Statewatch article: RefNo# 214
European onslaught on refugees
Statewatch bulletin, vol 1 no 5
Following widespread protests against the proposals to withdraw legal advice and assistance ("Green Form" legal aid) from all immigrants, as part of the package announced in July (see Statewatch no 4), the Home Secretary appeared to be backing down by the end of September. Kenneth Baker told the Bar Conference in London that green form eligibility would not be withdrawn until other arrangements were made - a reference to the fact that both the Home Office sponsored UKIAS and the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (NACAB) had refused to take on the role of monopoly advisor. Early in October, the Lord Chancellor agreed to meet immigration lawyers to discuss the proposals.

But the government is still determined to crack down on refugees. A memo leaked in late September revealed proposals from ministers Michael Heseltine and David Mellor to a secret ministerial meeting on asylum that Britain withdraw altogether from the 1951 Geneva Convention, from which international obligations towards refugees are derived and which 103 countries have signed. Heseltine's justification for this dramatic suggestion was the "pressure on housing" created by refugees. The Foreign Office proposal, as an alternative 'solution', was to send all asylum-seekers back to 'international camps' or 'safe havens' in their countries of origin, in which claims could be assessed. And at the Tory Party conference in October, Baker, Douglas Hurd and John Major all spoke of refugees in the language of 'tidal waves' and 'immigration catastrophes' last heard from Enoch Powell in the late 60s. They were ably assisted by scaremongering stories in the Tory press, notably the Daily Mail and the Sun.

Another aspect of the anti-refugee campaign by Ministers has been the withdrawal from the Code of Guidance on Homelessness of any mention of refugees. In the draft version, local authorities were told to "consider the psychological and physical effects of trauma suffered by refugees." The Association of London Authorities condemned Housing Minister George Young for deleting this reference at the last moment for political motives. In some London boroughs such as Westminster, refugees make up 30% of homeless people.

In Germany, the response of the main parties to the neo-nazi pogroms on asylum-seekers was to call for a crackdown, not on racist violence, but on refugees. Following an election in Bremen in which immigration and asylum dominated, which resulted in the Right taking control of the federal state previously noted for its liberal asylum policies, the mainstream parties are playing the race card at national level. Although there is still disagreement about diluting or abolishing the constitutional right to asylum, the main parties agreed on a number of immediate measures. These include sending back all asylum-seekers who could have claimed asylum in a neighbouring country; giving police greater powers to check the identity of asylum-seekers; and moving asylum-seekers from hotels and flats to "collection camps" or "concentrated accommodation", where judges would be sent to decide applications on the spot, allowing those refused asylum to be deported within six weeks of entry. Leaving the camp would be grounds for deportation. A number of ex-Army barracks are to be pressed into service for this purpose. The parties also want a list of "non-persecuting" countries agreed from which no one will be able to claim asylum, and the government will negotiate reciprocal expulsion arrangements with Poland and Czechoslovakia which, it is said, could cut the number of asylum-seekers by 40%. Germany's asylum claimants run at around 200,000 a year, of whom about half come from Eastern Europe.

In October the French government announced harsher penalties for employers of unauthorised workers, and the withdrawal of family allowances from those without legal rights of residence. The government also intends to introduce stricter checks on documents and speedy process

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