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Workers, serfs and slaves: managed migration and employment rights

Whatever the merits of Tony Blair’s recent retrospective apology for Britain’s leading role in the slave trade it would be less hypocritical if his government was not developing a modern system of slavery and the reintroduction of sweated labour through the reshaping of immigration controls.

The mechanisms of immigration control are changing. They are locating themselves in the workplace and on the factory floor. The agents and enforcers of controls are becoming employers. They are the managers of New Labours “managed migration”.

In fact this role began with the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act which imposed criminal sanctions on bosses who employed those without the correct documentation. The real targets of these sanctions were never intended to be the employers but rather the undocumented, the sans papiers, the illegals, whose immigration status they were expected to police. The intent was to transform bosses into partners in control through the fear of criminalisation.

The statistics speak for themselves. For example in 2004 there were 1098 “successful operations” (i.e. raids) by the immigration service, which resulted in the arrest of 3,332 workers – but the successful prosecution of only eight employers! In the previous year only one boss was successfully prosecuted but 1,779 workers arrested, removed from the workplace and presumably deported.

The 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act introduced civil penalties against employers as a deterrent against hiring those without status or without the correct status. Bosses will now have to check an employee’s papers at regular intervals to avoid employing an irregular worker. Most immigration documents are time-limited. Yesterday’s lawful entrant can become tomorrow’s sans papiers.

And it gets worse. Under the law regulating gangmasters – the Gangmasters Licensing Act introduced in 2004 after the drowning of Chinese cocklepickers – gangmasters will only preserve their registration if they show they are policing and refusing to employ undocumented workers.

There has been considerable publicity given to the new points system controlling the entry of migrant workers as detailed in the government’s white paper, A Points-Based System: Making Migration Work For Britain. Virtually nil publicity has been given to the requirement that employers will have to register before they are able to recruit overseas labour, and may jeopardise that registration if they are connected with employees who breach immigration law. Furthermore employers will have to report their employee(s) to the Home Office for absenteeism.

According to the White Paper: “Sponsors will be required to inform us if a sponsored migrant fails to turn up for their first day of work, or does not enrol on their course. Similarly they will be expected to report any prolonged absence from work or discontinuation of studies, or if their contract is being terminated, the migrant is leaving their employment, or is changing educational institution. Sponsors will also need to notify us if their circumstances alter, for example if they are subject to a merger or takeover”.

This level of surveillance is unprecedented in peacetime. Except today there is a new war – a war against workers. This primarily presents itself as a war on the undocumented. However the war extends even to the documented given the tenuous and circumscribed nature of immigration papers. It also extends to European Union workers. Workers from the new EU East European accession states are restricted in obtaining benefits and are bound by employment restrictions such as the need to register for work with the Home Office, a requirement which in itself may drive such workers into the underground economy of sweated labour (and it now seems there is an intention to restrict entry for Romanian and Bulgarian workers). It is a war on all imported workers.

The new factory floor mechanisms of control reflect the shift in the focus of immigration controls themselves.

For the last decade the focus, the demons, of control were asylum-seekers. In the 1970s and 1980s it was husbands from the Indian sub-continent who were accused of contracting “marriages of convenience” – along with children seeking to join parents here – and were accused of “not being genuine as claimed”. In the late 1960s it was Asians from East Africa… and it can go back in time to communists in the 1920s to Jews fleeing Tsarism at the turn of the century (leading to the first controls – the 1905 Aliens Act). Immigration controls always have their latest demons, real or imagined. Today it is “economic migrants” – whose labour is needed but whose presence is unwanted.

When it comes to migrant workers then, like every other construct tainted by immigration law, the very use of the term “rights” is an abuse of vocabulary. What “rights” the documented – those migrants with permission to enter and work – possess are usually impossible to enforce. The ability to bring a case for unfair dismissal requires having been in employment for a year – an impossibility for short-term, temporary labour. The “right” to a written statement of employment terms is pointless for those not literate in English.

And not all employment “rights” apply even to the documented. Parental “rights” under the Working Time Regulations – parental leave, time off in a family emergency, flexible working conditions to care for children – none of these appear to apply to the documented migrant at least where the child does not reside in the UK.

The undocumented, those without leave to be here and/or work, are simply non-persons. They are literally illegal – they live outside of the law, hunted and harassed by the law and without the protection of the law. For instance they cannot enforce their contracts of employment, secure payment of the minimum wage, claim unfair dismissal, demand not to have unlawful deduction from wages, indeed claim to have wages at all. The Court of Appeal in the case of Vakante v Addey and Stanhope School has in essence confirmed all the above in deciding that an undocumented worker cannot bring a case against a boss under the Race Relations Act. Even attempting to join a union where the employer attempts to impose a non-union shop becomes a major obstacle as undocumented workers cannot assert a breach of trade union rights – as they have no trade union rights.

One of the suggestions made in a recent book showing the relationship between immigration status and employment “rights” (Labour, Migration and Employment Rights published by the Institute of Employment Rights) is that the laws against discrimination should extend to immigration status. As a practicing lawyer I once thought this as well. However I now think this is as utopian – i.e. conceptually impossible – as is the demand in some quarters for “fair” control. “Fair” controls are utopian because by definition controls are both discriminatory and unfair. Just so, the issue is not one of achieving equality of immigration status. The issue is one of getting rid of immigration controls and indeed of “status” altogether. This might well require a revolution. Fair or non-discriminatory controls would require a miracle.

It is hardly possible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation. The economic rank of the documented, of those with papers, is at its best often equivalent to the villein or serf under feudal law – just as the villein was tied to the land and could not move elsewhere so the documented, other than the most skilled, is tied to the job and therefore the master. The sans papier is akin to that of a slave. It is true that the s/he does have one essential feature in common with the supposed “free labourer” under capitalism. So Marx in the – did not define slavery in terms of economic relations but as a “relation of domination” – with domination being direct under slavery and indirect under capitalism. However the undocumented in all other ways is quite distinct from all others under capitalism. The sans papier is entirely at the mercy of his/her master/mistress.

The precariousness of even the documented means they can easily slide into the world of those without papers. And those without papers and not already in detention are driven into the slave-like conditions of the underground economy where they service the rag trade, fast-food joints, garages, nursing homes and sex joints of our metropolitan centres. Then when their work is no longer required, or when they are so exhausted by work that they have no energy to fight to stay, they are transported (deported) in accordance with the economic needs and national prejudices of their masters in the UK – often to be returned into the hands of the masters from which they escaped in their country of origin.

In British immigration law recent statutory measures have judicially sanctioned these slavery analogies even further. Under the latest 2006 legislation those about to be deported and incarcerated in removal centres will now be allowed to work. But this work will not attract the rewards of a free labourer but rather those of the prisoner. Section 59 of the Act specifically provides that the law relating to the national minimum wage shall not apply.

However Section 10 of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act represents an even more vivid example of the statutory confirmation of a slave like existence. This makes provision of housing and other poor-law support for certain refugees to be conditional on their undertaking “community services”. These are refugees whose claim has been rejected by the Home Office but are unable to return home because of circumstances beyond their control – because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. Section 10 transforms asylum-seekers into slaves. It makes their labour compulsory, as refusal to participate will result in deprivation of housing and other support. When the Act was being debated in its committee stage in the House of Lords (15 June 2004), Lord Rooker encouraged voluntary sector groups to get involved in tendering for this slave labour. He also suggested that this compulsory refugee labour could be used for the maintenance of the refugee’s own accommodation – which is a way local authorities and private companies can get otherwise run-down unlettable properties updated for free.

There has been successful resistance to the implementation of section 10. In Liverpool the YMCA tendered for the scheme. But after outrage was expressed by the undocumented and their supporters the tender was withdrawn.

It is these slave-like conditions enforced and reinforced by immigration controls that indicate the impossibility of such controls being sanitised by reform or other legal mechanisms. The only options are abolition or further repression. Likewise classical slavery was incapable of reform – it had to be abolished. One writer (William Fisher) in describing forced labour has said “In most contexts they were treated as things – objects or assets to be bought and sold, mortgaged and wagered, devised and condemned”. He might as well be referring to today’s sans papiers. In fact he was describing the ideology behind the institution of ante-bellum American slavery. The 1696 Slave Code of South Carolina began by proclaiming “Whereas the plantations and estates of the Province cannot be well and sufficiently managed and brought into use, without the labor and service of negroes and other slaves…”

Substitute “economic migrants” for “negroes” and this well expresses the rationale, and uses the same language, as New Labour’s “managed migration”. It is not so new after all.
First published in Legal Action, August 1997

Trade Union Programme





The well known phrase “workers of the world unite” does not mean “only workers with the correct immigration status” unite. It means all workers both here and internationally. The function of immigration controls is to ensure the absolute reversal of this principal. It is to ensure the global division and antagonism between workers .This is divide and rule based on the crudest nationalism and racism Workers’ unity means getting rid of controls. This may seem unrealistic, fantastic and utopic . It would certainly require an enormous political upheaval. Some unions have indeed at some times adopted resolutions in opposition to controls in principle and in so doing have effectively accepted the slogan No One Is Illegal. This has been the result of the self-organisation of those threatened by controls – organising either within the unions or through anti-deportation campaigns. The 1989 NALGO (the predecessor of UNISON) conference demanded the abolition of all controls. In the same period NAPO (the probation workers union) adopted a similar position. In the recent period the 2005 conference of NAFTHE (workers in higher education) passed a resolution committing the union to “support the right of any person to come and live and seek employment in the UK for whatever reason”. However opposition to controls in their totality has with rare exceptions become the programme that dare not speak its name. Instead another and opposite orthodoxy is dominant in the labour movement. This is the demand for “fair” or “benign” or “compassionate” controls. And this demand would not require a political upheaval. It would require a miracle. By their very definition controls are inevitably, unjust and malign . It is the idea that controls can be non-racist or fair that is unrealistic. There cannot be equal opportunities immigration control.

Most of the reasons why there cannot be “fair” controls are really transparent and don’t require much reflection. First the initial legislative controls, the 1905 Aliens Act, were based on that most primitive of racisms, anti_Semitism, and were directed against Jewish refugees fleeing Tsarist Russia. Second the next wave of controls, starting with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, were directed at black people(this itself being in some ways anticipated as early as 1925 in a Coloured Alien Seamen Order requiring the enforced registration with the police of “coloured” seafarers). None of this is much of an advert for the idea that controls can be turned inside out and rendered “non-racist”. Third controls are anyhow based on the vilest nationalism – the idea that the right to come to or stay in the UK should be a reserved only for members of a privileged club who somehow have managed to acquire the franchise. Fourth controls can never, by any definition or redefinition, be “fair” to those excluded by them. Fifth the very first control on peoples’ global movement prior to legislation was slavery out of Africa – which again was hardly susceptible of being rendered benign or compassionate. All this is obvious. What is less obvious, because less known, is that controls are in fact a result of successful fascistic agitation. The 1905 Act was largely the result of agitation by an organisation now lost (suppressed) to history – the British Brothers League. The 1962 Act followed quickly on the so-called Notting Hill riots (actually racist white riots) of 1958 which were organised by fascist groups such as Oswald Moseley’s Union Movement. The idea that a political construct such as immigration restrictions which are a product of fascistic activity can somehow be sanitised and rendered harmless simply does not make sense. It is equivalent to arguing that all that is wrong with fascist groups like the British National party is that they are “unfair” and we ought to fight to make them non-racist. As the saying goes – a leopard can’t change its spots.

The fact that the destruction of controls would require a huge political movement – maybe even a revolution – is not a statement of pessimism. It does not imply any acceptance of controls until the day of complete deliverance. Rather it is a statement that all criticisms of control, all demands put against controls, should be on the basis of opposition to restrictions in principle – on the basis that No One Is Illegal! Within this political framework trade union agitation becomes crucial. This is because of something often ignored – namely immigration controls come into conflict with union organisation on a daily basis at the workplace. Immigration laws are a total system – they are about internal controls as well as exclusion and deportation. In particular most welfare entitlements ( social housing, non-contributory benefits, hospital treatment) are dependent on immigration status as is the right to work itself. As a consequence of this total system it is inevitable that controls often directly impinge upon workers in the course of their employment or their union activities. Of course trade unionists should oppose controls in every context in which they arise – such as detentions and deportations – because in every context in which they arise they are a manifestation of racism. However the need for trade union involvement goes well beyond this and extends into the heart of the employment relationship itself.

It should also not be forgotten that immigration controls are a danger to all trade unionists. – including those workers with full immigration status. One of the functions of immigration control is to undercut the wages and conditions of all workers by transforming migrant labour and labour without any immigration status into a non-unionised low-waged workforce unprotected by labour legislation. Which is why there is a need to fight for the regularisation of immigration status, for full unionisation and for equality of wages and conditions for all. In the past the trade union movement has, unfortunately, often been in the forefront of agitating for controls. For instance the very first controls – the 1905 Aliens Act aimed at Jewish refugees – was preceded by the TUC demanding controls. Again in the 1950s and 1960s the TUC supported controls against black commonwealth workers. Today the labour movement has begun to change its position – not least because of the resistance and anti-deportation campaigns of those threatened by controls. Today it is possible to open up the whole debate. Today it is possible to challenge the very existence of controls.


Close down Immigration controls

What has to be faced up to is that it is now utterly inadequate to give lip service to the appalling cruelty inflicted by immigration control. What has to be faced up to is that controls cannot be sanitised on a case by case basis – no more than a tiger can be tamed tooth by tooth.

Trades unions are central here. For instance would any union tolerate its members being made to impose quotas for job opportunities or housing opportunities or health treatment or welfare support on black people? We assume not. However in effect immigration controls, by linking entitlements to immigration status, impose quotas on virtually everything. Indeed asylum seekers have been removed totally from the welfare state and are now subject to a new poor law administered by the “welfare wing” of the Home Office – the National Asylum Support Service. This a poor law based on maintenance at 70% of income support level, forced dispersal throughout the country and eviction onto the streets for failed asylum seekers. And all this is administered by trade unionists.

Trade unions in this country are still very powerful. If the labour movement had the political will it could pull the plug on immigration controls and close them down. This is precisely because many of the crucial sectors that enforce immigration control are unionised. Proper use of this trade union organisation could make controls unworkable.

This is clearly the case at the epicentres of controls. The administrative nerve centre of immigration restrictions is the IND based at Lunar House in Croydon. A few years ago the system was almost brought to its knees when the computer system malfunctioned. Imagine what a strike would achieve in combating the racism of controls. Another organisational base of immigration control is at airports. Trade union action at airports could effectively stop deportations by refusing to service or fly planes carrying passengers being expelled.. In Germany an organisation known as Deportation Class has campaigned against Lufthansa Airlines to prevent deportations. Law experts of the German pilots’ association “Cockpit“ have declared that it is illegal to deport human beings who are brought into the airplane in shackles. According to their opinion, the captain should refuse to participate in such a deportation, due to the risk of criminal proceedings against himself. Accordingly, “Cockpit“ call all their members to make sure before take-off that anybody in the process of being deported is staying voluntarily inside the airplane. The international pilots’ association also considers it to be a prerequisite that the person in question is “willing to travel“. There are examples of pilots and air crew in the UK refusing to fly out deportees

Defiance not compliance!

The vast majority of workers within the welfare sector join that sector with the motivation to help other people. However the implementation of internal controls is only possible through the active co-operation of those workers, those trade unionists, who find themselves having to determine welfare provision on the basis of immigration status.

But it is precisely this role which presents a weak link in the whole chain of controls. Individual or even groups of workers would be exposed to victimisation if they tried to break this link without union backing. However internal controls could be brought to a halt by public sector workers organised in their unions. Public sector unions – based in, for example, the health, local authority and welfare benefit sectors – should adopt a policy of non co-operation and non-implementation of internal controls by supporting their members in refusing to ask questions as to immigration status and by refusing to pass on information to the Home Office. Workers within each relevant sector – for instance local authority housing workers – should start to organise rank and file groups within their unions where these issues could be discussed, debated and acted on. Under pressure of campaigns by the undocumented there is the start by unions of adopting a policy of defiance. The 2005 UNISON health workers conference resolved to “support health workers in refusing to monitor or provide information on asylum seekers to government bodies”. Some professional bodies are also moving towards a position of defiance For instance under section 9 of the 2004 legislation failed asylum seekers with children can be evicted from NASS administered accommodation if they persist in fighting their case and refusing to return to the country from which they fled – with children having to be then taken from their parents by social services and placed in care. The British Association of Social Workers has condemned this as abduction not in the interests of the child but of immigration control and has said it expects social workers “to strongly resist the implementation of this brutal power”

No One Is Illegal!

In all other areas of the law it is the activity that is unlawful. Under immigration controls it is humanity that is reduced to being unlawful. The phrase “No One Is Illegal” means what it says. It does not mean only some people are legal. It goes beyond fighting just for asylum-seekers. Asylum-seekers are only the latest of the unwanted to be demonised. In the past it was immigrants, those wanting to settle here, often joining family. Or migrants, those wanting to work here. And these groups are still unwanted. In the future it will be some other group. Today’s lawful presence will be tomorrow’s unlawful presence. None of this law has anything to do with morality. It has all to do with politics and power. As Martin Luther King once said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”. Which is again why we proclaim No One Is Illegal. This means fighting for whoever wants to come or stay irrespective of their motive.

The political language of controls

Controls are not a “natural” phenomenon. They are a result of political activity. Similarly immigration law is not some morally-given. It is the result of political agitation. Everything about immigration controls is political – including language.
And this applies to the language of those affected by controls. How should these be described? Refugees is quite inadequate. These are simply the latest group to be demonised by the politicians. But they are not the only ones. There are also migrants (those coming to work) and immigrants (those coming for settlement). It is Bob Dylan who sang “pity the poor immigrant” But these terms are also inadequate. This is not only because other groups are presently affected, such as students, and in the past yet other categories were the victims (for instance in the 1920s members of the Communist Party). It is also because those possessed of proper immigration documents are carved up into a hierarchy depending on the conditions of stay ,length of stay, whether employment is restricted during stay, rights (or lack of them) to benefits. And those granted the documents of permanent settlement (including the holy grail of citizenship itself) are attacked vicariously through immigration controls by the denial of family members to join them. It is at these points that documents themselves become pointless. Which is why politically those resisting controls have claimed for themselves the language of the undocumented or the sans papiers. This is the language which unites all those subject to controls. All other language divides them.


No workplace raids

Workplace swoops by the police and immigration service are now a regular occurrence. Factories, fast food places, garages, nursing homes and hotels are the frequent subject of raids in the search for undocumented workers. As early as 1980 and after a series of raids the Transport and General Workers Union and the General and Municipal Workers Union issued a joint statement saying that black workers had ‘have to carry at all times their papers proving their right to live and work here. This is a situation more reminiscent of the apartheid system in South Africa than of Great Britain’ (Guardian July 7th).

It is a matter of obvious concern to all trade unionists if co-workers are dragged from the workplace by the immigration service. A basic trade union demand should be that employers ban the immigration service or those acting on their behalf, such as the police, from entering their premises.

No employer sanctions

The Tory’s 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act represented a direct attack on worker’s organisation and worker’s unity. It penalised (fined) bosses for employing workers without the “correct” immigration status – without the correct documents. These are the undocumented workers of popular imagination and the laws are known as employer sanctions. These laws have been significantly strengthened by Labour’s 2005 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act which allows for on the spot civil penalties as an alternative to criminal procedures. Employer sanctions are completely reactionary. They require workers to disclose their immigration status to their employer. They transform the bosses into agents of immigration control. They bring immigration control into the workplace. They drive a wedge between ‘lawful’ and ‘unlawful’ workers. They point the finger at all undocumented workers. They weaken trade union organisation by creating a pariah class of workers without immigration status who have to conceal their identity.

Employer sanctions are part of the grand plan for Fortress Europe. As long ago as 1976 the European Commission produced a draft directive ‘On the harmonisation of laws in the Member States to combat illegal migration and illegal employment’. This called for employer sanctions. Such sanctions now exist in all the main centres of industrial might. They were introduced into the USA in 1986 in the Immigration Control and Reform Act. They are part of the internationalisation of immigration controls. They point to a future where worker surveillance extends further into the workplace and where the undocumented worker is subject to a Big Brother regime. When the European draft directive was debated in parliament in June 1977, Gwnyth Dunwoody MP pointed out that there had been suggestions by the European Commission that ‘the wages council and factory inspectors should be used as a method of checking … immigrants’.

The TUC did oppose employer sanctions when first introduced in 1996 and all labour movement bodies should follow this. However this was not always the case. As long ago as 1978 the House of Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration pointed out the TUC was in favour of such laws. Two justifications are normally given by union leaders for employer sanctions. These reasons are quite contradictory. The first justification is that workers without immigration status somehow weaken trade union negotiated work place conditions (see the TUC’s Hotel and Catering Industry Committee in its minutes of April 1978). This is exactly the same argument used historically to justify immigration control on all workers whether ‘authorised’ or not – namely that cheap imported labour undermine wages and bargaining positions. The other justification is that employer sanctions somehow protects undocumented immigrant workers by preventing their exploitation (see the General Council’s Statement on Immigration and Racism issued at the 1990 conference in response to a NALGO resolution against controls in principle). However it is a very strange way of protecting exploited workers by transforming their bosses into stool-pigeons for the immigration service who can then deport these same workers!

Solidarity not sanctions! Better pay and conditions for all!

In essence employer sanctions are about snatching, penalising and expelling undocumented workers. They are not about attacking bosses. The figures show this. In June 2005 the Home Office produced a so-called “Regulatory Impact Assessment” on the then Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. This shows that ,for example, in 2004 there were 1098 “successful operations” (i.e. raids) by the immigration service which resulted in the arrest of 3332 workers – but only the successful prosecution of 8 employers! In the previous year only one boss was successfully prosecuted – but 1779 workers arrested, removed from the workplace and presumably deported. No equality here.

Recently at least one section of the trade union movement has recognised the danger of employer sanctions on the shop floor. In December 2005 it was widely reported that at least one branch of the retail giant ASDA had been demanding the Asian employees produce their passports – and their names had been read out publicly over the store tannoy asking for their documents. The workers union, the GMB, denounced this. This denunciation should be the start of a campaign against employer sanctions..

Trade union strength and organisation does not rest on the arrest and deportation of workers. It rests on solidarity. It rests on preventing the exploitation of workers without immigration status by organising those workers in unions and campaigning with them against deportation and for the regularisation of their stay in this country. The labour movement should refuse to accept the definition of workers into ‘lawful’ and ‘unlawful’. Instead unions should campaign under the slogan of No Worker Is Illegal

Low wages are not fought by making employers into immigration spies. They are fought by unionising all workers to fight together for better conditions irrespective of their immigration status. Equality and improvement of wage rates, health and safety conditions, holiday, sickness and redundancy entitlements – these all have to be fought for irrespective of immigration status. A recent, December 2005, massive example of this was the action in Eire against the attempt to by the Irish Ferry company to import Baltic workers at a wage rate below the minimum standard. This was met by trade union action – unfortunately abandoned before final victory – including the occupation of one ferry, the prevention of another sailing and a demonstration of 100000 . Union leaflets were printed in Latvian and Lithuanian, welcoming the migrant workers and demanding equality of rates and conditions for all irrespective of immigration status.

In 2002 the TUC produced a pamphlet, Migrant Workers a TUC Guide. This should be in the hands of every shop steward both because of the clarity of its legal explanations and because of its encouragement to organise in defence of the undocumented – both in the workplace for better conditions and against deportations. It gives many examples of support for migrant workers to attain better working conditions. For instance:

“Its (the Transport and General Worker’s Union) most recent successful campaign involved Chinese workers at the New Diamond restaurant in London’s Soho. The workers worked long hours without a break. They received no compensation if they had an accident at work. They were never given a payslip and had no holidays. Health and safety standards were very low. After a recruitment campaign, workers at the restaurant took industrial action when four members of the union were dismissed. They successfully picketed the restaurant while lodging their claims at an employment tribunal. The employers were forced to settle, paying a significant sum of money to the four workers.

The TGWU has also taken the initiative in recruiting cleaners – many of whom are migrant workers – and in November 2005 organised a Justice For Cleaners picket outside the Deutsche bank against poverty wages. The same union has sponsored a Tube Cleaners Support Group. All this is modelled on the vibrant Justice For Janitors campaign in the USA where the Service Employees International Union is fighting for the rights of janitors without immigration status.. It is clear from all this that even if there is achieved a situation of no controls then there will have to be laws protecting and actions defending the rights and conditions of migrant workers and those who they have come to join. This is just the same as equalising the rights of, for instance, part time or temporary workers – a situation which in any event many migrant workers find themselves.

Control of gangmasters not undocumented workers!

In February 2004 there occurred the tragic scandal of the death by drowning of 19 Chinese cockle gatherers in Morecambe Bay after being trapped by rising tides. The cockle pickers had been employed and exploited by gangmasters – these being basically employment pimps who either themselves hire or hand on workers to other contractors.. By July 2004 there was enacted the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act – the speed of enactment not being unrelated to the international publicity given to the tragedy. The Act provides for a compulsory registration scheme for gangmasters within the agricultural and shell fish and associated processing and packaging sectors. There had in fact been control of gangmasters within agriculture since laws passed in 1867 – which were repealed by Labour in 1965. The new legislation should be supported if it saves lives and prevents super-exploitation. Indeed at least one union, the GMB, has called for the legislation to be extended across the board to all industry.

However as Virgil, the classical Roman poet, wrote – Beware the Greeks bearing gifts. It would seem that the Chinese workers who died were undocumented – which made them doubly vulnerable to the gangmasters. The cross-party support in the parliamentary debate of 9 February 2004 for the gangmaster legislation presented it as though – like employer sanctions – it is were a way of preventing the exploitation of other economically vulnerable undocumented workers by preventing them staying in the country! This stands reality on its head. The way to provide protection and prevent super exploitation caused by vulnerability through lack of immigration status is to get rid of the cause of the vulnerability – immigration controls and the whole concept of immigration status. However the Home Office appears to be hoping that registered gangmasters will not only not employ the undocumented but will in some way act as yet another arm in tracking them down and reporting them. And of course any future cockle gatherers without appropriate documents whose lives might be discovered to be in danger will not be allowed to remain but will be forcibly deported. These deportations are already happening and the labour movement is turning a blind eye to them. In April 2004 over twenty undocumented East European workers were subject to raids and arrests in Cheetham, Manchester and elsewhere. The General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union welcomed this as disrupting the work of gangmasters – though no gangmaster was reported as being arrested. Instead the BBC’s report was headed “illegal workers face deportation”. As is asked by Shakespeare in King Lear – “Which is the justice? Which is the thief?” The thieves are the exploitative gangmasters and the racist Home Office. The justice is with the workers of whatever nationality. The only principled trade union position is for the right to remain –the regularisation – of all those without status as part of the end to employer sanctions and of the dismantling of controls themselves

No slave labour! For the right to work!

The ultimate exploitation of the undocumented and the most extreme undermining of trade union cohesion is the reduction of those without immigration status to a position of actual slavery. And this position has now been reached courtesy of section 10 of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act.

Section 10 represents the most extreme example yet of internal controls. It makes housing and other poor-law support for certain refugees to be made conditional on undertaking “community services”. These are refugees whose claim has been rejected by the Home Office but are unable to return home because of circumstances beyond their control – because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. Section 10 transforms asylum-seekers into slaves. It makes their labour compulsory, as refusal to participate will mean deprivation of housing and other support. . When the Act was being debated in its committee stage in the House of Lords (15 June 2004), Lord Rooker encouraged voluntary sector groups to get involved in tendering to NASS for this slave labour.. He also suggested that this compulsory refugee labour could be used for the maintenance of the refugee’s own accommodation – which is a way local authorities and private companies could get otherwise run-down unlettable properties updated for free.
There has been successful resistance to the implementation of section 10. In Liverpool the YMCA tendered for the scheme. But after outrage was expressed by the undocumented the tender was withdrawn.

The paradoxical flip side of this slave labour scheme is that asylum seekers awaiting a determination of their refugee application are normally prohibited from exercising another basic trade union right – the right to work. This leads to further impoverishment and pushes the undocumented into the hands of exploitative bosses. Trade unions need to resist the implementation of section 10 , to be alert to the employment of slave labour and to the existence of rogue employers. And they should fight for the right to work for all irrespective of immigration status.

The reduction of those without immigration status to slave labour has now taken a new twist. They are to become the equivalent of prison labour. The latest Asylum, Immigration and Nationality Bill allows one class of person the “privilege” of being allowed to work. This is those detained in a removal centre and waiting deportation. Soon it may be compulsory labour. In the meantime the new law exempts this work from the national minimum wage. This clearly needs to be opposed not least because it undercuts national wage levels.

No to traffickers! Yes to rescuers!

Trafficking in humanity for financial gain is once more just another form of pimping. This the case whether or not the trafficking is part of a supply chain to the sex industry. Indeed trafficking cannot be reduced to the sex trade and also provides cheap, vulnerable labour to other more conventional sectors. Some of the recent immigration control laws contain new criminal offences in relation to this trade in human cargo. Section 145 of the 2002 legislation outlaws trafficking for purposes of prostitution and section 4 of the 2004 legislation extends this to a surprisingly wide definition of “exploitation” generally – including the provision of services through “force, threats or deception”. Irrespective of these specific issues, there have been general provisions since 1971 Immigration Act against “assisting illegal entry and harbouring”.

Given the disreputable nature of trafficking for gain then should trade unionists support all legislation designed to suppress the trade? The answer is no! Once again as in the case of gangmasters – beware the politicians bearing gifts. In particular beware laws demonising traffickers which are part of, and included in, far wider legislation designed to further control the entry of the undocumented. Anti-trafficking measures are being used to prevent the migration of people who are driven by poverty and persecution to move country.

Three situations need to be distinguished. First is trafficking which involves trickery or violence or lack of any consent – which is essentially trans-national kidnapping . In September 2005 there was much publicity given to the discovery in Birmingham of 19 women from East Europe who were being forcibly imprisoned in a brothel after being deceived into coming to the UK by traffickeers. Sex by clients in this situation is in effect rape. The prosecuting and outlawing of the traffickers should be supported by everyone. At the same time the victims of such forced trafficking should be given the absolute right to remain – not, as at present, being liable to deportation. Criminalising the victims of trafficking is racist, hypocritical and cruel. Again we should ask – Which is the justice? Which is the thief? At the moment the British government is not even prepared to give its signature to the extremely limited European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings – which allows for temporary residence for those trafficked. Moreover global trafficking in some form could continue even after the abolition of controls – just as it existed, for instance in the guise of the white slave trade, before controls. And measures will be necessary to prevent this where violence or deception is involved. However the super-exploitation that results today from trafficking – not least the blackmailing and threats of exposure by the traffickers on those they smuggle here – is frequently the consequence of immigration controls themselves and can only be solved by the dismantling of controls. And it should never be forgotten that the biggest trafficker of people without their consent is the Home Office – whose deportation programme is far in advance of that of the private dealers in people misery.

The second situation is smuggling of people for profit – but where those being smuggled consent to this as the only way of exiting the country of origin and entering the UK. This is a disgusting trade. However given the existence of immigration controls it is a life-line to those who wish to exercise their fundamental human right to freedom of movement. The prevalence of smuggling for profit will only end when immigration controls end. Until then outlawing it will only cut off the means of escape to those who want to flee their country of origin.

The third situation is the rescuing of the impoverished and the persecuted. Trade unionists should oppose the criminalisation of those who out of political consciousness or family solidarity help to ease the entry of the undocumented. Indeed trade unions should actively encourage and sponsor and aid this free movement. “Underground railways” providing rescue and freedom, or at least safety, – such as existed for slaves escaping the plantations of the American south or for Jews trapped in Nazi Europe – need to be developed in the twenty first century for those trapped in persecution or poverty.

No deportation or intimidation of trade union activists through controls!

The potential for immigration controls to be divisive and undermine workers unity is almost infinite.

Controls can be used to create disunity by intimidating trade union activists who have not got a secure immigration status. There have been several examples of trade unions actively fighting to defend members against such threats. It is also now a legitimate trade union practice to support members under threat of deportation. For instance UNISON, and its forerunner NALGO, has consistently and actively campaigned against the deportation of its members since it successfully fought in the early 1980′s the threatened deportation of Mohammed Idrish, a worker from Birmingham. In the mid 1980s UCATT, the building workers union, organised a lunch-time walk out from Manchester town hall in defence of one of its members, George Roucou, who was employed by the council’s direct works and was under threat of deportation. The National Union of Journalists is presently fighting to stop the removal of Mansoor Hassan – a campaigning writer who has exposed the practice of so-called “honour killings” in Pakistan. In some ways times have moved on. The militancy of the undocumented community both in the workplace and on the streets, both against working conditions and against deportations, has at least forced the TUC to acknowledge there are real issues here. The TUC pamphlet, Migrant Workers a TUC Guide makes it clear that “trade unions have a role to play in assisting migrant workers who have been subject to negative decisions by the immigration authorities”. Likewise it expresses support for campaigns against deportations – and it provides examples of the attempt to deport people who happen to be trade unionists and examples of trade union support against their deportation. For instance:

“RC was one of the many migrant domestic workers who joined the TGWU through its involvement with the migrants’ organisation Kalayaan. In 1998 she was detained and was about to be deported when the union found out. It was able to make immediate representations to the government, reminding it that at the very time it was in the process of announcing that it was going to regularise the position of migrant workers like her. The union’s intervention was successful and she was allowed to stay.

However none of these threatened deportations described above were a response to trade union activity as such. Nonetheless as long ago as the Alien Restriction Act of 1919 it was made a criminal offence for a non-British citizen to ‘promote or attempt to promote industrial unrest in any industry in which he has not been bona fide engaged for at least two years’. Conviction of such an offence could lead to a recommendation of deportation by the court. This provision is now another piece of the forgotten and hidden history of immigration control. It was aimed at both trade unionists and Communists and was enacted in the middle of the anti-¬Communist hysteria following the Russian revolution. Once again Jewish workers were its main and intended victims. It was successful in weakening trade union organisation.

On the one hand there were actual deportations of trade union militants. The Stepney Trades Council Annual Report for 1919/1920 records that: ‘The government policy to crush Trades Union and Labour organisations of the alien population by means of the Alien Restriction Order and the action of the government in arresting and deporting Trade Union officials where no case can be made, has been a matter of grave concern to this Council. The organisation of alien workers has not been an easy task and the position of every trade unionist was threatened by the government policy which made it a criminal offence for an alien to take part in the industrial movement’.

On the other hand the very existence of this legislation served to intimidate some Jewish workers from trade union activity. In a parliamentary debate of October 22nd 1919 Colonel Wedgewood, an opponent of this law, said: ‘I understand that there are numerous officials of Jewish trade unions in the East End, most of which unions are affiliated with the local trade and labour councils, and the officials are already resigning from their posts as secretaries and from the trade and labour councils because they are afraid that, by being on the trades and labour councils, they may involve themselves on a charge of promoting or attempting to promote industrial unrest.

Trade union activists today

This power to prosecute and deport for promoting industrial unrest is still law though it apparently has not been used since the 1920s. However under the 1971 immigration Act the Home Secretary can initiate deportation procedures on so-called “conducive to public good” grounds. This provision can potentially be used against trade union militants and on at least one occasion has been so used. In 1974 Franco Caprino, an Italian worker in the catering industry, was arrested and threatened with deportation on the grounds that his presence in the UK was not conducive to the public good. He had been active in unionising migrant workers in the catering trade – particularly those coming from the underdeveloped areas of Southern Europe. A successful campaign against deportation was fought by the Franco Caprino Support Committee and with the support of Franco’s union, the Transport and General Workers Union.

Unionise the undocumented – rethink the unionisation of immigration officials!

Unity is strength. At the moment many undocumented workers are isolated, atomised and vulnerable – vulnerable to deportation as well as exploitation by rogue employers. This vulnerability could be broken down through trade union organisation. Trade unions should embark on a deliberate policy of recruitment of the undocumented. This must include the active recruitment of those without immigration status. Unions must reject the whole divisive distinction between “legal” and “illegal”. They must fight for the regularisation of status of all they recruit – as part of a policy of support for everyone, union members or not, under threat of deportation and as part of a policy of opposition to controls in principle.

The flip side to this is the present unionisation of immigration officers. Most immigration officers are in their own scab outfit, the Immigration Service Union, which is not affiliated to the TUC. The ISU is essentially an in-house union which operates as a wing of the Home Office itself – as such it is an enemy of the undocumented and should be treated as such.

However other officers are organised in the immigration branch of PCSU –the Public and Commercial Service Union. PCSU is a legitimate, mass union affiliated to the TUC. This obviously raises a fundamental question of principle – should a union be organising people whose function is to harass, detain and deport the undocumented? There could arise, there may have arisen, a situation where one PCSU member is deporting another PCSU member . The PCSU normalizes immigration controls by regarding workers within the immigration service as ‘ordinary’ employees undertaking ordinary employment. This is made clear in the November 2003 edition of the union’s Journal. The General Secretary, whilst condemning ‘prejudice’ against asylum-seekers, compliments union members in the immigration service as undertaking a ‘professional job’ to which the PCSU ‘has given and will continue to give 100% support’. The December 2005 issue of its journal attacked those clauses in the then Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill which allow private companies to search vehicles at sea and air ports for people without the “correct” immigration documents. However this was not based on any principled objection to controls. It was not based on solidarity with the undocumented. Rather it was based on the protection of members’ jobs – members who “prevent illegal people and materials entering the country by searching vehicles quickly and professionally”. The PCSU Immigration Staff Branch does not view its main, or any purpose, as representing a challenge to controls. Its main concerns are the everyday conditions of its members. In expressing these concerns, the PCSU inevitably legitimizes the politically illegitimate. In its written evidence to the 2002 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report Asylum Removals, it expresses ‘discontent with the system for removing failed asylum-seekers’, but it does this not from the perspective of the refugee but rather ‘on the basis of improving the working conditions of members of the union’. It offers no principled objection to controls or their implementation; rather it criticizes the Home Office’s ‘business plan’ and ‘the setting of unrealistic targets’. The latter term refers to the forced and potentially violent removal of human beings. In November 2005 the PCSU virtually acted as a scab outfit in respect to a protest in Glasgow by asylum-seekers and their supporters who protested outside and inside Home Office immigration offices in Glasgow. The union condemned this as being antagonistic to the “health and safety” of its members. There was no consideration given to the health and safety of those undocumented who exist without welfare and in a state of destitution before facing detention and deportation. There was no consideration given to joint actions of solidarity with the asylum seekers.

What position should be taken on this? What should be done? In many ways the problem here is similar to the problem of unionisation of workers in trades which the labour movement opposes – such as the arms industry. Without immigration controls the work of immigration officers would not exist. There is an obvious conflict here between job security and fighting racism. However unions which claim opposition to racism cannot simply ignore this contradiction. One way forward would be to refuse to unionise , and to refuse to give labour movement recognition to the unionisation of, immigration officers and all other workers within the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the Home Office. This would be one possible principled position. The problem however is that because of internal controls and in particular the link between immigration status and welfare entitlement then it could be said “we are all immigration officers now”. Members of other unions – for example UNISON, the local government union – are at present continually collusive with controls. Indeed it is a measure of the far-reaching nature of controls that non-unionisation of those enforcing them directly or indirectly would lead to a decimation of trade union membership.

So another suggested and better way forward is that all members of all unions (such is the expansive nature of controls) should be recruited on the basis that their union is in support of non co-operation with all aspects of control and will guarantee to provide full union defence, legal and political, of all members victimised for non co-operation. Of course from the reality of today’s politics this might seem fantastic – but today’s trade union politics is that there can be “fair” controls and this is what is really fantastic.

For full civic rights! For the right to vote!

The racism of internal control goes even beyond linking welfare entitlements to immigration status. It extends into the most basic of democratic rights – the right to vote. The basic rule is that only people with a British (or Irish) nationality have the right to vote in the UK – for parliamentary, local and European elections. Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote but can only vote in local elections if they have permanent stay here. European Union citizens are permitted to vote only in local and European elections. Everyone else is voteless . So even if voting could change matters , the undocumented are undemocratically excluded from the system. They share this exclusion with convicted prisoners and certain people judged mentally unfit – all an unholy trinity in the eyes of the British state.

A proposed model trade union resolution and action programme against controls

PART ONE -This trade union organisation;
(1) NOTES the existence of immigration control legislation which deports individuals, divides families and prevents the entry of asylum-seekers.
(2) CONDEMNS this legislation as racist
(3) CONSIDERS all immigration controls to be intrinsically and inevitably racist. Immigration laws were introduced in this country in 1905 in order to keep out. .Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. These laws were then used to exclude the victims of Nazism. In the second half of the century controls targeted black people. They now target all the undocumented – in particular migrants (those coming to work), immigrants (those coming for settlement) and refugees.
(4) OBSERVES immigration law is unique. It is a result of fascistic agitation. The 1905 Act was the result of activity by the proto-fascist British Brothers League. The post-war legislation followed the 1958 Notting Hill “race riots” provoked by Oswald Moseley’s fascists. ‘Non¬ racist’ or ‘fair’ immigration controls are impossible.
(4) REGARDS immigration controls as divisive of trade union and labour organisation by splitting workers into ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’
(5) WELCOMES the self-organisation of all those threatened by immigration controls
(6) VIEWS employer sanctions as the most divisive form of immigration control. They turn the bosses into agents of immigration control in the workplace – by criminalising the employment of undocumented labour.
(7) IS CONCERNED trade unionists are used to enforce both immigration controls and internal immigration controls – e.g. in hospitals, benefit agencies and local authority housing departments where entitlements are linked to immigration status.
(8) IS APPALLED BY the forced trafficking of human being. We SUPPORT the right of people to freely come to the UK by any means necessary and we support the right to remain of those trafficked.
(9) OPPOSES the linking of entitlements (including the right to vote) to immigration status along with the establishment of the National Asylum Support Service and its administering of a new poor law for asylum seekers, outside the welfare state and with the help of local authorities.

PART TWO – This trade union organisation
RESOLVES to contest all immigration controls and internal controls and to
(a) Support all members or non-members threatened by immigration controls or refused welfare entitlements because of their immigration status.
(b) Defend all members who refuse to implement immigration or internal controls.
(c) Encourage the self-organisation of those threatened by controls
(d) Support all campaigns against deportation or detention
(d) Support campaigns for the restoration of entitlements for all irrespective of status.
(e) Oppose employer sanctions.
(f) Oppose any attempt by the Immigration Service to enter the workplace in order to arrest, detain and deport workers.
(g) Actively embark on a recruitment drive of migrants, immigrants and refugees irrespective of their immigration status
(h) Fight for the right to work and for equality of conditions and pay at not below minimum wage levels for all workers irrespective of immigration status – and an end to compulsory labour
(i) Campaign for the right to vote in all elections for everyone living in the UK irrespective of immigration status
(i) Campaign to outlaw forced trafficking and fight for the right to remain of those trafficked.
(j) Explore how unions can best help facilitate the entry here of those wishing to leave their country of origin as a result of persecution, impoverishment, being divided from their family here or for any other reason of their choice.
CALLS UPON the TUC and this union regionally/ nationally to adopt the above


No One Is Illegal, Bolton Socialist Club, 16 Wood Street, Bolton, BL1 1DY. Email: Web site:

Campaign Against Slave Labour



Section 10 of Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 makes “hard case support” conditional on performance of community work.

This leaflet explains why trade unions, voluntary sector groups and local authorities need to make a statement denouncing this clause and refusing to take advantage of such forced labour.

A new section with severe implications was added at the last moment to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004. This gives the Home Secretary power to make regulations providing for the continuation of the provision of accommodation for a failed asylum seeker to be conditional upon her or his performance of community services.

Such “hard case support” is presently available under Section 4 of the 1999 Act in cases where a failed asylum seeker is unable to return home because of circumstances beyond his or her control – for instance because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. Once regulations come into force this help will be dependant on what has hitherto been a punishment reserved for convicted criminals – namely obligatory community service.

Full benefits should be available to all irrespective of immigration status – and people seeking asylum should have the choice to work (it is ironic that all other people who are seeking asylum are forbidden to work).

Section 10 has been condemned by the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords/House of Commons in its Fourteenth Report of Session 2003-04. In essence the criticism is one of slave labour. In particular the report attacks the section as being in breach of Article 4(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of forced labour), of Article 3 (prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment) and of Article 14 (no discrimination on grounds of nationality).

Why trade unions must oppose this scheme

This legalisation of slave labour – transforming into slaves one of the most vulnerable and abused sections of our communities – is quite clearly something the labour movement must oppose. It is simply the logical conclusion of the super-exploitation of migrants, immigrants and refugees – a super exploitation that resulted in the deaths at Morecambe of the Chinese cockle-pickers.

Why local authorities must oppose this scheme

It gets worse. The new section has an expectation that local authorities will collude in the implementation of this forced labour scheme. It states that: “A local authority or other person may undertake to manage or participate in arrangements for community activities”. This is a reminder of the old Poor Laws where parishes would contract in forced labour from the work-house.

Lord Rooker in the in the Committee stage of the 2004 Act said in the House of Lords that community service might involve refugees “contributing to the upkeep or maintenance of their own accommodation” This is a formula for the free repair of otherwise unlettable council (and voluntary sector or private property) to which asylum seekers are involuntarily “dispersed”– which can then be rented out at a profit once the slave is deported. In immigration newspeak Rooker called this “social cohesion”. It is more like social disintegration

Why the voluntary sector must oppose this scheme

It gets worse still. Lord Rooker also stated “We would be happy to see the voluntary and community…sectors involved in this way…consultation should take place with…the National Council for Voluntary Organisations”.
The Home Office is trying to ensure that voluntary organisations, like other welfare and social service providers, become agents of internal immigration control – through the increasing link between immigration status and welfare entitlements. The new section with its imposition of forced (slave) labour is politically the logical consequence of this.

What to do!

(1) All trade unions, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations should write to the Home Secretary (Home Office, 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1H 9AT), to object to Section 10, to state that your organisation will refuse to participate in it – and to make this correspondence public.

(2) All organisations should organise meetings against the exploitation of undocumented labour and for the non-implementation of Section 10.

(3) Let’s develop this into a national campaign!

This leaflet has been produced by : NO-ONE IS ILLEGAL 16 Wood St Bolton, BL1 1DY


Background legislation

Section 4 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act allows for minimum (“hard case”) housing and other support for some failed asylum seekers. This bare minimum is available where a failed asylum seeker cannot return home because of circumstances beyond their control – because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. However section 10 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 says even this minimum will only be available on condition the refugee undertakes compulsory “community service”.

Slave labour

This is a punishment hitherto reserved for convicted criminals. It is also a modern form of slavery. It is in breach of the 1930 Forced Labour Convention of the International Labour Organisation to which the UK a signatory. The Convention defines forced labour as meaning “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. Asylum-seekers selected for the scheme will become homeless and destitute unless they perform the required community services/labour. This cannot be classified as a “voluntary” agreement to work. Trade unions in particular should be alert to the use of such wageless labour. The present scheme is based on the compulsory giving of labour (just like the national dispersal of refugees is based on the compulsory movement of human beings, which is itself a form of servitude.)

Breach of human rights

Section 10 has been condemned by the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords/House of Commons in its Fourteenth Report of Session 2003-04. In essence the criticism is one of slave labour. In particular the report attacks the section as being in breach of Article 4(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of forced labour), of Article 3 (prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment) and of Article 14 (no discrimination on grounds of nationality).

The YMCA’s collusion in the scheme

Lord Rooker in the committee stage of the 2004 legislation made it clear that the government wants not only local authorities and the private sector but also the voluntary sector to participate in this scheme as slave masters. Hitherto only one voluntary agency has agreed to participate. This is the YMCA which has agreed to run a pilot scheme in Liverpool. This was made public by the YMCA in a statement of May 5 which attempts to justify the proposed slavery.

* The statement says “YMCA England is the preferred provider” to deliver such a scheme. This the language of corporate bodies seeking tenders rather than an organisation fighting for the rights of asylum seekers.

* Historically all slave-owners seek to justify their role in showing that servitude somehow “helps” the slave. This was the position of the cotton growers of the Southern states of America at the time of the civil war – slavery being portrayed as a way that black plantation workers could have their welfare met. The YMCA portrays section 10 as being benevolent and helpful to asylum-seekers

  • The YMCA says “No individual will be required to carry out any specific activity against their will” This is untrue, An asylum seeker within the scheme who refuses to carry out all proposed activities will lose all support – see clause 4 Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum-Seekers) Regulations 2005.

* The statement says section 4 asylum-seekers should be allowed to enter into paid work and the YMCA will continue to be “outspoken” on this and other issues. We agree section 4 asylum-seekers should have the right to paid work and think all asylum seekers should have this right. However there is an omission from the issues on which the YMCA is “outspoken”. Those subject to control are outside the welfare state. Entitlement to most benefits and services are dependant upon immigration status. Since 1999 asylum-seekers have been subject to a new poor law (administered by NASS –the National Asylum Support Service) based on compulsory dispersal and “maintenance” below income support level. “Hard case” support for failed asylum seekers is even below these rates. Why does the YMCA not campaign for the restoration of full benefits/ entitlements for everyone subject to controls?

The issue of principle – no collusion

The statement presents as positive that “The YMCA is also already working with a large number of failed asylum seekers through a contract with NASS to provide accommodation to around 150 section 4 recipients”. This provision of (usually second rate) accommodation is not a benefit to refugees. This is because the YMCA is a party to evicting section 4 recipients on withdrawal of support by NASS. If the voluntary sector (along with the private sector and local authorities) had refused to become involved with the poor law and dispersal scheme then these could not have been implemented. This leads to the issue of principle. Our position is controls cannot be rendered “just”, cannot be made “fair”. All involvement on this basis only results in collusion – and in the present case in immigration slavery.


There is Home Office hypocrisy in their promotion of this scheme. The Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 imposes a penalty of imprisonment for trafficking people for forced (slave) labour. Maybe the Home Secretary should send himself to prison!

Collusion by Liverpool City Council?

It is ironic Liverpool, the great port on which slavery rested historically, has been chosen for the pilot scheme. The Immigration Minister has written to the Chief Executive of Liverpool Council seeking the council’s support for the scheme

What you can do

* Write to the following at the YMCA:
Richard Capie, Public Affairs Manager YMCA, John Sentamu, National President of YMCA ,Jeff Calvert, Chief Executive, Liverpool YMCA,
* Send copies of your letters to… Your local YMCA… Anti-Slavery International,… International Labour Organisation Young Womens Christian Association

*Mike Storey, Leader Liverpool Council
*The YMCA is an international organisation. Circulate this leaflet internationally
This leaflet has been produced by No One Is Illegal , 16 Wood St, Bolton, BLI IDU .Email Come to the international No One Is Illegal conference, June 25th, 1-6pm, Cross St Chapel, Manchester city centre.

Playing the Race Card

The two main parties are demonstrating, yet again, that immigration controls are explicable only by racism.

The Conservatives say they intend to adopt quotas on immigrants, including asylum seekers. When Blair promised to halve the number of asylum applications, this amounted to much the same thing. The difference is that Labour hopes to deter and physically prevent refugees from travelling to Britain by yet more brutally repressive measures, whereas the Conservatives refer vaguely to ‘24-hour security at ports’, and their quota policies, even supposing they were practical, would mean breaking several international treaties. In both cases, the intended result is that people would have even less hope than they now do, under the arbitrarily unjust refusal system, of finding safety in Britain.

All this is happening when United Nations population projections show that European countries have ageing and/or declining populations, and need more workers. Labour is shamelessly poaching skilled people whose education has been paid for elsewhere, promising to do so even more blatantly in ‘Making migration work for Britain’ (published 7 February 2005). But it has also acknowledged there are labour shortages in ‘unskilled’ sectors. Apart from increasing the age of retirement, and forcing more women and sick people into the labour market, the obvious solution is immigration.

The government talks about ‘managed’ immigration. Some say this does imply an economic rationale for immigration controls. Controls create extreme vulnerability even for immigrants with permission to work (since permission depends on their employers). This can potentially undermine the position of other workers, and so promote the government’s project of ‘flexibilisation’ (or precarisation). But the government also regularly promises to ‘crack down’ on ‘illegal’ workers, the ultimately exploitable workforce. Employers lobby for freer access to cheap labour from abroad.

The real arguments for immigration controls, throughout their short history, have not been economic self-interest, but racism. Their introduction in Britain (in 1905 against ‘aliens’ and in 1962 against Commonwealth citizens) followed agitation from far right and racist organisations. The shameful antics of Labour and the Conservatives are now, they tell us, in response to pressures from the BNP and UKIP. Both appear to believe that votes are to be won from pandering to racism, and thus feeding and nurturing it.

It would be better to tell the truth: that immigrants are good for the British economy, that asylum seekers are mostly highly educated at others’ expense, that there are rather few of them (compared to both the existing population and returning British people and other white immigrants), that immigrants make a large net contribution to public finances, that the financial ‘burden’ of asylum seekers arises solely from the attempt to keep them out, that the vast majority of asylum seekers are from countries where there has been recent military intervention by the West (in particular from Iraq immediately before the invasion), that others are overwhelmingly from countries whose repressive regimes are armed and supported by the West, that people do not uproot themselves from their families and cultures unless they are exceptionally desperate or exceptionally enterprising, that the repression of migrants and refugees threatens the human rights not just of them but of all of us, that British ‘identity’ is impossible to define, and so on.

But the real point is that no amount of economic or other sorts of national self-interest, and none of the rather small reductions in the numbers of immigrants that the parties claim they will achieve, can justify the suffering that is imposed on innocent people in the name of ‘controls’. It is time for the right to free movement, together with equal rights for all residents, and the right for people to decide for themselves where they wish to live and work, to be asserted as basic human rights.

Note: On April 2 2005 there will be a second European day of action on migrants and refugees, whose main slogan will be the right to freedom of movement and settlement (;

Teresa Hayter is the author of Open Borders: the Case against Immigration Controls (Pluto Press, 2nd edition 2004), and is one of the authors of the No-one Is Illegal manifesto (  Published in Red Pepper, March 2005.

Mansoor Hassan and Family Defence Campaign

Mansoor Hassan and Family Defence Campaign

Supported by the National Union of Journalists




The background Mansoor Hassan , his wife, Aqila and four children are from Pakistan. Mansoor is an investigative journalist. As a result of his exposures of political, criminal and social corruption he was forced to flee the country in 2002 and seek asylum in the UK. Like thousands of other applicants his case was refused and his family are under immediate threat of deportation.

The asylum claim There are many ways in which Mansoor is now in danger in Pakistan

• He exposed one government minister (Tareen) for selling adulterated pesticides • He exposed another government minister (Mehmood Khan) for involvement in murder of a woman (a so-called “honour killing” following her refusal to enter into a marriage) • As a result of the above he was beaten up in his newspaper office, his car was rammed from the road and his father’s house burned down • He exposed a murderer (Nazara Hotti) who subsequently shot him • There was subsequently an attempt to poison him and his family resulting in their hospitalisation • Finally, in exposing a narcotics gang linked to government politicians he was issued with an ultimatum by them to leave the country

The legal case – a miscarriage of justice. Mansoor’s case was heard by an Adjudicator (an immigration judge). Mansoor suffered a complete miscarriage of justice. The Adjudicator believed most of the above evidence. He also recognised the ongoing links between gangsters and politicians and the police (“the background information does confirm that members of the Pakistani intelligence services and politicians have been involved in narcotics trading …..”, “the police have taken strong action against individual journalists”). However in spite of all this Mansoor was refused asylum! Prepared to Struggle

Mansoor along with his family is a fighter. He is now fighting for asylum. If Mansoor had been working as an investigative journalist in this country, he would be seen as a hero – and that’s why the National Union of Journalists is supporting him.

The local newspaper has run a campaign in Mansoor’s support. Hundreds of petitions have been signed. Mansoor’s family have played an active part of the community. He has served as a parent governor and their children go to local schools. Mansoor’s wife is a voluntary classroom assistant and works with children of other refugees.

No-One Is Illegal!

By a stroke of the Home Office pen Mansoor, his wife and four children have been defined as “illegal”. They share this (non) status with thousands of others.

But how can a person be illegal? Only actions can be illegal – and Mansoor has not engaged in unlawful actions. We say No-One Is Illegal! We say everyone should have freedom of movement.



Mansoor is a member of the National Union of Journalists. The union is supporting Mansoor in his campaign. We ask you to join in this support by:

• Writing a letter to the Home Secretary demanding asylum for the family. Write to David Blunkett MP, Home Office, Queen Anne’s Gate, London SWIH (quote the Home Office reference number :H1093727) • Sending a copy of your letter to your MP (at the House of Commons, London SW1), to Mansoor’s MP (Tony Lloyd MP) and to the campaign • Sending money to the campaign; cheques to be made out to “NUJ Manchester Branch (Mansoor)” and sent to the address below • Signing the petition • Ensuring that all organisations to which you belong do the above. We would particularly ask trade union organisations at branch, regional and national level to reproduce this leaflet in their union’s name and circulate it. • Inviting Mansoor to speak at your organisation’s meetings • Coming to our weekly campaign meetings – and asking your organisation to send a delegate to these. They are held every Wednesday at 7.00pm. (for now) at NUJ offices (see below) opposite Chorlton St bus station, Manchester

Mansoor Hassan and Family Defence Campaign Address: NUJ, 5th floor Arthur House Chorlton Street, Manchester M1 3FH Email : Phone : 0161 237 5020 Websites:,

Solidarity Not Pity

Rethinking campaigns against deportation

Whose reality is it anyway?

“If a young person tells me they were raped, I say good! Tell me the details. The more sordid the better”

This quotation is not from a predatory male. It is from a feminist lawyer who has devoted two decades to fighting racism and preventing her clients being deported. In the article from which this quote is taken the lawyer says she “had become an unwitting party in the oppression of children and at the same time she felt that she had little option”.

There is obviously something strange and dubious happening here. And what is happening is the fighting of deportation/removal cases on so-called “compassionate” grounds. This practice has become so routine and unquestioned that it is possible to provide a league table of typical grounds. These are (1) adverse effect on welfare of children (2) ill-health (3) domestic violence (4) family separation. (5) old age

What is immediately clear from the above is that the people most vulnerable to immigration enforcement are the young, single, healthy and childless. What compassionate grounds remain open to them? None.

Compassionate grounds as spreading illusions – the legal and the political

The purpose of this debate initiated by he No One Is Illegal group is to stand present reality on its head. It is to challenge one of the central orthodoxies of resisting controls. It is to question ideologically one of the weapons used by all of us who are opposed in one way or another to immigration controls. It is to redefine as at the most problematic and at worst as reactionary something which is normally seen as unquestionably progressive

None of the issues raised here are easy. And up to a point, but not beyond it, a distinction has to be made. This is between the ways cases are presented by representatives to the Home Office (the “private”) and the way they are presented politically through campaigns (the “public”). Given the balance of forces – with the Home Office being immeasurably more powerful than the individual – it is clear that legal advocates will be obliged to present whatever grounds are deemed necessary to win a case. As Malcolm X said in a very different context – by any means necessary.

However political campaigns are different. Their purpose, or one of their purposes, is to make political points as part of the process of winning a victory. And the political point at issue here is the need to challenge at every step the legitimacy of controls themselves. Without challenging the very principle of controls then we are simply creating or reinforcing a vicious circle within which the undocumented remain trapped. Making compassionate grounds the basis of a public campaign is simply reducing the spurious argument that there can be “fair” controls to the individual case. It is spreading illusions that there can be “justice” within controls. As such it is contributing to the myth there can be “non-racist” controls.

Moreover there is absolutely no contradiction between fighting a case whilst at the same time making it clear that the basis of the fight is a principled opposition to all restrictions. Any suggestion that individuals under threat of deportation are being used as “guinea pigs” is misconceived and outrageous. Rather raising the issue of controls in principle is an open and honest attempt to generalise the issue away from the individual and to show immigration restrictions are a political construct threatening the unwanted, the unchosen – the undocumented.. Indeed whatever is said in campaign literature the individual fighting deportation is inevitably taking a position against all controls. The very act of defiance is an overwhelming statement of disregard for the law .It is an implicit assertion that No One Is Illegal

Compassionate grounds as de-humanisation

It is sometimes argued that raising compassionate grounds “humanises” a campaign – making it easier to win than one fought on some broad political abstractions which it is claimed may alienate potential supporters However the reality is that these grounds actually dehumanise the individual. They patronise him or her – giving those threatened by controls the appearance of being passive victims and thus adding to the sum total of racism around immigration restrictions.. Emphasising issues of vulnerability (such as child abuse etc) and ignoring the political reasons for expulsions replaces real humanity with an accumulation of perceived weaknesses. It substitutes political explanation with a list of individual pathologies.

Compassionate grounds as pathologisation

This pathologisation is seen most clearly in the emphasis given to ill-health by campaigns. Sickness or disability are regularly transformed into arguments for the postponement or permanent lifting of the immigration threat. It is as though there exists some unacknowledged point-scoring system: one point for influenza briefly postponing an air flight, two points for a surgical operation delaying departure longer….five points for a nervous breakdown caused by fear of expulsion….eight points for risk of suicide.. ten points for terminal illness.

Many cases can be used to illustrate this pathologisation. In particular the case of a gay couple, one English and his partner threatened (because of the law’s homophobia as well as racism) with deportation. The English partner was diagnosed as having HIV and this became the “compassionate ground” on which the case was fought. However just before the case was to be heard in the High Court it was discovered that he did not have HIV. He had invented the condition by getting a friend who did have the illness to give blood in his name. He hadn’t even told his partner of this. This almost unbelievable scenario shows the lengths to which people are driven by immigration controls. It was prompted by the fact that he had been told that it was necessary to have “compassionate grounds” before his partner could remain here. So he pathologised himself as diseased.

Compassionate grounds as competitive and divisive

Raising compassionate grounds in this way produces and reproduces some sort of rat race. Each case has to show it is deserving of more “compassion” than the previous one.. There is a humiliating scramble with everyone under threat seeking to prove they are more ill, or abused, or vulnerable than others in the queue. Contesting removal, far from being a political response to a political attack, takes on the appearance of a pilgrimage to Lourdes. The saved are those who reach the holy waters first. . This has two consequences. First it is extremely divisive. It sets up a competition between all those threatened with expulsion Second it continually raises the stakes as to the level of compassionate grounds required to convince the Home Office – an agency which is not in any event prone to sympathy.. So for a single gay man – or a gay couple to be allowed to remain together – it is insufficient to have HIV. Full blown AIDS is what is demanded.. Internal instructions to immigration officers issued in 1995 state “persons certified as having AIDS should be distinguished from those where the person concerned has been diagnosed as HIV positive. A person who has been diagnosed as HIV positive may still be well and a serious case for exceptional treatment is unlikely to arise. (Where a person) has only a few months to live…cases will be referred back”. So much for compassionate grounds! The criterion, the standard to be reached, for remaining is terminal disease and death.

Compassionate grounds as exceptionalism, as justifications for stay

Fundamental to campaigning on compassionate grounds are the rotten politics of exceptionalism. The public message is clear – most people or are destined for expulsion but others, the exceptional, the chosen, should be allowed to remain. The Victorian distinction between the worthy and unworthy poor is simple transferred to the twenty first century deportee. As we have seen unwarranted criticisms have been made about using and abusing individuals threatened by removal to make explicit political points – the point of opposition to all controls.. The reality is just the opposite. Whenever campaigns agitate on compassionate grounds then there is being made an implicit political point – that those without such grounds, should presumably be expelled..

Behind all this is another equally reactionary public message, namely that those who wish to stay are obliged to justify this wish. They are obliged to account for their presence here. It is only by arguing against controls in principle that it is possible to assert the contrary – that everyone has the absolute right to remain irrespective of personal circumstances..

Compassionate grounds as stereotyping

Pathologisation transcends the individual. It encompasses whole countries and indeed continents. These are regularly and grossly stereotyped by campaigns as part of the presentation of compassionate grounds. There is painted a picture of a world beyond Britain and Western Europe which is an uncivilised welfare and educational desert devoid of all order- where children do not have schooling, where mothers and children are kidnapped without restraint by uncontrollable males, where there are nil health facilities. It is true that the world beyond the imperial heartlands is hugely under-resourced – mainly as a result of imperial economic and military intervention. However this does not mean that these countries have lapsed into social barbarism and reverted to their supposedly natural state of primitive savagery. Anyhow imagine the boot on the other foot. Imagine an English person being deported from, for example, India (it happens). How would a hypothetical campaign depict the UK?

Compassionate grounds as transforming the bad into good, the undesirable into the desirable

Consider undesirable personal and social situations that everyone would wish to avoid – being abused as a child, being battered as a woman, being ill, being too old to be independent. All these undesirable attributes suddenly become desirable, treasured, the holy grail when it comes to contesting immigration cases. They are the hallowed compassionate grounds. Conversely campaigning on such grounds inevitably means that their absence – that is the absence of abuse, of being battered of terminal illness etc – becomes a positive disadvantage. This truly is a world turned upside down. A world where the bad becomes the good. A world where liberal and grotesque ideas have been allowed to dominate. A world where all that should be avoided or contested is welcomed and embraced A world where those fighting deportations can state “If a young person tells me they were raped, I say good! Tell me the details. The more sordid the better”

Restraining lawyers

We saw above that a distinction has to be made between the private presentation of a case to the Home Office and the public campaigning. We have also seen how at least one lawyer has said she has felt compromised in adding to the oppression of children by presenting “abuse” as something positive within immigration cases. They are several lessons here. First it is good to be conscious of what is happening politically here – many legal representatives simply do not have this political awareness. Second the distinction between the “private” and the “public” is not a static one. For instance what is left of the immigration appeal system takes place within the sphere of the public. Lawyers should be careful as to what is said ideologically at these hearings. Third legal representatives often go well beyond what is required in the presentation of “compassionate” grounds. Classic examples of this appear in the realm of stereotyping. A typical example is the presentation of children as being too “westernised” to be deported. Implicit within this is the notion of the superiority of Western values, culture etc. Finally it is not beyond contemplation that lawyers can cross over from arguing cases on compassionate grounds to making a political case based on the racism of controls as such. This itself depends on the strength of the political campaign behind a case. But it is not inconceivable. An example can be taken from a case concerning racism but not immigration. In the early 1980s twelve youths in Bradford (the Bradford 12) were accused of making petrol bombs. They did not deny this. The bombs were made in case of fascist attack by the National Front which was rampant at the time. . There was a massive national campaign under the slogan “Self defence is no offence!”. This right to make bombs then became the core of the legal argument. And the verdict…not guilty!

The battle for ideas

Immigration campaigns are about winning cases, about stopping expulsions. However they are not, or should not, simply, be about this.. They are inescapably and unavoidably part of a battle for ideas. This is a battle on three fronts which are really only one front. First is the ideological struggle to expose immigration controls as racist. Second is the struggle to show that controls are not inevitable. Third is the struggle to explain that there cannot be “fair” or “just” or “reasonable” or “non-racist” controls. Within this battle the reliance politically on compassionate grounds is spreading false ideas on all three fronts. It assumes, by not challenging, the very existence of controls as an unquestionable fact of life – rather than a political construct that can be fought. . It presents the idea that controls can indeed be compassionate – that is “fair” and devoid of racism. Every time it is argued that someone is in the camp of the “worthy” or the “exceptional” there is legitimised the whole ideology of immigration control which asserts its own authority on the backs of the “unworthy and “unexceptional” – that is the “bogus”, the “illegal”.Some people claim it is utopic to argue for the abolition of all controls – that this would require a revolution. It may well require a revolution. However the sanitisation of controls into their opposite, into something fair and non-racist, would require a miracle…

Compassionate grounds and the great leap

There is a particular miraculous quality behind this concentration on compassionate grounds. It assumes a leap of faith. It assumes that once people are won over on a case by case basis by a sense of pity then it will be possible to convince them to challenge controls in principle. History has shown that consciousness does not work like this. Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of members of the public have over the last thirty years written letters or signed petitions or sent post cards protesting individual cases on compassionate grounds. In fact it is not at all difficult for a campaign to gain support on this level However it is quite clear that these vast numbers have not made the leap into opposing the totality of controls. And there is a political reason for this. Opposing controls per se requires more than a sense of pity. It requires resisting the idea that law is absolute and should always be obeyed It requires a recognition that what is at stake here is a battle against the state and the entire state machinery. The achievement of this recognition can only be helped by the honest advocacy of abolition of all controls. Conversely it can only be hindered through the false illusion of “fair” or compassionate controls.

The alternative

Campaigns against deportation are central in the struggle against controls. They have been responsible for building up a culture of resistance to restrictions. They refuse to go away. They are a testimony to the resilience of the oppressed. They have existed for a quarter of a century – the first significant campaign being that of Nasira Begum against deportation in the late 1970s. But as supporters we need to re-evaluate them and not over-romanticise them. In particular there is a need based on all the reasons given above to re-evaluate the constant presentation of compassionate grounds as somehow providing a basis for struggle. This then immediately raises the question as to what is the alternative? How else can cases be fought if not on the basis of personal circumstances and personal stories? The almost absolute absence of experience of fighting in other ways does in itself make this a difficult question to answer. But there are answers.

Slogans don’t win cases. But they show the way forward. And the relevant slogan here is Solidarity Not Pity! This encompasses two inter-locked points. First coming or remaining in the UK should not be a not a matter of charity – of compassion. It should be an absolute right. Second rights cannot be achieved through begging, through asking for pity – for compassion. They can only be obtained through struggle – through solidarity

Solidarity Not Pity! points the way in a particular political direction. This is the direction of the collectivisation of campaigns. Fighting campaigns one by one, on a serial basis reinforces the atomisation of those under threat of expulsion. This itself leads to a situation of weakness, of begging and pleading rather than demanding. Fighting together with others in the same or similar situation is one way out of this dead end. There are examples of this from the 1980s. One example was the Wives and Fiancees Campaign. This fought collectively for the right of women to both have their overseas partners come to this country. or, if they themselves were from abroad, to be able to leave their partners without being deported.. It was a fight for immigration autonomy lead and directed by the women themselves.

Solidarity Not Pity! Is also making another political point. This is one of militancy. The more militant, the more imaginative, the more subversive, the more public – then the greater the possibility of politicising a campaign and of challenging the very existence of controls.. The reality is that most campaigns today do not aspire to this. There has been a huge shift since the 1980s – a shift backwards. From the struggle of Nasira Begum to that of Anwar Ditta (fighting to get her children here) to that of Viraj Mendis virtually all campaigns were characterised by their energy, by their public presence and by the variety of initiatives there were taken to build public support. They cultivated support within the labour movement. They organised lively anti-racist conferences. They produced informative and rebellious literature. They engaged in direct action. They organised spectacular events. They were energetic. They were in constant touch with each other. They often shared the same actions. They had a constant presence on the streets.. They were lead by the undocumented themselves. They rejected self-appointed so-called “community leaders” They .were based on the self-activity of those under threat – who spoke at meetings both locally and nationally. They were dangerous. They were a danger to the state machinery of controls.. Compare that with the situation today and building up over the last decade– where campaigns often appear to have simply a cyber-space existence (perhaps with petitions and standard letters) without any public presence .

There were occasional exceptions to this passivity. The slogan Solidarity Not Pity! was first raised in the successful campaign of the Rahman family in Bolton in the early 1990s.. The fact that the campaign attracted huge support and that it was successful answers those faint-hearts who suggest that fighting a case from a position of opposition to all controls will alienate potential supporters , will result in defeat and will see those under threat of deportation sacrificed on the alter of some abstract principle. Just the opposite was the case. It was the outspoken politics of the campaign which attracted the support.. The Rahman family itself was beset with serious illness. However within the public (as opposed to the legal) domain there was a serious and conscious effort not to make this the basis of the campaign. There was a significant effort to preserve the dignity of the family by not having their private lives made unnecessarily public. Instead there was raised the slogan Solidarity Not Pity! As a consequence it at least became possible, at least there were opportunities, to raise and challenge the existence of controls in principle. This lead to one major demonstration which took over the centre of Bolton and also to a major conference (“Communities of Resistance”) which brought together on a national basis all existing grassroots campaigns against racism. Within this activity it would have been a nonsense to raise the demand for “compassionate” immigration controls. The only demand worth raising in this context was for the abolition of controls.. And this was the demand that in essence became central to the campaign as the context became stronger and stronger.


Solidarity Not Pity! also provides one final political lesson. This is that unless campaigns are guided by the undocumented themselves then they simply become, at their best, high-powered social work.. Unless campaigns are built on the self-organisation of those threatened by controls then they are just another form of charity. Charity begs for compassion. Self-organisation demands rights and has a contempt for all controls whatever their legal form..Self-organisation is directed against controls in principle. The role of the documented is to provide solidarity with this self activity – not pity.

Steve Cohen

The Case Against Immigration Controls

Article by Teresa Hayter.

Note: Much of the detailed material in this article is taken from the British case. This is because this is where the author’s knowledge mainly lies. It is not intended to mean that the British treatment of migrants and refugees is particularly worse than other countries’. All of the countries to which people migrate abuse their human rights and treat them, in varying ways, with terrible harshness.


Immigration controls cause immense, and increasing, suffering. They are explicable only by racism, which they legitimate and feed. At the same time they are rather ineffective in preventing the movement of people. They should be abandoned, as a cruel twentieth century abberation. People should be free to chose where they wish to live and to work. In addition, once they have chosen to live in a particular place, they should have exactly the same rights as all other residents of that place. If migrants are labelled ‘illegal’, and even if they work legally but with lesser rights than the rest of the population, this will not only lay them open to exploitation and the fear of deportation, but may also mean that they will be used to undermine the hard-won employment rights and civil liberties of the rest of the population.

History of immigration controls

It is now considered axiomatic that states should have the right to stop people entering their territories, but it was not always so. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that immigration controls were introduced in most European countries and the United States. Previously nation states had at times expelled people whom they considered undesirable, but they had not attempted to prevent immigration. Britain, for example, expelled all Jews in the thirteenth century, but it was not until 1905 that it adopted laws to keep them out in the first place.

The growth of the culture of human rights has so far failed to assert the right of people to chose where they wish to live, except within the states whose nationality they are born with, or have obtained. Thus the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, asserts in its Article 13-1 that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state’, which means the state in which they are officially allowed to reside. Therefore if, for example, people wish to leave an area of high unemployment and look for work where there is plenty of it, the authorities are not supposed to interfere with this wish provided it is within the boundaries of their ‘own’ country. When, as in the Soviet Union and China, governments prevented their citizens from moving to particular areas within the country, this was considered an example of the repressive nature of these states, and widely condemned. The Universal Declaration also states, under Article 13-2, that ‘Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country’. When the Soviet Union, East Germany and other states in eastern Europe prevented their citizens from leaving their countries, sometimes by arresting and even shooting them, and sometimes by building high fences and walls, perhaps reinforced with razor wire, this, again, was rightly considered shocking.

Less however is said about the walls, fences, razor wire, armed guards and other repressive devices which are supposed to stop people entering rather than leaving territories. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has nothing to say about the right of people, who are supposed to be free to leave their own countries, to enter another. In a period when the powers of nation states are being undermined by the the forces of globalisation and big business, states nevertheless cling tenaciously to one of their last prerogatives: the right to select which foreigners they will admit, and which they will try not to admit. Historically states have needed immigration to expand their economies. In the early years of European empire, labour was obtained by varying degrees of force and compulsion. After the Second World War, in the period of reconstruction and boom, most European countries actively engaged in the recruitment of workers from abroad, first from other European countries and then from their former colonies, from North Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean, and from Turkey. But by the early 1970s, with recession and growing unemployment, the European countries which had previously imported labour had all set up controls to stop further migration for work. Legal immigration for employment largely ended. The apparatus of controls to stop people entering Europe and other rich areas without permission grew. By the late 1990s some governments were also increasing their efforts to deport the people who had already come. In France, for example, people who had had more or less automatically renewable ten-year residence permits suddenly found that their permits were not renewed, or were given one-year permits, which meant they had either to go underground and work illegally, or leave the country in which they had lived for many years. They organised themselves as Sans Papiers (undocumented people) to resist. In Britain, the government set targets for deportation, and began to increase random checks, arrests, detention and deportation of long-term British residents who had infringed some provision of the immigration laws but who in many cases had jobs, houses, wives and young children, who then became dependent on public funds for survival.

The treatment of asylum seekers

One, at first legal, route for entry remained. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 14, stated that: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. But, after objections by the British, the declaration did not give them the unqualified right to receive asylum, only to seek it. It is left to the recipient states to decide who they will or will not grant refugee status to, rather than, as would be logical and as was the practise in the nineteenth century, leaving it up to refugees themselves to decide, as they are best qualified to do, whether they need to flee. On the whole, during the Cold War, when people did succeed in leaving the Soviet Union and other east European states, they were accepted in the states they went to. Similarly, after the Cuban revolution, Cubans were allowed into the United States (but Haitians were not). The 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol incorporated the right to asylum; they also gave it a restrictive definition. A refugee is defined as: ‘Any person who owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’. Some governments, including the German and French, have restricted this further, saying that persecution must be by state agents rather than by other groups in order for the applicant to qualify for asylum. And over the years states have accepted declining proportions of the number of people who claim asylum, though the claims themselves differ little. They assert that this is because the ‘asylum seekers’ are not really fleeing persecution but are merely seeking to improve their economic situation. They have started to attack them, in Britain for example, as ‘bogus’, ‘abusive’ and ‘illegal’. The authorities, rather than making it their task to examine fairly and objectively a person’s case for asylum (which itself is likely to be impossible), take on an adversarial role: immigration service officials see their role as, like prosecution lawyers, to find inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the accounts given by refugees of their reasons for fleeing, which they then say undermine the credibility of their claims. In one particular case in Britain, for example, a Zairean asylum seeker said in one interview that there was no window in the cell in which he had been imprisoned, and in another that there was in fact a small grille above the door to the cell; this was given as grounds for refusing his claim. In another British case officials gave as grounds for the refusal of asylum their (incorrect) assertion that escape across the Congo river was impossible because it was full of crocodiles. The process is arbitrary. It is clearly influenced more by quotas and targets than by considerations of justice or truth. As a result governments turn down many asylum claims which nevertheless meet the criteria set by the international conventions to which they are signatories. They then claim, quite unjustifiably, that this is evidence that most asylum seekers are making false claims and that their real objective is economic betterment (which of course is no reason why they should not migrate). Asylum seekers come overwhelmingly from areas in which there are wars and severe political persecution. A few of those who, with exceptional enterprise and courage, make it to Europe and other rich areas and claim asylum may do so in order to improve their financial situation. But the reality is that nearly all asylum seekers, whatever their reasons for migrating, are highly educated and are often dissident members of the elite. Many take a large drop in their standard of living, losing jobs, houses and land as well as their families.

Having progressively undermined the right to receive asylum, governments are now attempting to make it harder for people to apply for it. They do this, above all, by imposing visa requirements on the nationals of what they call ‘refugee-producing’ states, which of course means the states people are most likely to need to flee from. The requirement to obtain a visa means that refugees cannot travel legally to the country they wish to go to. Clearly they cannot apply for a passport to the authorities they are trying to escape from. Supposing they already have a passport, they could in theory go to a foreign embassy to apply for a visa, braving the security guards outside and the possibility they might be denounced by local employees inside. But if they then asked for a visa to apply for asylum, they would normally be quickly ejected; there is no such thing as a refugee visa. They could in theory apply for a visitor’s or student’s visa, but this would require documentary proofs and probably some funds, and would in any case constitute deception. The usual course for refugees therefore became to buy false documents from agents. But this itself is becoming increasingly hard. Under various Carriers’ Acts, airways, ferries and other tranpsort operators are now required to ensure that the passengers they carry have documents, and are fined if they allow them to travel without them. Governments spend large amounts of money on technology to enable carriers to become better at detecting false documents, and sometimes post their own agents at foreign airports to check documents. If they succeed, they hand refugees back to the authorities they are fleeing from. Refugees are therefore forced to resort to even more dangerous, clandestine methods of travel. They have, usually, to pay large sums of money to agents, to enable them to flee in the holds of ships, in the backs or even in the tyre casings of lorries, underneath trains and even aeroplanes, in often overcrowded and leaky boats. In the process they endure great suffering. Many thousands die each year, of suffocation or drowning. Governments then anounce that they will clamp down on the illegal smuggling networks, for whose existence they are entirely responsible, and have the gall to proclaim their concern over the cruelty of the agents and traffickers organising the refugees’ escape.

The objective of governments is to reduce, by this and other means, the number of people seeking refuge in their countries. Governments compete with another to be seen as the most uninviting and the toughest. This supposes that the applications are not related to the real needs of people to flee, but to the attractiveness of individual countries as places of refuge. In Britain, for example, the Prime Minister set a target of halving the number of applications for asylum; the target was met mainly because it was set in relation to the month in which applications peaked, and because this peak had itself been almost entirely the consequence of the number of Iraqis fleeing the threat of US-British invasion. But governments appear to continue to believe that the way to reduce the number of refugees is not to refrain from creating the conditions which people flee from, but to make conditions harsher in the countries they are trying to flee to. They lock refugees up in prisons and detention centres, and they reduce them to destitution. Refugees are punished not for anything they have themselves done, but in the, probably largely mistaken, belief that their treatment will deter others who might follow in their footsteps. In the process governments flout a long list of human rights: the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned, the right to a fair trial by a properly constituted court, the right to family life, the right to work, among others. Amnesty International, in its pamphlet Prisoners Without A Voice: Asylum Seekers Detained in the United Kingdom, has said that Britain, for example, in its treatment of asylum seekers, violates article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. It also violates virtually all of the guidelines on detention of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (published in 1996).

Immigration prisons now exist in all of the rich, or ‘developed’, countries to which refugees flee. The largest numbers in absolute terms are locked up in the USA. Australia now detains all those who apply for asylum. Britain was one of the first European countries to detain asylum seekers, and it remains the only west European country to do so without judicial supervision and without time limit. In France although there is officially judicial supervision of decisions to detain, the courts’ agreement usually amounts to little more than rubber-stamping, and when the short time limits have been exceeded detention can be renewed. In theory the British government derives its right to detain asylum seekers and other migrants from its 1971 Act, which stated that they could be detained prior to removal. Although detention centres have been renamed removal centres, in practise only a small minority of those detained have had their cases finally dismissed and have removal directions. Some cannot be deported, for a variety of reasons, and therefore cannot legally be detained. Around ten per cent of those arriving at ports and claiming asylum, who are therefore not even technically ‘illegal immigrants’, are detained. The process is arbitrary, and has to do with filling the available spaces in detention centres and prisons; the decisions are made by junior immigration officials, who have to give only general reasons, such as ‘we believe that the person is likely to abscond’; asked what evidence they have for this belief, they may merely reply ‘we are not a court of law’. The numbers detained under immigration laws have quadrupled since the 1970s. Some are detained in ordinary criminal prisons, subjected to prison procedures, sometimes locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, occasionally locked up with convicted prisoners. Others are detained in centres designated for immigration purposes, some of which were previously prisons and still have prison regimes, surrounded by high fences and razor wire, and mostly run for profit by private security firms, whose guards are blatantly racist. Worse, the Labour government now imprisons women and children. The practise is not new, but previously the government admitted it was not legal, merely detaining thirteen-year-olds on the basis of travel documents which gave their age as thirty, and refusing to believe evidence to the contrary. It now systematically imprisons whole families, including young children, babies and pregnant women, sometimes for months at a time; in their pamphlet entitled A Crying Shame: Pregnant Asylum Seekers and Their Babies in Detention, three British organisations give a harrowing account, based on interviews with some of the women concerned, of the effects of their incarceration. The government also plans to set up ‘accommodation centres’, which will be in effect prisons, which children will not be allowed to leave to receive education in local schools.

To varying degrees and in different ways, most European countries now also deliberately reduce asylum seekers who are not locked up to destitution. In most countries they are not allowed to work. Increasingly they are denied access to minimal public support, including in some cases health services. In some countries, public financial support and accommodation is denied to those who have had their claims rejected but who may still be pursuing legal avenues to avoid deportation, or who cannot be deported (because they have no papers, because conditions in their countries are recognised to be unsafe, or because transport to their areas does not exist). In France public support, of a limited nature, is available only after a claim for asylum has been lodged, which may take months. In Britain it is not available to those who are deemed not to have claimed asylum immediately on arrival, which is usually difficult or impossible for the increasing numbers of refugees who are forced by government policies to travel clandestinely, and in effect means that two-thirds of new asylum seekers are made destitute. Although the courts have partially condemned this measure as inhuman and degrading treatment, and individuals can apply to have the decision reversed, some 5,000 people in Britain, many of whom may subsequently get refugee status, are currently living in various degrees of destitution with neither the right to work nor the right to receive any form of state support. The denial of public support to ‘failed asylum seekers’ has now been extended to families; this may mean that their children will be taken away from them and put into state ‘care’. The support which is available to others has been progressively whittled away. Asylum seekers in Britain now receive some two-thirds of the sum considered to be the minimum subsistence level for the rest of the population. They are dispersed away from their communities, lawyers and sometimes families to one ‘no choice’ offer of accommodation, often in sub-standard housing including condemned public housing estates, where they are isolated and vulnerable to racist attacks, to the extent that some of them fear to go out. In Germany it has long been public policy to house asylum seekers in sometimes isolated hostels, where there have been cases of harassment and even arson by racists and fascists, and asylum seekers are confined to limited areas within the country, with severe penalties if they leave.

Creeping fascisisation

Immigration controls thus give rise to some of the worst abuses of human rights in Western societies. Asylum seekers suffer mistreatment of a sort to which the rest of the population is not, so far, subjected. But the abuses threaten to spread to the rest of the population, in what the Belgian organization Frontieres Ouvertes (Open Borders) has described as creeping ‘fascisisation’ of European countries, as a result of their increasingly desperate attempts to stop people entering Europe. Denial of benefits to certain categories of people could spread to the unemployed, single mothers and others considered undesirable. Police surveillance and random checks of immigration status can affect long-term residents who look ‘foreign’. These checks have a long history in countries such as France, where residents must carry identity papers or, in some cases, carry around with them proof that they have children born in France, which still protects them from deportation. In Britain, where politicians and others pride themselves on the long tradition of absence of the obligation to carry identity papers, many immigrants nevertheless already find it prudent to carry their papers around with them. Asylum seekers have now been issued with ‘smart cards’ which carry their photograph, finger-prints, and a statement on whether or not they are allowed to work. And finally, the government has decided that identity cards themselves are to be introduced, and made obligatory at first for foreigners. Announcing the decision, the government said that this ‘will help tackle crime and serious issues facing the UK, particularly illegal working, immigration abuse, ID fraud, terrorism and organised crime’. Especially since 11 September 2001, the issues of immigration and terrorism are becoming blurred in many countries, most notably the United States. The US government detains people who are ‘suspected’ of terrorist sympathies but who may never be brought to trial, let alone to public trial with the normal judicial safeguards, indefinitely and in sub-human conditions at Guantanamo Bay. In Britain, under an Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, indefinite detention in high security prisons has been introduced for foreigners ‘suspected’ of terrorism, some of whom are refugees and therefore cannot be deported; in an even harsher version of what asylum seekers already suffer, they are subjected to judicial procedures which are a mockery of justice, much of them held in private and in which neither the defendants nor their lawyers have the right to hear what they are being accused of. An earlier Act, introduced in 2000, made it a criminal offence to belong to or support certain ‘terrorist’ organisations. This means for example that Kurdish refugees from Turkey have to chose whether they wish to be prosecuted if they say they are members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), or fail to obtain refugee status if they do not. Their British supporters have also been prosecuted, and the act has been used against protestors against the arms trade and against the invasion of Iraq.

The need for workers and ‘managed’ migration

Curiously, the escalation in the repressive apparatus of immigration controls, and the attempt to keep foreigners out, takes place at a time when European populations are declining, or forecast to decline. These declines, the ageing of the population, and the worsening ratios of working to non-working populations, are expected to cause serious economic and social problems in most European countries. The United Nations Population Division, in its document Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations, has estimated that to maintain existing ratios of young to old people, European countries would need extra immigration of several million people per year. Their governments usually accept that more, rather than less immigration is needed if their economies are to expand and prosper. Most of them are now back in the business of recruiting foreign workers, especially skilled workers in trades such as computing and health services where there are obvious skills shortages, but also unskilled workers, mainly in sectors and jobs in which long-term residents are unavailable or unwilling to work and which cannot be transferred abroad, such as agriculture, catering, cleaning and some building work. In Britain the issue of work permits to employers, enabling them to recruit workers from abroad for specific jobs, has nearly doubled since 1998, and other legal routes to enter Britain to work have been opened. In Germany and elsewhere there are government programmes to recruit computer specialists.

It is at first hard to understand why governments are thus recruiting and encouraging foreign workers, and at the same time redoubling their efforts to keep foreigners out; for example they recruit nurses in Zimbabwe and the Philippines, and imprison nurses who come on their own initiative to seek asylum. The explanation appears to be that they want to control, or ‘manage’, migration flows: to select desired migrants and reject others. But this too requires explanation. Some supporters of the free market, including for example the Wall Street Journal and at times the London Economist and Financial Times, argue, with a consistency which is absent elsewhere, that the movement of labour should be free in the same way as the movement of capital and goods is in theory supposed to be free. They do not agree that governments should determine the availability of labour to employers or attempt to set quotas according to some estimate of the needs of the economy, and believe recruitment decisions should be left to employers. As Nigel Harris has shown in his essay for this series and his book Thinking the Unthinkable, some liberal economists also argue that, like free trade, the free movement of labour across borders as well as within countries would greatly increase prosperity, not only for the migrants themselves but also in the countries the workers migrate to and in those they migrate from, and in the world as a whole. Employers in the United States in particular have called for the free movement of labour, for the obvious reason that it would suit them to have easier access to the vast reserves of cheap labour that exist outside the rich countries. There is much evidence, now supported for example by recent research by Gott and Johnston commissioned and published by the British Home Office, that immigrants make large contributions both to economic growth and to public finances, since they are mostly young, fit and educated at others’ expense. Most, if they are legally permitted to and sometimes if they are not, are willing to work for long hours and in poor conditions in jobs which do not require their qualifications.

There is one possible economic rationale for immigration controls, which is that their existence makes immigrant workers precarious, and therefore more exploitable. Most western economies, and especially the United States, are highly dependent on super-exploited immigrant workers, many millions of whom have no legal immigration status. None of the rich industrial countries of the West have signed up to the United Nations’ International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, whose intention is to guarantee some minimum protections for migrant workers, including the prevention of inhumane working and living conditions, equal access to social services and the right to participate in trade unions, so as to ensure that migrants have equality of treatment and the same working conditions as the nationals of the countries they are working in. Governments’ attitude to illegal working appears to be entirely negative and punitive, designed only to detect and repress it, thus making the situation of the workers even more precarious. In most cases the proposals for more government-permitted immigration are that the new workers will be admitted on short-term contracts, tied to particular employers and jobs (in Britain and some other European countries this represents a radical departure from previous labour-importing policies). Whether they are working ‘illegally’ or on legal, but temporary, contracts, the workers are extremely vulnerable. They can be employed in exploitative conditions, at the mercy of employers, and denied basic employment rights. If they make an attempt to improve their situation, for example by joining a trade union, or try to obtain redress against employers who fail to pay them the agreed amount, sexually harass them or in other ways mistreat them, they can be sacked. In the case of the ‘legal’ workers, this will mean leaving the country or going underground. Especially in the case of the ‘illegal’ workers, it may also mean that the police and immigration authorities are called in and that they are then detained and deported. This system of precarious working constitutes what the Sans Papiers of France have called a new form of slavery. The Sans Papiers argue that this is a deliberate policy of neo-liberal governments, designed to ensure that the immigrants provide a model of flexibilisation and ‘precarisation’ which can be spread throughout the sectors in which they work and eventually to the economy as a whole. But it is not clear that the policy benefits the economy, and employers, as much as allowing free entry to workers from abroad would. It also does not adequately explain why governments are apparently so anxious to crack down on ‘illegal’ immigrants, who are the ultimately exploitable workforce, and ‘illegal’ working, and to increase the rate of deportations and deter asylum seekers.

Immigration controls and racism

The explanation may be that governments’ attempts to prevent the entry of asylum seekers and other clandestine migrants have more to do with political than with economic considerations. Governments appear to believe that the way to defeat the growth of the far right in Europe is to adopt their policies. They believe they must demonstrate that they are adopting progressively more vicious measures to deter asylum seekers and others who might come into the country (to do the dirty and dangerous jobs which employers cannot find locals to do), and that they are doing their utmost to keep them out, or to evict them if they nevertheless succeed in getting past immigration controls. Ultimately, the inescapable conclusion is that immigration controls, and government repression of migrants and refugees, are explicable only by racism, or at least by attempts to appease the racists. Immigration controls certainly have their origins in racism. In Britain for example they were first introduced in 1905 as a result of agitation by racist and extreme right-wing organisations, at this time against Jewish refugees. Similarly, when controls were introduced in 1962 to stop immigration, this time, for the first time, from the former British empire, their introduction again followed agitation by racist and neo-fascist organisations. Up to 1962, the most prominent politicians from all the main parties (quoted for example in Paul Foot’s book Immigration and Race in British Politics) had proclaimed that the principle of free movement within the former British empire would never be abandoned. Government reports had found no reason for immigration controls other than the supposed ‘non-assimilability’ of the new immigrants. The covert aim of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was to stop ‘coloured’ immigration; since the economy still required an expanding labour supply, the legislation was framed so as to exclude Irish workers from controls and, it was hoped, let in white British subjects from the ‘old’ commonwealth while excluding black ones from the ‘new’ commonwealth.

Politicians constantly reiterate that the way to deal with racism is to demonstrate to the racists that their concerns are being met. The problem, of course, is that immigration controls do not appease the racists. They merely legitimate racism. And they also embolden the racists to demand more. When politicians lament the recent increase in racism, they fail to acknowledge that it is precisely their own actions, including their constant complaints about the supposed ‘abuses’ committed by ‘bogus’ asylum seekers, that explain the rise in racism after a period when it had been in decline. Their actions and their words feed the parts of the media whose political agenda it has long been to stir up racism; these media use information, and phrases, which are often clearly derived from government sources. Governments only very rarely attempt to counter the lies propagated by the media and others, or give information which might correct the distortions and misinformation. As a consequence, people believe, for example, that the number of immigrants and asylum seekers is far higher than it actually is. They fail to realise that asylum seekers, who have become the new object of race hate campaigns and violence, actually constitute an insignificant proportion both of the total number of refugees in the world as a whole, and of the number of other people entering Europe, including visitors, students, the employees of multinational corporations and others with official permission to work. It is hard to understand why governments appear so concerned to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers, rather than of anybody else, unless their purpose is simply to appease the racists and in this way, they hope, win votes.

Immigration controls are inherently racist. Any scheme which tried to make them ‘fair’ or non-racist must fail. Even if they did not discriminate, as they now do, against black people, east European Roma, the poor and anybody else who is subject to the current manifestations of prejudice, they would still discriminate against foreigners and outsiders in general. Those who demand tougher controls talk about ‘our’ culture, whatever that may be, being swamped. Every country in the world, except perhaps in East Africa where human beings may have first evolved, is the product of successive waves of immigration. There are few places where there is any such thing as a pure, ‘native’ culture. European culture, for example, if such a thing exists, is arguably under much greater threat from the influence of the United States, whose citizens have little difficulty in entering Europe, and from its own home-grown consumer excesses, than it is from people who might come from anywhere else. Moreover ‘non-racist’ immigration controls, even if these were conceptually possible, would be pointless, since racism is the main reason for their existence. On the contrary, one of the very best ways to undermine the arguments of the racists would be to abolish immigration controls, and to make plain why they are unnecessary.

Equal rights for immigrants

For the abolition of immigration controls to make sense, those who migrate must have the same rights as the residents of the countries they migrate to. Proposals that people should have the right to migrate freely in search of jobs, but have inferior rights to those of other workers in the same country, would be damaging not only to their interests, but to those of most of the existing residents. New immigrants need to have not only the right to work, but all the gains for the working class that exist in the countries they migrate to, including protection against unfair dismissal, the right to join and organise in trade unions, the right to leave their job and look for another one, the right to receive unemployment and sickness benefits and holiday pay, in the same way as everybody else. They should have the right to vote and the right to hold public office, and they should of course have full access to social provision, including health provision and education for their children. Immigrant workers do not usually take the jobs that might otherwise be available to existing residents and immigration does not usually lead to any worsening of wages and conditions in the countries they go to (on the contrary there is much evidence that it increases prosperity for all by enabling economies to expand and industries to survive). Nevertheless if there was any threat to the wages and conditions of the existing workforce, it would come from the fact that migrants, if they have no or few rights, can be forced to work in bad conditions and for low wages and cannot fight for improvements without risking deportation. They can come to constitute an enslaved underclass, which employers may hope not only to exploit directly, but to use as a means of weakening the position of all workers. The way to prevent any possibility of this happening is for trade unions, and all of us, to argue for full citizenship rights for all workers and residents, regardless of their nationality or how long they have lived in the country. This was more or less the situation, before 1962, of citizens of the UK and colonies who migrated to Britain; it accounts for their political strength and their militancy in their workplaces. It is, with limitations, the situation of citizens of the European Union who migrate from one EU country to another. It is also of course the situation of United States citizens who migrate between states in the US federation. And it is the situation of people who migrate from one local authority to another within states, and receive the level of public services prevalent in the area they move to.

The consequences of free movement

There are many who say that the abolition of immigration controls is a desirable goal, one they themselves would like to see achieved, but that it is politically impossible in a world in which there are severe international inequalities. But the argument that, without controls, there would be ‘floods’ of migrants who would overwhelm the rich countries some of them go to is little more than scaremongering. The fact that there are huge international inequalities in material wealth does not mean that, as neo-classical economists might predict, there would be mass movements of people throughout the world until material conditions and wages equalised. It is true that if there were no controls there would probably be more migration, since the dangers and cost of migrating would be less; how much more is impossible to estimate. Immigration controls, however much money is poured into them and however much the abuses of human rights involved in their enforcement escalate, do not work well; if for example, after years of expensive and painful legal processes, asylum seekers finally have their application refused, governments often find it impossible to deport them; and with each new, and more vicious, advance in the apparatus of repression, people are forced to find new, braver and more ingenious ways of circumventing it.

Most people require powerful reasons to migrate; in normal circumstances they are reluctant to leave their countries, families and cultures. When free movement was allowed in the European Union, some feared there would be mass migration from the poorer to the richer areas; the migration did not happen, to the chagrin of the proponents of flexible labour markets. The great desire of many who do migrate is to return to their own countries, when they have saved enough money, or if conditions there improve. Immigration controls mean that they are less likely to do so, because they cannot contemplate the struggle of crossing borders again if they find they need to. In addition, when people migrate from choice, they normally do so because there are jobs to migrate to. For example, when subjects of the former British empire were allowed to enter, settle and work in Britain without immigration controls, and had the same rights as British subjects born in Britain, as was the case until 1962, migration correlated almost exactly with employment opportunities; when job vacancies increased, more people came from South Asia and the Caribbean, and when they declined, fewer did so. Especially for the migrants from South Asia, the pattern was that families sent their young men to do a stint in hard jobs in the factories of northern Britain and then return, perhaps to be replaced by a younger member of the family. When the threat of immigration controls became real, there was for the first time a surge in immigration which did not correlate with job opportunities, to beat the ban; well over half the Indians and about three-quarters of the Pakistanis who arrived in Britain before controls did so in the 18-month period preceding their introduction; after controls were introduced, immigrants could no longer come and go, and were forced to bring their families and settle in Britain; by 1967 90 per cent of all Commonwealth immigrants were ‘dependants’. Similarly, there is evidence that the harder the US government makes it to brave the razor wire and other obstacles to cross the border into the USA, the more Mexican immigrants find themselves forced to make the hard decision to settle in the USA, and give up hopes of return. Finally, if people are extremely poor, they cannot raise the money to migrate, except perhaps to neighbouring countries. People do not or cannot undertake the risks and expense and painful separations of migration, in order to live in squalor off public funds.

Unless, that is, they are desperate to escape threats of death, imprisonment or torture. It is of course the case that too many people are forced to flee from such threats, if they have the means to do so. Supposing the governments of the rich countries were in reality concerned by the problem of forced migration, there would be better, and probably more sustainable and effective, ways to reduce it than by casting around for yet more brutal ways of enforcing immigration controls. Governments ought to recognise that they themselves often bear direct responsibility, and are nearly always partly responsible, for creating the conditions from which people flee. There is much that they could do, and above all not do: they could refrain from supporting and arming repressive regimes or the opposition to more progressive regimes, they could, as a minimum, not supply weapons to the participants in wars and civil conflicts, and they could cease to engage in armed interventions. They could be less greedy in their exploitation of the peoples and resources of other countries. When the West’s corporations or its agencies the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund make investments which displace people or pollute their land, or impose policies which impoverish them and create unemployment, people who are made destitute or landless are unlikely themselves to have the resources to migrate, but the situation may feed war, conflict and repression which force others to migrate. The increases in asylum seekers in Europe in the last few years have been mainly from Somalia, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, all countries of significant military and economic intervention by the West. In particular, while there was a steady trickle of refugees from Iraq under the Saddam regime and in the years of economic sanctions, there was a surge in numbers in response to the threat of US/British invasion.


In an ideal world, people would be free to migrate if they wished to, but they would not be forced to migrate. It should be an elementary principle that human beings have the right to decide themselves, with the greatest possible freedom, where they wish to live and work. Having made that decision, it is essential that they should not be condemned to be second-class citizens and to virtual enslavement in exploitative conditions, divided from the rest of the population, but that they should have exactly the same rights as all other residents of the place they have chosen to live in. In that way they can reach their potential as human beings and, as previous generations of migrants have done, make large contributions to human prosperity and progress.

If governments would only tell the truth and act on it, they could bring about a reduction in racism and racist violence and the causes of racism. The abolition of immigration controls has the potential to create large gains in the protection of human rights and in harmony between peoples. Immigration controls make no sense.

Bibliography and further reading

Bail for Immigration Detainees (2002), Crying asylum seekers and their babies in detention, London: The Maternity Alliance, Bail for Immigration Detainees, London Detainee Support Group.
Cohen, R. (1988), The New Helots: Migrants in the International Division of labour, Aldershot: Gower Publishing.
Cohen, R. (1994), Frontiers of Identity: The British and The Others, London and new York: Longmans.
Cohen, S. (2003), No-one Is Illegal: asylum and immigration control past and present, Stoke on Trent, UK and Sterling, USA: Trentham Books.
Cohen, S., B. Humphries and E. Mynott (2002), From Immigration Controls to Welfare Controls, London and New York: Routledge.
Dummett, A. and A. Nichol (1990), Subjects, Citizens, Aliens and Others, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Dummett, M. (2001), On Immigration and Refugees, London and New York: Routledge.
Foot, P. (1965), Immigration and Race in British Politics, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Glover, S. et al. (2001), Migration: an economic and social analysis, London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
Gott, C. and K. Johnston (2002), The migrant population in the UK: fiscal effects, London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
Harding, J. (2000), The Uninvited: Refugees at the Rich Man’s Gate, London: Profile Books.
Harris, N. (2002), Thinking the Unthinkable: The Immigration Myth Exposed, London: I. B. Taurus.
Harris, N. (1995), The New Untouchables: Immigration and the New World Worker, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Hayter, T. (1971), Aid As Imperialism, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Hayter, T. (1981), The Creation of World Poverty, London: Pluto Press.
Hayter, T. and Watson, C. (1985), Aid: Rhetoric and Reality, London: Pluto Press.
Hayter, T. (2000), Open Borders: The case Against Immigration Controls, London: Pluto Press.
No One Is Illegal (2003), Manifesto,
Stalker, P. (2001), The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration, Oxford: New Internationalist and London: Verso.
Sutcliffe, B. (1998), Nacido en otra parte: Un ensayo sobre la migracion internacional, el desarollo y la equidad, Bilbao: Hegoa.
Stroud, H. (1999), The Ghost Locust, Hong Kong: Asia 2000 Ltd.
United Nations Population Division (2000), Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?, New York: United Nations.

Asylum and Immigration Treatment of Claimants Bill

Neither Closed Door Nor Open Door But Revolving Door

The 2004 Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act.

“We came here to seek asylum, but we are being reduced to non-people…The Home Secretary has announced he is changing the rules about who can claim asylum…Does the Home Office prefer us to disappear into the underbelly of British society? Not seen, not heard and working for shadowy bosses in the jobs many British people don’t want to do for a fraction of the minimum wage. We are a useful source of cheap, unregulated labour that can boost the economy” ( Semret Fesshaye, Eritrean Asylum Seeker (1))

All members of the Inner Party believe in this coming conquest as a matter of faith. It is to be achieved either by acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the very few remaining activities in which the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet (Nineteen Eighty Four p 201)

Nineteen Eighty Four, 2004 and newspeak

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four is a metaphor for immigration controls. Its language, imagery and politics have meaning and significance for all aspects of control. As such the novel sheds light on specific areas of legislation . So it is illuminating to examine under the beam of the metaphor particular statutes such as the recent 2004 Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act .

The parliamentary path of the 2004 Act is strewn with the newspeak and doublethink of
Orwell’s imagination. Newspeak –a language designed to numb critical faculties and “diminish the range of thought” (2) – is the vehicle used to justify the statute. In fact much of newspeak probably appears in the popular imagination as oldspeak given that it has been employed to justify with increasing usage every single piece of control legislation over he last decade – illegals, economic migrants, bogus refugees. However there has been some additions to the vocabulary – some newspeak for a new law. David Blunkett, Home Secretary and chief lexicographer, has introduced into the dictionary the demon “clandestines” (3) – a description straight out of science fiction. Clandestine: definition – secret alien from the planet Clan on a mission to enter Dover disguised as a refugee. However perhaps the real development of newspeak lies in the overall justification given for the Act. The Act is projected as a “reform”. A Home Office press release of 27 November 2003 (4) is headed “Final phase of asylum reform….” Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Immigration, said in parliament that the new law “is the next essential stage in our programme of reforms to the asylum and immigration system” (5). This is a complete bastardisation of the word, vocabulary and concept of “reform”. The construct of reform connotes progress, enlightenment, positive development, human improvement, social advance. Immigration control on the other hand is about negativity, reaction, obscuranticism, pain, misery, disress, enslavement – control of people.

The 2004 legislation is about all this negativity with vengeance. One section is entitled with euphamistic, bureacratic newspeak “unification of appeal system”. This abolishes the right to appeal an immigration decision from an Adjudicator (an immigration judge) to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal – which it achieves by the simple expedient of abolishing the Immigration Appeals Tribunal and creating a new one-tier Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. More significantly the “unification of appeal system” prevents any judicial review by the High Court, Court of Appeal or House of Lords of any decision of the new Tribunal where it is being alleged the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, or acted with procedural or any other irregularity, or committed an error of law, or breached natural justice or, just to ensure authority can never be challenged, behaved wrongly on “any other matter”. Remarkably the bar on further judicial scrutiny extends to decisions of the Secretary of State herself or himself to deport or remove someone from the UK. The Home Secretary thus becomes all-powerful. Becomes Big Brother. In this political war against migrants, immigrants and refugees the enemy is to be given even less rights than the enemy in a military war. Even in the Second World War, Regulation 18B allowing the Home Secretary to detain suspected enemies of the country was reviewable by the courts. Far from being in any jurisprudential or in any other sense “progressive” the appeal provisions (or, more accurately, lack of appeal provisions) of the 2004 Act feudalise English law by presenting the central authority with power that had arguably existed only prior to 1215 and Magna Carta (6) – with Magna Carta itself being that popular icon of supposed freedoms won against the Big Brother of his day, King John, and which still retains the same nationalistic status as Rule Brittania and God Save The Queen (7). Only in a world of linguistic newspeak, of Nineteen Eighty Four, of lies deceit, hypocrasy, of complte madness – only in such a world can the 2004 legislation be described as a “reform”.

Big Brother and memory holes

And the madness gets worse. In the name of “reform” reaction triumphs.The Asylum Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act is a storeroom of reaction..For instance it makes it an offence, punishable by imprisonment, for any non-British or EEA national arriving at a UK port, not to have a passport or to have a forged passport. This contravenes a central principle of the Geneva Convention ( Article 31 which was incorporated into the Convention exactly to prevent this type of legislation from being enacted ) that asylum seekers should not be punished due to the method of their entry. There are provisions strengthening the law against trafficking people for exploitation. However these provisions do not prevent the subsequent deportation of someone exploited in this way – which is penalising the victim. Moreover these provisions naturally leave untouched the central features of the international labour market – which are precisely about exploitation on a global scale. The Act provides guidelines for when a “deciding authority” should find credible (believe) an asylum seeker. Most of these already exist in the immigration rules – and it is anyhow bizarre that what are essentially matters of evidence should be determined by primary legislation. It could only happen to a refuge. Immigration officers are essentially elevated to the status of police officers by being given the powers of entry, search, seizure and arrest without warrant for a whole series of alleged offences- from bigamy to theft- supposedly uncovered when exercising a function under immigration legislation.. Powers of fingerprinting are also increased. Two sections deal with , that is make more intolerable, the dual concept of “safe country”. There is increased the already existing power of the Home Secretary to designate a human rights or asylum claim as “clearly unfounded” where the claim is for asylum from a “safe country” – preserving rights of appeal against the refusal of a claim whilst preventing such appeals being heard from within the UK (a truly Orwellian paradox). The Home Secretary can continue to make a list of countries of origin from which claims will be “clearly unfounded” but now can also specify that a country is “safe” in respect to particular criteria – namely gender, language, race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, political opinion or the catch-all of “any other attribute or circumstance that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate”. What this does is extend the notorious concept of a “white list” of safe countries which was established by the Tories in their 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, which was heavily criticized in Labour’s first immigration white paper- Fairer, Faster and Firmer (8), which was supposedly abolished by Labour in the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act and which was reintroduced by Labour in the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. Much of this is redolent of the “memory hole” of Nineteen Eighty Four – the speed at which reality is changed and denied makes it virtually impossible to remember which politician said what and when. In addition to this ( and the other half of the concept of the safe country) there is enlarged the power to remove a claimant to a “safe third country” through which she or he has passed and of which she or he is not a national – without substantive consideration of an asylum or, in certain cases, human rights claim. The construct of “safe third countries” in effect reverses the flows of established transnational migratory paths and turns them into transnational corridors of expulsions (9). The list of “safe third countries” is not the same as, and does not coincide with, the “white list”. Nor is the list of safe third countries in respect to asylum claims necessarily always identical with that for human rights claims. Refugee and human rights protection , or lack of protection, is being reduced to list writing. Moreover the Home Secretary need not always stick to any particular list. In deciding individual cases he can designate any country in the world as a “safe third country” where in his opinion alone the country is “safe”. This opinion cannot be challenged. Big Brother rules.

The reaction goes on. For the first time there is allowed the electronic tagging of all those subject to immigration controls where residence restrictions are imposed, where reporting restrictions could be imposed and in some cases where immigration bail is granted. This satellite technology further criminalizes all migrants, immigrants and refugees. Furthermore in cases where a court recommends deportation following a criminal conviction then there will anyhow be automatic detention – previous power to release on bail is withdrawn. Hidden near the end of the Act is a little-publicised section – but a section which should be publicised. This allows the Home Secretary when setting a fee under existing powers in respect to immigration and nationality applications to do so at a rate designed to exceed the administrative cost of determining or processing such an application in order to “reflect benefits that the Secretary of state thinks are likely to accrue to the person who makes the application” or for whose benefit the application is made. We have now entered the free market economy of immigration control. This is an economy where the Home Secretary is authorized to assess the financial benefits of not being expelled from the UK. Once again we return to Magna Carta, chapter 40 of which declared “ To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice”. And once again the Home Secretary becomes King John becomes Big Brother. And yet more reaction: There are extended the powers of the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner over immigration advisors- allowing for entry, search and seizure where it is believed premises are being used by an unregulated immigration advisor. The role of the Office is itself quite Orwellian. It was established under the 1999 legislation to ostensibly drive out rogue advisors. However the only way to get rid of rogue advisors is to get rid of immigration control – otherwise the trade just goes further underground. This is because the real rogue is control itself – everyone and everything else are just parasites on it. A dung heap will always attract flies. The way to be free of the flies is to sling away the dung heap. In reality however the hidden agenda and longer-term aim of the Office of the Commissioner is not to attack rogue advisors – but to undermine principled immigration advisors, advisors who are often politically committed to opposing controls. In the debate on the Second Reading for the 2004 Act, the Home Secretary equates rogue advisors with advisors “who are dedicatedly against any removals, with their campaigns for what they call no deportation”. According to Blunkett both “will use any ends to make a monkey of the system” (10). In fact Blunkett is wrong. The crooks are interested in making money. Lots of it. On the other hand good advisors are good precisely because they want to win cases by, in the words of Malcolm X, any means necessary. This doesn’t mean the production of fake documents. What it does mean is a thorough understanding of the law combined with a proper appreciation of the political significance of each case – thus allowing for proper tactical decisions to be made throughout any claim, including a thorough discussion on whether there is a need for a public campaign to run alongside the legal challenge. A well conducted case professionally is a well conducted case politically. And such cases can take a considerable time to prepare. It is in full knowledge of this that the Home Secretary is presently about to slash legal aid for immigration and asylum advice and representation –changes which do not need primary legislation (11). New Labour’s theory appears to be that the greater the legal repression then the less need for lawyers. Big Brother would be proud.

Deportation Is Freedom!

After a time it becomes genuinely difficult not to believe that the 2004 Act did not come straight from the pen of George Orwell. A new criminal offence is created (which can carry a sentence of two years imprisonment) – an offence of failing to cooperate in one’s own removal from the UK! In Britain today the choice for those subject to immigration controls is now either imprisonment or expulsion. In Nineteen Eighty Four one of Big Brother’s mad, contradictory slogans of Party rule was Freedom Is Slavery. In modern Britain the equivalent is Deportation Is Freedom!

Finally another section seeks to deny even the limited poor-law based financial support and accommodation currently provided by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to the families of asylum seekers whose asylum appeals have been dismissed. The National Asylum Support Service itself is classic newspeak – its main role is to withhold support and it does not provide a service Citizen Advice Bureau workers “rate NASS as the worst government bureaucracy they have ever had to deal with”(12). Under the new Act assistance now terminates once the Secretary of State has certified that a person has failed “without reasonable excuse to take reasonable steps to leave the UK voluntarily”. Several points can be made about this. First in order for a local authority to maintain its obligations to the welfare of children in such families, they may have to be placed either voluntarily or involuntarily into the care of that local authority under Section 20 of the 1989 Children Act.. Second local authorities are further confirmed in their role of satellites of Big Brother and as immigration spies by being obliged to report to the Home Office any failed asylum-seeking families in their area who they know have not taken reasonable steps to leave the country (whatever that means). Third where a family’s claim for asylum has failed but they fear return or cannot be returned, the onus is taken away from the Secretary of State to remove failed asylum seekers and puts the burden on the family to try to leave the UK or to remain here in destitution. With the logic of Nineteen Eighty Four, Beverley Hughes has said in Parliament that children can avoid be put into care by joining their parents in leaving the country. And government lawyers have likewise advised that this provision will not breach either the inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 ) or the right to respect to private and family life (Article 8) of the European Convention of Human Rights as families have the option of leaving the country together and immediately (12b) In other words and once again we are faced with an Orwellian slogan , a preposterous slogan, of “Deportation Is Freedom!”

Doublethink and echoes of a genocidal past

“His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink” (13)

“Deportation Is Freedom” is not just newspeak. It is also Orwellian doublethink. How can deportation be freedom? But yet how can it be anything else when the alternatives are imprisonment or being forcibly taken into care? And how can “reform” mean reaction? But again how can it mean anything else when racism is dragging society backwards in time – backwards to a new dark age? As in Nineteen Eighty Four the logic of immigration control is supremely irrational – that is illogical. Doublethink rules supreme. Sanity, a healthy way of viewing the world, can only return with the abolition of controls. It is imperative, in the words of the great nineteenth century German philosopher Hegel ,to negate the negation.

Just as controls are based on doublethink so each and every justification for the 2004 Act is erected on doublethink. And none of these apologias are particularly new. One is that the new Act is making the law “fairer” (14). This is classic Orwellianese – “fairer” meaning “more repressive”. Another is that , in the words of David Blunkett, it provides a “warm welcome to people from around the world” (15). “Warm welcome” here meaning “cold shoulder”. In New Labour newspeak such a welcome is known as “managed migration”. Beverley Hughes clarified this piece of doublethink when she said “this government’s policy is to welcome migrants where this helps our economy” (16). In other words legal provision will only be made for, and welcome will only be extended to, the “right sort of “ migrant – who tomorrow, when there is no longer a labour shortage or pension shortfall, will once again become the “wrong sort of “ migrant and will once again be liable to expulsion. This is not so much an open door policy on immigration nor a closed door – but a revolving door. It is also a clear illustration of the political nature of the law – whereby today’s lawful migrant can become tomorrow’s illegal immigrant and vice versa. A sub-catagory of this particular piece of doublethink occurs in the usual rewriting of history, with the assertion that the UK historically has “a proud tradition” of welcoming refugees (17) – as though, even if true, this somehow justifies excluding today’s refugees. But it isn’t even true. The very first immigration control legislation was the 1905 Aliens Act aimed at Jewish refugees fleeing Russia and Eastern Europe – though a century of silence has ensured that this has gone down the memory hole along with everything else of significance. Yet another doublethink apologia is that the legislation “in the interests of good race and community relations” (18). This is the same as arguing that mass redundancies are in the interests of good industrial relations . Most outrageous of all (what in Nineteen Eighty Four might well achieve the superlative doubleplus-doublethink) is the assertion that the greater the demonisation of the refugee and the tougher the immigration controls then the less chance there is of fascism and the British National Party growing in strength – this being the same fascism and British National Party that consistently campaigns for the strengthening of controls. At this point it is also difficult to distinguish the puppet from the puppeteer , the Labour Party from the BNP, and who is pulling whose. At the 2003 Labour Party Conference Beverley Hughes in a Question and Answer session stated “The BNP feed on people’s fears and use that for their own racist political objectives. It’s imperative that we sort out the asylum system and have a fair, robust process the public can have confidence in” (19). She calls this “a progressive approach to migration”. This is similar doublethink and political cowardice – where fascism is opposed with racism, where racism is defined as progressive – that lead the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, down the road to appeasement in his dealings with Hitler and the Nazis.

Doublethink permeates the entire debate around the 2004 Act. For instance the Home Secretary describes the slashing of legal aid as a “generous” measure (20). Again there were frequent references made in Parliament to asylum seekers arriving here “illegally (21). However there was no reference to the fact that successive governments – with their imposition of carriers liability (transforming airlines into immigration spies) and visa schemes- have made open entry impossible. The very idea that asylum seekers can be here unlawfully is itself doublethink – because as refugees they have every right to be here under the Geneva Convention. The politics of doublethink reduces all such rights to theory. To non-rights. .

And it goes on. Poor law (NASS) support will be terminated and children will be taken into care unless families agree to leave “voluntarily”. However “voluntary” departure is itself doublethink in the context of families wanting to remain. This also throws into relief the often hidden and ugly underbelly of immigration control – that is expulsion by stealth. The annual statistics as to removals produced by the Home Office do not tell half the story – in fact they conceal the story. The Home Office has an ambivalent attitude towards invoking formal removal processes. On the one hand such processes help keep up the statistics. So in the debate on the 2004 Act David Blunkett boasted that “we have increased the number of removals to 1500 or 1600 a month , which is now over 18000 on an annualized basis. We have separately managed each month to stop 3000 clandestines getting into the country. The total picture is rarely presented…in our media” (22). On the other hand removals are often cumbersome and expensive. So as an alternative (as an offer you can’t refuse) the Home Office prefers to “assist” people to return “voluntarily” by paying their passage and now giving them poor law support until they leave – with departure often facilitated by the International Office of Migration, a body whose Orwellian role is thus to prevent migration. Beverley Hughes, speaking at the Standing Committee on the 2004 Act, provided a humanitarian twist to this preference saying “Members have heard me speak about enforced returns, but have they been out with an arrest team and seen what this means? With families, it is always done with mixed teams of men and women who are specially trained, and it is done very well, but if one imagines someone turning up at people’s front door at 4 or 5 in the morning and getting them and their children out of bed and taking them to a place of detention, ready to go on a plane…this is an experience that one would want to avoid, however well and professionally it is done by immigration officers, however kindly people are spoken to” (23). Beverley Hughes’s concerns seem as much about the sensibilities of immigration officers as the plight of asylum seekers. Though expulsion is not, is manifestly not, the same as extermination yet Hughes’s words have a resonance of a genocidal past. This is a past where Heinrich Himmler , the Nazi leader, addressed the SS officers whose role it was to implement extermination: “Not one of those who talk like that has watched it happening, not one of them has been through it. Most of you will know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred or a thousand are lying there. To have stuck it out and–apart from a few exceptions due to human weakness — to have remained decent, that is what has made us tough (24)”. Genocide and removal are not the same. But the bureaucratic mind-set behind both is often indistinguishable. It is the mind-set of what Hannah Arendt famously described as “the banality of evil”.

Just another brick in the wall

The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act is politically the creation of a highly confident government – a government that believes a century of parliamentary and media newspeak and doublethink plus a top layer of New Labour spin has generated enough support for immigration controls that migrants, immigrants and refugees can be simply stamped on. Another dreadful image from Nineteen Eighty Four springs to mind “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever” (25). This super-confidence of the creators of the 2004 Act, the Labour government, is seen in the fact that it felt powerful enough to simply ignore numerous criticisms made by both of its central parliamentary think tanks – the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (26) and the House of Commons Library research papers (27). Of course in a “liberal democracy” such as Great Britain it is inconceivable to imagine a form of control which existed without parliamentary sanction. However this does not in any way mean that law and legislation are somehow neutral. Rather they are weapons. They are weapons which are just as powerful as guns and tanks – and ultimately they may need guns and tanks to enforce them. And immigration laws are weapons in the war against immigrants, migrants and refugees. The wider the law and the more the law then the wider the power and the more the power. Just as in Nineteen Eighty Four the British state (along with most other states) is continually harnessing what is left of its inventive energies in order to develop the ultimate weapon of destruction – this now being the ultimate weapon of immigration law. Hence the significance of the quote at the start of this chapter. The 2004 Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act- is part of this weaponry development. It is a piece of military/judicial ordinance. Every statute since the 1905 Aliens Act has provided a stage in this development. The creation of all this ordinance has been exponential – it has been manufactured at an ever-increasing rate. From 1905 until 1962 there were just three major pieces of primary legislation (28) . From 1962 until 1993 there were six (29) . From 1993 until 2004 there has been another four (30). As in Nineteen Eighty Four “war had been literally continuous”(31) so the attack, the war, on refugees, migrants and immigrants has the appearance of being never-ending.

With usual Orwellian doublespeak this has been explained by New Labour ministers, in two completely different and opposite ways. New Labour ministers are jugglers of their own contradiction. Firstly it is said that various legislative measures are somehow planned with forethought at the same time – even if enacted at different times. So Beverley Hughes MP, minister for immigration, said in the debates on the 2004 legislation, “This Bill sets out our third planned phase of reforms to the asylum and immigration system and builds deliberately on the action that we took in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002” (32). Secondly , far from an acknowledgement of forward planning, each new piece of legislation is presented as a quickly invented weapon to deter those who have discovered breaches in the existing law. The image presented is that of the boy with his finger in the dyke or rather with an increasing number of fingers in the dyke – this time holding back the flood of the alien. So the Home Secretary ,David Blunkett MP, said in the second reading of 2004 Bill: “we are constantly fighting a battle to close the loopholes and thwart those who will use any ends to make a monkey of the system” (33). What all this shows, apart from ministerial contradiction and dishonesty, is that immigration controls are a composite inter-locking package and the package is continually growing.. Controls do not consist simply of the latest piece of legislation. The latest piece of legislation is just another brick in the wall. And whilst the inter-locking package is continually growing so the wall in continually getting higher

This has political consequences for those antagonistic to immigration controls. The consequences are that it is insufficient to attack only the last or the latest statute. The whole wall has to go. Otherwise opponents of controls end up in the bizarre situation of, if only implicitly, defending today the legislation they were attacking yesterday. This is because simply demanding the repeal of the most recent, and only the most recent laws only serves to legitimize those preceding them. Though this attitude is often presented as “realism” yet actually it is a very pessimistic form of politics – a politics which effectively denies anything can be done about the past. It is itself another illustration of a reluctance to demand the abolition of all immigration laws – another illustration of the belief that best that can be hoped for is for the law to become “fairer”. A clear example of this is given in the Manifesto of the No One Is Illegal Group (UK) – which attempts to put a principled opposition to all controls in a programmatic form and which is reproduced as an appendix to this book. This example concerns the agitation against that part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (the then latest legislation prior to the 2004 Act) which refuses support to asylum seekers who make “late” asylum applications – thus rendering these refugees destitute. However in 1999 there was a campaign against the then latest legislation – the Immigration and Asylum Act. This was the legislation which created the NASS-enforced poor law of forced dispersal and below-subsistence support. But now the agitation is to include late asylum applicants within the poor law! The only tenable political position is to campaign to break all links between immigration status and entitlement to welfare. The reason why attempting to get rid of only the latest bricks represents a pessimistic form of politics (and is actually, contrary to assertions, quite “unrealistic”) is that in practice, as is known by the best demolition experts, the most effective way to get rid of any extension to a wall or a building is to dismantle the foundations – preferably by blowing them up.

The 2004 Act – more bricks, higher walls

Opposition to the 2004 Act (and the Bill on which it was based) frequently falls into the same trap of ignoring and therefore legitimizing all legislation that preceded it – although much of this legislation was itself the subject of organized opposition. For instance there has understandably been much vocal criticism to the provision whereby children may end up in care following certification by the Home Secretary that a failed asylum family has not taken reasonable steps to leave the UK. However this obnoxious provision only develops a similar one in the 2002 Act – where NASS poor law support can be withheld from failed asylum-seeking families who have failed “to cooperate with removal directions”. Ignoring this provision is to sanction it. All the 2004 Act does (and it is significant) is allow for the poor law to be cut off at an earlier date – that is as soon as it is confirmed the family is in a position to leave the UK. The point being made here is that politically it does not make sense to attack the provisions, any provisions. of the 2004 Act , and any immigration Act, without recognizing that what preceded them also has to go. Likewise it does not make sense to think that the law can be rolled back incrementally for nearly a century (34) The battle to be won is an ideological one – the battle for no controls. It is success here which would allow the whole edifice, from the foundations upwards, of immigration control to be demolished.

Finally it will be seen later (35) that what distinguishes Nineteen Eighty Four from the system of immigration controls is precisely that Oceania, the territory over which Big Brother rules, is controlled without any legal system. Rampant deceit, brute force, physical weaponry – these are the instruments of control of the Party and are the only instruments. There is no legal sub-structure. Only the boot on the face. To utilize Frederick Engel’s definition of the state (36) – Oceania consists simply of the “bodies of armed men” without any of the “material adjuncts” of law. However if the Party were ever to decide to revert to a parliamentary form of government – something also inconceivable – then in classic double-speak it surely wouldn’t bother defining the limits of any piece of legislation. It would simply add on an undefined, undefinable and limitless “etcetera” to the scope of any new law. This is precisely what New Labour did in titling its Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act. And it is this “etc” which points to a future of larger and larger, thicker and thicker, wider and wider, higher and higher walls. The foundations have to go – and the foundations are the acceptance of the principle of controls, any controls.

(1) Guardian 1.11.2003

(2) Nineteen Eighty Four p 31

(3) Hansard 17.12.2003 col 1592

(4) ref 326/2003

(5) Hansard.1.12.2003.Col.1674

(6) Chapter 29, Magna Carta. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

(7) The reality of Magna Carta was that it contained many quite reactionary and racist provisions – such as stigmatising Jews as a group to whom debts need not be repaid (“c10. If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principal sum contained in the bond. c11. And if anyone die indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if any children of the deceased are left under age, necessaries shall be provided for them in keeping with the holding of the deceased; and out of the residue the debt shall be paid, reserving, however, service due to feudal lords; in like manner let it be done touching debts due to others than Jews “)

(8) Fairer, Faster and Firmer, paragraphs 9.9 and 9.10, 1998 Cm 4018
(9) See Peter Nyers, Abject Cosmopolitanism: the politics of protection in the anti-deportation movement, Third World Quarters, Volume 24, No.6 pp1069-1093, 2003

(10) Hansard, 17.12.2003 col 1592

(11) See Catherine Fairbairn, Asylum and Immigration: proposed changes to publicly funded legal advice and representation, Research Paper ref 03/89 Home Affairs Section, House of Commons Library research paper, 12 December 2003

(12) Written evidence submitted by the CAB to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill. First Report of Session 2003-04. HC 109

(12b) (Guardian 1.12.2003) ).

(13) Nineteen Eighty Four p37

(14) Prime Minister, Hansard 26.11.2003, col 30

(15) David Blunkett MP, Home Secretary, Hansard 17.12.2003, col 1603

(16) Beverley Hughes Mp, Hansard 17.12.2003. col 1670
(17) Beverley Hughes MP, Hansard 17.12.2003. col 1671

(18) David Blunkett MP, Hansard 17.12.2003, col 1603


(20) David Blunkett, Hansard 17.12.2003. col 1591

(21) eg Humfrey Malins, speaking for the Tories, Hansard 17.12.2003 col 1604

(22) Hansard 17.12.2003, col 1592

(23) Beverley Hughes MP, Standing Committee B, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Bill, Fourth Sitting, 13.1.2004, col 154

(24) Excerpt from a speech given to SS leaders 4 October 1943 at Posen, Poland (source: Noakes, J. and Pridham, G. Nazism: A Documentary Reader. Volume III “Foreign Policy, War and Racial Extermination” Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1984, pages 1199-1200)
(25) Nineteen Eighty Four, p 280

(26) The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill. First Report of Session 2003-04. HC 109

(27) Arabella Thorp (Home Affairs Section) and Ross Young (Social and General Statistics Section) Asylum and Immigration, the 2003 Bill, House of Commons Library research paper ref 03/88 11 December 2003

(28) 1905 Aliens Act, 1914 Aliens Restrictions Act, 1919 Aliens Restrictions (Amendment) Act.

(29) 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1971 Immigration Act, 1981 British Nationality Act, 1986 Carriers Liability Act, 1988 Immigration Act

(30) 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act, 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, 2004 Asylum and Immigration (treatment of claimants etc) Act.

(31) Nineteen Eighty Four p.16

(32) Beverley Hughes MP, Hansard, 17.12.2003, col 1670

(33) David Blunkett MP, Hansard 17.12.2003, col 1592
(34) Not quite a century as the 1905 Act was repealed by the 1919 Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act.

(35) See chapter 9

(36) Engels, F. (1978), The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Peking, Foreign Languages Press
steve cohen 20.1.04