Year 2000 No. 163, October 2, 2000
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Demonstration and Rally against Inhuman Treatment of Asylum Seekers
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On September 30, a demonstration took place Newcastle-upon-Tyne to demand an end to the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers in Britain.
About 2,000 people gathered on the quayside and the march started at about 11.30 am. The demonstration was organised by the North East Campaign for Asylum Rights (NECFAR). At the head of the demonstration were contingents from the International Federation of Iranian and Iraqi Refugees as well as Czech refugees from Newcastle and the Civil Rights Caravan that is presently touring the country. Contingents with banners on the demonstration included Newcastle Trade Union Council, Unison Newcastle City Health Branch, Unison Newcastle City Branch, Unison Gateshead Local Government Branch, Newcastle Law Centre, Civil Rights Campaign, Newcastle University NUT, Westgate CC NUT, North East Pensioners Association, Workers Against Deportation, the Green Party and Communist Party of Britain Northern District. Contingents also taking part represented other political parties including RCPB(ML) Northern Region.
As the demonstration made its way through the centre of Newcastle to the Big Market the marchers shouted out: "Mr Blair can you hear! Refugees are welcome here!", "Asylum Seekers Must Stay! Deportations, No Way!", "Vouchers Out!" and other such slogans.
At the rally in the Big Market the chairperson welcomed people to the demonstration and rally in support of asylum seekers and against racist laws. She introduced the speakers one by one to warm applause of the crowd.
The first to speak was a representative from the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees. He drew attention to the situation of asylum seekers in Britain and said that they were daily being subjected to racist attacks in their homes and in the hotels and the detention centres. In many parts of Britain many people cannot go outside their doors, he said. Talking about the situation in Iraq he pointed out that not only do the Iraqi people have to live with a dictatorship but they have had economic sanctions imposed on the country for nine years and the thousands of children that have died as a result.
The chairperson then invited a speaker from the International Federation of Iranian Refugees. She said that Western governments and the media have started the racist attacks against asylum seekers. They define the act of seeking asylum as a criminal one and call asylum seekers "illegal", "bogus", "welfare cheats", and "undesirable", she said. This campaign is preparing people to accept racist laws, detention physical and psychological abuse as well as vouchers and inhuman living conditions racist attacks and deportations of so many human beings, she said.
A Roma gypsy and ex-member of Parliament in the former Czechoslovakia next spoke from the Europe Roma Campaign. He said that in Britain the Immigration Office had separated families and put them in prison. He said imprisonment should stop, vouchers should stop, the deportations should stop and the rights of all the refugee people should be recognised. He said all the refugees should fight for this policy and he called on everyone to help and fight for their rights as well.
The Chairperson then introduced Suresh Grover, Chair of the National Civil Rights Movement and here with the Civil Rights Caravan. He said that there is a connection between the racism that people face who live in this country, or who are born in this country and the racism that is meted out by the government against asylum seekers. There is no difference at all he said.
Suresh Grover, who was also introduced as the co-ordinator of the Stephen Lawrence campaign, pointed out that the government claims to be proud of what it had done in that case and that it would not play the race card. He highlighted the facts of the Stephen Lawrence case that showed that justice had not been carried out and he then spoke about the dramatic increase of race violence in Britain. He said that over the last five to six years not just in this city but nationally we have seen over 100 percent increase in racial violence. In London last year there were 23,000 racial incidents and in the North East and North West the figure has gone up by 50-60 percent. He said that the New Labour government had introduced the most draconian legislation that has affected human rights in this country.
Talking about the Asylum legislation and the hurdles it places before people get here Suresh Grover said that he had been representing Chinese relatives of those 58 Chinese that had been found dead in Dover. The issue, he said, wasn't just about who brought them here and who committed the crime. The British authorities wouldn't even let the relatives who live in this country identify those people who had died. He asked, when asylum seekers come here what do they face? We have got not just death but destitution. He said that the Labour Party has now agreed to review the voucher scheme but, he said, we cannot have any compromise on the fundamental rights of asylum seekers. Not only should they get full benefits but they should get the right to work. And then, he pointed out, that once the asylum seekers are here they are dispersed with no support and it has never worked and does not work. Then, he said, there is the issue of detention and deportation and the outrageous conditions there. No one should be detained if they have not committed a criminal offence but this happens to asylum seekers and refugees. He concluded by saying that we must stop the deaths of refugees and asylum seekers and people who are facing racial attacks. We must stop dispersal programmes and we cannot allow this destitution and we must stop the deportation of people who are rightly claiming asylum in this country. He called for a national movement against asylum legislation.
The Chairperson then introduced the next speaker from the Czech Roma community, living in Newcastle, who were facing a hard struggle to get the right to stay here and she said the people of the North East support them in that struggle. The speaker said that his people had come from the Czech Republic and had come here to seek safety for their families and the future of their children. He said that their ethnic Roma Community was constantly attacked and discriminated at home and here they wanted to live normal lives. He said that in the Czech Republic there have been 40 murders of Roma people and over 10,000 people have been beaten up.
A speaker from Colombia and representing the Latin American Collective addressed the rally. She said that her application for asylum, like most applications from Colombia, had been turned down. It has been denied by the British authorities on the pretext that in Colombia there are no social problems. This isn't the case but the British government and the Colombian government say that the only problem is drug trafficking. She emphasised that the problem of drug trafficking is only one problem of many problems in Colombia. Colombia is one of the countries where they most violate human rights there are over 3,000 politically motivated deaths every year. Colombia is suffering a very grave economic crisis due to the implementation of a neo-liberal system and this has created very grave social problems. No money is invested in housing or social programmes, and this year there is 50% unemployment, she said. Anyone who criticises the government is persecuted, disappears or is assassinated, she told the rally. The ruling classes are financing paramilitary groups and these paramilitary groups are carrying out horrendous massacres in rural areas. They threaten and murder union leaders, community leaders and human rights defenders.
The speaker from Colombia then emphasised that another problem the Colombian people have is the intervention of the United States in their country who to protect their investments are financing Plan Colombia. They say this is being used to combat drug trafficking but that is not true because it is a plan that is designed for war, she told the rally making a number of points. It is a plan to persecute anyone who is against the current system or criticises the multinationals. The Colombian government is using the money to buy sophisticated weapons and helicopters for the Colombian army, which violates human rights more than anyone else.
The speaker then pointed out that Britain also has a lot of investments in Colombia with multinationals like BP, which are also making use of paramilitary groups to defend their property. And she said in the face of this reality the British government is denying what is going on in Colombia. It denies the vast majority of asylum applications and treats us like liars, she said. The government uses the blanket excuse that the only problem in Colombia is drug trafficking and claims that the Colombian government is involved in the peace process, but this peace process is just an excuse. On the one hand they say they say they are discussing peace, and on the other they are financing a war. The speaker from Colombia concluded by calling on the people to continue to support the struggle of asylum seekers.
Willy Adams from the Muirhouse Anti-Racist Campaign in Edinburgh was the last speaker to address the rally. He highlighted the work that had been done both against racism and in support of refugees and asylum seekers. He said that detention camps were the first step to concentration camps and that if we did not fight back to defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers these attacks would also be aimed at the working class to try and split everybody up. He emphasised that in conclusion that if we are united we can win this and called on everyone to get into the fight.
The chairperson then announced that there is to be a march against racist laws on Saturday, October 14, in London, assembling on the Embankment. The rally then concluded with a short cultural programme.
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