Apsana Begum – Don’t give an inch to Tory Racism


“The ‘Stop the Boats’ rhetoric & the labelling of people seeking sanctuary as ‘criminals’ are a part of a twisted race to the bottom.”

Apsana Begum MP

By Apsana Begum MP

The Tories are boasting of their Hostile Environment becoming even more hostile.

This includes the introduction of extra policies such as fine-hikes for landlords housing so-called illegal migrants, which in other words means more people will be homeless and destitute.

They are also updating the criteria assessing “credibility” of asylum claims by explicitly factoring in “failure” to produce an identity document or “refusal” to disclose information required to access an electronic device like a phone passcode. The result? More people will have basic rights denied and face institutional hostility.

The Tories also congratulated themselves for chillingly proceeding with x-rays and MRIs of teeth and bones to be used as part of the age-assessment process, further dehumanising people.

All of this is in the wake of the Tories’ refugee ban brought in by the Illegal Migration Act which breaches fundamental and internationally recognised rights.

But beyond the rhetoric and spin, the inescapable truth is most people in small boats coming to the UK are escaping terror and bloodshed. The Government are obviously aware of this because the majority are granted asylum.

Now, cruel mechanisms are being created to deny sanctuary to people known to be legitimate refugees.

Why are people being forced into risking their lives in the first place? It is simple: for many, there are no safe routes. In 2022, half those who crossed the channel in small boats were from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan, or Syria.

And for those that do arrive? They are detained in unacceptable conditions, driven into poverty and destitution.

The “Stop the Boats” rhetoric and the labelling of people seeking sanctuary as “criminals” are a part of a twisted race to the bottom. When people commonly hear words such as “invasion” or “waves,” it gives legitimacy to a discourse of xenophobia – and there can be no doubt that such inflammatory language is linked to racism.

I was attacked by a torrent of racist abuse online after speaking in Parliament against the anti migrant legislation – including calls for me to be deported and threats of violence to “disinfect’ the UK of so-called “aliens” such as me.

Why are the Tories emphasising these issues now?

These are very difficult times and they need scapegoats.

The current cost-of-living crisis comes after over twelve years of austerity, and the burden of the crisis is being unfairly forced on to the shoulders of working-class communities, which includes migrants.

All this is a product of an economic system that favours the super-rich. It is hardly a secret that massive corporations are profiting at all our expense, and this is why the political discourse framed around “immigration concerns” is a deliberately constructed smoke screen to let the Tories – and the economic system – off the hook.

Austerity and disempowerment is a climate upon which bigotry thrives. And what becomes of dissatisfaction with the status quo, when all that is offered instead is the status quo?

We must not give ground to those that say tackling injustice is not possible and are intent on pushing conservative economic policies.

Instead, we must call out political opportunism and racism for what they are.

And yet, social democratic parties across Europe are increasingly pandering to antimigrant sentiment. But the idea that attacking migrants is election-winning for Labour and other social democratic parties, as proposed by some on the right of the party, is completely flawed. In the 1960s, Labour brought in what many now feel to be problematic immigration acts, but the Tories won in 1970. In 2015, an election mug promising “Controls on Immigration” heralded another defeat.

All pandering to racism does is help create a fearful climate in which migrants are scapegoated and a bidding war regarding how oppressive, draconian, and inhumane the “solution” should be.

Wherever we are from, we must stand together, proudly and without hesitation, against racism and all those that seek to divide us.

As the daughter of migrants who faced violence and persecution from the far-right, I know that whether it is the Bangladeshi community standing up and leading the anti-fascist fightback on Brick Lane following the murder of Altab Ali in 1978, or the Jewish community who came together in the battle of Cable Street in 1936 to stand up to Oswald Mosley, in East London we will never let our communities be targeted. Because, ultimately, the only way to defeat fear, despair, and disempowerment, is the politics of hope and socialism.

  • This article appears in the special Labour Outlook hard-copy bulletin for Autumn 2023. Download and read it here.
  • Apsana Begum is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, you can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.
  • If you support Labour Outlook’s work amplifying the voices of left movements and struggles here and internationally, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.
Featured image: Official portrait of Apsana Begum MP. Photo credit: UK Parliament under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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