of Blood” Tories and gives succour to fascists and the far right. 

The bill is part of the government’s strategy of stirring up racism to divide, distract from and scapegoat for its covid public health and cost of living attacks on the many in the name of profit. 

This Saturday’s Refugees Welcome – March Against Racism, marking UN Anti-Racism Day in London & Glasgow and Sunday’s march in Cardiff could not be more timely. I urge all Labour Outlook readers to join these demonstrations. 

Refugees Welcome Demo London Saturday September 12 2015. Wiki commons
Refugees Welcome Demo London Saturday September 12 2015. Photo credit: Wikicommons/David Holt

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