Friday, 22 October 2010

Jimmy Mubenga deserves justice - those who survive him deserve solidarity

On the 12th of this month, Jimmy Mubenga became the first person to die during deportation for 17 years. Now, detainees in Dover immigration detention centre have issued a statement demanding an official investigation into his death.

The statement, signed by 25 of the detainees, also asks that "all those responsible for this brutal crime at the UKBA, G4S and British Airways are held responsible and punished accordingly."

According to the press release;
Detainees in other detention centres around the country are said to have been disturbed by the news and many said they fear that the same might happen to them when they are "deported in the caring hands of G4S." According to campaigners, detainees in various detention centres started to organise mass protests but these soon died out as many feared "management's retaliation."
This is a truly appalling state of affairs and reveals just how backward our border regime is.

A week after Mubenga's death, a report for the Institute of Race Relations (PDF) which "has catalogued a roll call of death of the 77 asylum seekers and migrants who have died either in the UK or attempting to reach the UK in the past five years as a consequence of direct racism or indirect racism stemming from policies."

Even the overview makes grim reading;
  • 15 died taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country. With legal barriers in place to prevent them securing visas or work permits to enter legally and sanctions applying to above board carriers, the desperate stow away on planes and lorries or attempt to cross the channel in makeshift boats or cling to trains. The number recorded here is probably only a fraction of those who have died in this way. Our figures rely on news reports and, by virtue of the subject matter, these deaths are not news.
  • l 44 died as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system – by taking their own lives when claims were not allowed, by meeting accidental deaths evading deportation or during the deportation itself, by being prevented medical care, by becoming destitute in the UK.
    Of these:
    – 28 died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned to the country they fled, when asylum claims were turned down. And compounding the process is the fact that some of those in detention and known to be traumatised and particularly vulnerable appear not to have been provided with the medical (especially psychiatric) support they needed.
    – 1 died accidentally as, in terror after a raid by police and immigration officials, he took evasive action.
    – 1 person died during the deportation process itself as he was being deported to Luanda, Angola escorted by three guards from G4S, a private security company.
    - 4 people died after being deported back to a country where they feared for their safety. The actual number is certainly far higher.
    – 7 people died because of being denied healthcare for preventable medical problems.
    – 2 people died destitute and unable to access services.
    – 1 baby died as a result of possible safety failings of a housing provider contracted by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
  • 7 died in prison custody, either being held for deportation or while awaiting trial or serving sentences for charges involving false documentation.
  • 4 died in the course of carrying out work which, by virtue of its being part of the ‘black economy’, carried particular dangers and few protective rights. (The numbers listed here are probably a gross underestimate, as work-related deaths of people who are ‘illegal’ will often go unreported in the media.)
  • 7 died on the streets of our cities at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations with a racial dimension. Often the victims had been moved, via the government’s dispersal system, to areas where they were particularly isolated and vulnerable to attack.
As Harmit Athwal, a researcher at IRR and the report's author, told the Guardian;
Racism percolates right through the immigration-asylum system – from forcing people to risk life and limb to enter, forcing them to live destitute on the street, prey to violent racist attack. That 28 people died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned, when their asylum application failed, to the country they fled, is a terrible indictment of British justice.

Asylum seekers are demonised by the mass media as illegals and scroungers and to appease popular racism, governments across Europe, in addition to making access to refugee status much more difficult, have decided to accelerate the deportation of the many who have 'failed'.

Such forced deportations of those terrified of being returned to the countries they have fled – often areas in which we are involved and at war – will inevitably lead to more deaths.
Now, with the ruling class shoring up their own position through savage attacks on the working class, such problems are only set to increase. Politicians and the media will serve their traditional role of offering up reaction and fear-mongering to distract from the real issues, whilst the far-right will seize upon this as a way to push their own agenda.

Let's be clear on this point: although the BNP tap into people's frustrations, this does not in any sense make the solutions they offer the right ones. The whole point here is that the BNP, as so many other fascist groups before them, take genuine grievances against the current system and spin them to offer a scapegoat and division.

As an example, let's take social housing. The reason that we are suffering a severe shortfall in social housing and long waiting lists at present has nothing to do with migration and everything to do with successive governments that have put private profit ahead of public welfare. Studies have shown that migrants do not "jump the queue" for social housing, and I have previously debunked attempts by the Daily Mail and the BNP to rubbish those findings. What we have, instead, is a policy that goes back to the Thatcher era whereby money made from giving council tenants the "right to buy" was not reinvested in housing stock. As Liverpool Antifascists point out, "councils are not allowed to build new houses with the money from the sales, and housing associations have built very few. This has meant that total social housing has reduced from 35% of housing stock in 1965 to about 21% today." At the same time, "successive governments have left it to the private landlords to provide more houses but this just hasn't happened. As always, the system we are ruled by prioritises profit over the needs of real people, whatever our colour or race."

This is the realisation that needs to be made if we are to stop people turning to the BNP out of sheer frustration. Private greed is a genuine threat to our lives, unlike living with people of other races who are - like us - just trying to get by.
But, of course, distorting the issues leads working class anger up a blind alley and helps to drive a wedge between people who share common interests, common problems, and - if they organised together to fight the class war - a common solution.

That, as a reult, we have people suffering in detention centres and dying during deportation, whilst fascists are in more elected positions and have their arguments heard more widely than ever before is just collateral damage. Indeed, given that it exacerbates the issues, it may even be an intended or desired side-effect of the carnival of reaction.

This is why the death of Jimmy Mugembahas gone unreported by much of the press. Truth is only acceptable when it fits the dominant narrative.

It is also why we need to not only reject, but actuively challenge the media/far-right narrative on immigration. As fellow working class people, crushed underfoot by the state and capitalism, migrants deserve our support and solidarity - not our hatred.