Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The continuing repression and brutalisation of migrants

Across Europe this week, a wide variety of incidents has shone a light upon the unremitting repression wrought against migrants.

In January, African migrants working in the orange groves of Rosarno felt the brunt of the Italian state. This month, it is Chinese sweatshop workers in Tuscany. As the Financial Times reports;
When the Italian police, firefighters and assorted inspectors banged on the factory door, launching their latest raid on illegal Chinese sweatshops in Prato, most of the stunned workers living there in damp, windowless cubicles were still in pyjamas.

Within hours, four more clothing factories in Lazzeretto street had been sealed and ranks of sewing machines confiscated, two illegal immigrants were hauled off and the remaining few dozen workers told to get out.

After years of tolerating and also benefiting from waves of Chinese immigrants who have built the largest concentration of Chinese-run industry in Europe, the people of this ancient Tuscan city have decided enough is enough.

“The last drop sent the vase spilling over. The city cannot go on like this,” declared Riccardo Marini, president of Prato’s association of industrialists. “The Chinese may respect the laws in France and the UK but here they don’t – because they were allowed to by a system of politicians and entrepreneurs. It got out of hand.”
What is striking here is that those so callously "told to get out" are not the owners or operators of the sweatshop. They are the workers. Whilst mayor Roberto cenni denounces "slave-like conditions," he condemns those who suffer them to an uncertain fate without care. Further to which, we also see an economic interst in the brutality as "the mayor – whose Sasch clothing chain produces and sells in China – wants the Chinese manufacturers in Prato to use the city’s own high-quality textiles rather than imported cloth." Funny how "slave-like conditions" and living in "damp, windowless cubicles" is only unacceptable when it's unprofitable.

In Greece, the ongoing and violent unrest has brought the tribulations of the country's migrants into sharp focus. In the wake of a new immigration bill put forth by the government, fascist groups called for an anti-immigration demo in Propylea - traditionally a landmark of left-wing and anarchist marches and struggles - under the banner "you do not become a greek - you are born a greek." However, LibCom reports that antifascists and anarchists organised a massive counter demonstration and managed to drive the fascists away. Their banner: "you are not born a wanker [malakas], you become a wanker!"

After the Greek Riots tells us that, as this was building up, "in the early hours of Tuesday (2.1.2010) the approximately 130 detainees held in the Venna “detention centre” for migrants, in the prefecture of Rodopi (very close to the North-Eastern borders of the country) revolted." Protesting "against their continuous and illegal detention, plus the horrendous living conditions in their prison," they "set fire[s] and some injured themselves as a sign of protest." Whilst  "the media reported that approximately 30 were released," Indymedia said "that 43 migrants were taken yesterday to the prosecutor, facing charges of mutiny and public property damage." Solidarity actions are in the works.

Meanwhile, the most explosive events in the Europe-wide war against migrants have been taking place in Calais. A Calais Migrant Solidarity press release tells the full story;
Under instruction from the town authorities, the elite French CRS riot police today forcibly evicted the new Calais migrant centre – called Kronstadt Hangar - by smashing down the front doors, less than 24 hours after migrants and No Borders activists pushed through police lines to occupy the building, which has been legally rented by No Borders and SoS Soutien aux Sans Papiers.
Marie Chautemps said: “The Kronstadt Hangar was opened as a direct intervention into a winter of repression that the migrants in Calais have faced since their ‘jungle’ communities were destroyed in a cruel PR stunt, back in September.”
She continued that: “With the authorities blocking any attempts to create a place for migrants to shelter from constant police harassment or from the bitterly cold winter, the Kronstadt Hangar intervention was made in the name of common human respect as well as resistance to an increasingly fascist EU border policy.”
On Saturday evening, about 100 migrants came to the warehouse with the intention of entering. They were met by two separate lines of French police on either side of the hangar. Shouting “freedom! freedom!”, the migrants and No Borders activists pushed through the police lines and successfully occupied the hangar. Donations of blankets, extra-clothes, basic mattresses and hot tea were provided for the migrants.
However, after a safe and secure night, 75 CRS police arrived on Sunday afternoon and forcibly evicted the new space by smashing down the front glass doors. 12 activists were arrested, but later released, while one was taken to hospital.
The police proceeded to trash the hangar and all the possessions inside, and have welded the entrance shut, so that it is now currently impossible for anyone to re-enter the warehouse.
In a press release issued earlier today, SoS Soutien aux Sans Papiers highlighted the joint agency between the French and UK governements, in operations such as these. Just as there is increased collaboration between the governments on both sides of the channel, so there is an increase in resistance to the repressive policies of Sarkozy, implemented with the approval of the British government. Alex Parks said “The authorities in Calais have been trying to remove migrants from Calais for years without success, because they are in denial about the terminal reality of the un-equal world we live in. This is not over, solidarity and resistance for the right to freedom of movement will continue in Calais.”
This action, and the absurd justifications which came with it, only serves as proof that EU is becoming a repressive fortress state.

Unfortunately, leading the way in that regard is Britain. Whilst ministers such as Margaret Hodge offer rhetorical bluster aimed at stealing the thunder of the far-right, eighty four women are on a hunger strike in the Yarl's Wood detention centre. The F Word offers a report by the Black Women's Rape Action Project;
Over fifty women are currently trapped in an airless hallway in Yarl’s Immigration Removal Centre. On Friday 5 February they began a hunger strike. Today they were herded into the hallway were they have been left there for over two hours without access to water or toilets. Four women, including an asthma sufferer, have fainted. Around 1.30 the guards came into the hallway and started to beat women. As we spoke to one woman she told us that someone was bleeding. One of the managers told the women they would regret what they have done; she called the Chinese women monkeys, and the Black women black monkeys. Four other women have been locked in other rooms for three hours, and have been told by room mates that their belongings have been packed. They are worried they face immediate removal even though their cases are still being considered. Fifteen women have been locked up in “Kingfisher”, the punishment wing.

According to women on the other wings all movement has been restricted - even those not on the hunger strike are not getting any food including diabetics who urgently need it.

Hunger strikers want to speak to the press and get the truth out about the protest.

They are protesting at the length of time they have been detained - one woman who cannot speak English, has been held for over two years. Their statement is attached. Their demands include: an end to the “degradation and humiliation of detained/foreign nationals during deportation by detention staff and escorts during flights”; an end to the Fast Track for asylum seekers which denies fair decisions, the restoration of full legal aid and access to independent legal advice for everyone who is being detained.

Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project which is supporting women on hunger strike said “Over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors, many are sick and vulnerable. Why are they being punished for raising serious injustices? This “kettling” tactic has been thoroughly discredited, women should be allowed back into their rooms immediately, there should be an immediate investigation into what has happened and any guard found to be responsible for injuring women must be sacked immediately”.
Although getting rid of individual guards will rectify some specific injustices, and of course give Yarl's Wood itself a way to say it is writing wrongs, the fact remains that what has gone on there and is going on there is systemic. It will not go away with one or two guards, but only with a dismantling of the entire centre and an end to the arbitary and inhumane detention of migrants.

Immigration controls cannot bring an end to mass migration - only dismantling capitalism and the brutal conditions that it fostered can do that. Likewise, born of racism and predicated upon hysteria, they can never be fair or humane. All they can do is offer a salve to the tabloid media and perpetuate the mythology that divides the working class against itself. We need to recognise that the plight of the migrant is our plight, in extremis, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the struggle ahead.