The Tories are whipping  up racism – Join the fight back

March Against Racism - 19 March 2023

By Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism

Stand up to Racism is continuing to organise regular protests against the government’s racist asylum policies, most recently a vigil outside Downing Street on 14 August in response to yet another boat capsizing in the Channel and 6 people drowning to death. The government has blood on its hands. These refugees were from Afghanistan and have a right to seek asylum here.

Refugees drownings in the Channel are a product of government policy that dehumanises refugees, forcing people to make perilous journeys and risk their lives. Despite the continued loss of life the government is refusing to introduce safe routes for these refugees – like they did with Ukrainian refugees – even though the majority of these asylum seekers have their claims upheld.

Instead this callous government is choosing to whip up racism. The government’s scandalous “stop the boats” campaign culminated at best  in a shambles, at worst gross negligence, after Legionella bacteria on the Bibby Stockholm floating prison forced the asylum seekers on board to be removed.

Legionella bacteria can cause legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia. While this can be treated with antibiotics, it can lead to lung failure and even death. Dorset Council told the Bibby Stockholm contractors about Legionella bacteria last Monday – when asylum seekers were boarded – and told the Home Office last Tuesday.

Many including the Fire Brigades Union warned of the health and safety risks, but this viscous and inhumane government chose racism over safety. Some asylum seekers that were on board the Bibby Stockholm and in touch with the local Stand up to Racism campaigners reported having flu type symptoms and have been promised urgent medical attention.

For the government, the “stop the boats” campaign served its purpose: to stir up racism, scapegoat and distract from the government’s deliberate policy of making people worse off. Nothing illustrates this more starkly than the government leaping to the defence of Tory Deputy Chair Lee Anderson MP when he said refugees concerned about the health and safety risks of the floating prison can “f*** off back to France.” 

Such racist and inflammatory language reminiscent of the National Front must be condemned in the strongest terms. The tirade against Diane Abbott MP for highlighting racism & Lee Anderson’s inflammatory, dehumanising comments towards refugees are made in the context of refugees routinely dying at sea, was outrageous and frankly racist.

Racism from politicians at the top can lead to violent racist attacks on the ground. Lee Anderson must be condemned, not Diane Abbott who has faced more abuse & racism than any other MP and has led the fight against racism throughout her time as an MP. 

Another policy announcement during “stop the boats” week or to put it more accurately “start the racism” week, was the so-called crackdown on immigration lawyers. The Law Society Vice President Richard Atkinson said that he was sceptical about the effectiveness of the government’s new ‘taskforce’ and that the government and regulators should share intelligence about immigration advisers of all kinds if they have concerns.

This followed the shameful attack by the Tories on Jacqueline McKenzie, a partner and head of immigration and asylum law at Leigh Day. As Leigh Day said: “We understand that a briefing criticising Jacqueline was sent from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (formerly known as Conservative Central Office). This four-page briefing had many inaccuracies and was plainly sent with an agenda for Jacqueline to be singled out and targeted by the press. It is shocking and shameful that in a democratic society such a document could be sent from any political party, not least the party in government. It is both irresponsible and extremely dangerous for anyone to be targeted this way, as we sadly saw in September 2020 when an immigration lawyer was attacked at his office by a man brandishing a knife, which reportedly followed comments by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel.” 

It seems Jacqueline was targeted because she represented a man who was one of seven shackled waiting to be flown to Rwanda before the flight was grounded by the courts and later became a trustee of Detention Action, one of the organisations that took the government to court of the Rwanda scheme. In addition, 90% of her work which is focused on legal support for victims of the Windrush Scandal. Having apologised for the Windrush Scandal, to bully and smear one of the main lawyers and campaigners for justice in this way is grotesque. 

Unfortunately these racist campaigns will continue. They give us a taste of the sort of general election campaign that is to come. 

Last week E.ON announced it made £3.47 billion in profit the first six months of the year, while its customers bills have risen astronomically. Such companies making this level of profit whilst people become worse off is a deliberate government policy. 

That’s why we’re seeing this government racism. They don’t want to make people better off so they blame refugees and stir up racism to divide and distract from the real problems people face that are caused by this government. 

This is why building a movement against racism is crucial. I urge readers to join Stand up to Racism and push back this tide of racism. 

  • ‘Resisting the rise of racism and fascism’ – Conference Saturday 21 October in London – Organised by Stand Up To Racism.

The above article was originally published here by Labour Outlook.