Monday, 10 August 2015

Reality of the Calais migrants (and UK news coverage)

Yesterday (Sunday, August 9), the English-language news channel Russia Today reported live from Belfast, showing the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) using water-cannon to stop an annual march that remembers Irish republicans who were locked-up in prison, without trial, by the UK Government in the 1970s.

‘Internment’ was highly-controversial because it circumvented the judicial system: anyone could be jailed simply on the orders of the British State.

Yesterday’s pro-republican march – and the proposed route - had permission from Northern Ireland’s Parades Commission, but the PSNI stopped the procession because it had commenced later than had been agreed.  This meant that, had it proceeded to the city centre, there was a likelihood it could have run into a counter-protest being held by British loyalists.

When the republican march was stopped, stones were thrown at police who responded with the use of water-cannon.

While a Moscow-based TV station showed live footage of what was happening in Belfast, the BBC News and Sky News completely ignored the story.  Instead, viewers of the UK news channels saw more stories about ‘migrants’ allegedly attempting to enter Britain from the French port of Calais.

There are two issues arising from the editorial decisions taken by BBC News and Sky News: firstly, viewers were again victims of ‘censorship by omission’ - we simply were not told about an important story happening in a part of the so-called United Kingdom.  Secondly, the BBC and Sky reports on ‘migrants’ in Calais were little more than UK Government propaganda, telling us what we should be thinking about what Tory Prime Minister David Cameron described as “a swarm” attempting to reach England.

For weeks now, UK news channels have been leading with scare-stories demonising ‘migrants’ who, we are led to believe, want to enter Britain in order to live off our ‘generous benefits’.  We’ve been told there are thousands of ‘them’ attempting to stow away on lorries waiting to cross the channel.

We are supposed to believe these ‘migrants’ represent a national threat to the UK – the Cobra Emergency Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, has met regularly over the past month to discuss how ‘we’ defend ‘our’ borders from the danger presented by these scary foreigners.

In reality, there is probably no more than a couple of hundred people in Calais who want to travel to Britain by stowing-away on trucks.  These are people who have already risked their lives fleeing war-torn countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq.  They have crossed the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels, travelled thousands of miles through Europe and are now prepared to once again risk their lives to cross the channel and reach England.

Many of these people have escaped from countries where their lives are threatened because of their political or religious beliefs, and because the actions of Britain and its allies have created situations in their home countries where murderous and heavily-armed militias are now in control.  These people will claim asylum if they reach the UK.

Right-wing English newspapers and politicians quote international law and state the UK has no responsibility to accept asylum requests from the Calais migrants, arguing they should have claimed asylum in the first ‘safe’ country they reached.  For most ‘migrants’ their first European landfall is either Greece or Italy. 

Clearly, though, it would be unfair to expect Greece and Italy to assume this responsibility simply because of their geographical proximity to war-torn African and middle-east countries. 

The stupidity of the position adopted by UK right-wingers – that all ‘migrants’ in Calais should be sent back to Greece and Italy to claim asylum – would be exposed if this actually happened.  There is no legal barrier to those countries issuing citizenship to asylum seekers, which would make them EU citizens, meaning they could legally travel to the UK and work once they got here. 

The UK Tory Government and right-wing newspapers also like to confuse the issue of ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘immigrants’, to the extent that the words have become interchangeable and most people could not explain the difference.

Asylum seekers are people who risk being persecuted in their own country and who have travelled abroad looking for protection and safety.  An asylum seeker becomes an immigrant once their application for asylum has been accepted.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK: immigrants are permitted to work.  Asylum seekers are not entitled to claim benefits in the UK and accommodation is provided on a ‘no choice’ basis, often in properties local authorities have been unable to rent to anyone else.

It is not possible to make a claim for asylum from outside of the UK: decisions on whether or not to grant asylum are taken by the UK Border Agency, which answers to the Home Office, part of the UK Government.  Currently, Britain rejects around 60% of asylum applications.

Contrary to a description much-loved by newspapers and broadcasters, there is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’.  A person seeking asylum is in the UK legally.  If their application is accepted, they become a legal immigrant.  If their application is rejected, they are then deemed to be in the country illegally (an illegal immigrant) and are subject to arrest and deportation.

Anyone who has ever had direct dealings with the UK Border Agency and Home Office, as I have, will know how harshly asylum seekers can be treated.  Anyone who has ever been inside the Dungavel Removal Centre in Lanarkshire (where ‘failed’ asylum seekers are taken to await deportation), as I have, will know we are actually talking about a prison: a prison that holds families and people who have committed no crime, unless we believe seeking a safe life is criminal activity.

Tories, some Labour MPs and most right-wing newspapers in Britain also repeatedly assert that ‘migrants’ want to come here to take ‘our’ jobs.  The reality is that so-called ‘illegals’ are more likely to secure employment in the UK simply because bosses in Britain are prepared to exploit people more than their counterparts in mainland Europe.  Illegal workers will find employment in the UK if they are prepared to work for much less than the minimum wage, which results in even-bigger profits for unscrupulous bosses.  The problem here is not the people desperately-seeking employment, but the British bosses prepared to exploit them.

The UK Border Agency could set-up a bureau in Calais where legitimate asylum or immigration applications could be completed and assessed.  To be frank, the UK could easily accommodate all of the people currently in Calais and looking to cross the channel, but that would not be necessary.  With co-operation from all European Union nations, a fair dispersal of ‘migrants’ could be agreed and people, whether asylum seekers or economic migrants, could be offered a safe and productive life, free from the threats and violence of north African and middle-east militias who seized power as a result of military interventions carried-out by the UK and its allies.

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