Media coverage of asylum seekers came under attack from trade
unionists last week as Unison delegates at their annual conference
denounced newspaper reports linking refugees with criminality and
abuses of the benefits system.
London delegate Mandy Berger told delegates one newspaper had
claimed recently that asylum seekers with HIV were “swamping” NHS
wards. During a debate on asylum seekers’ rights, she
condemned such “media lies” and the “cynical, racist and
hypocritical” government policies towards asylum seekers that had
emerged in recent years.
Rahul Patel from Westminster Council also attacked the
government, and the home secretary in particular, for comments
about asylum seekers, which he said were often seized upon by the
far right, including the British National Party.
“David Blunkett, day in, day out, comes out with statements
attacking asylum seekers,” Patel said, citing as an example the
home secretary’s assertion last year that immigrant families
in Britain should speak English in their own homes.
Several speakers stressed that despite frequent media reports to
the contrary, refugees were not to blame for problems in
Britain’s health and welfare systems.
Onay Kasab from Greenwich said that in the current “poisonous
and hysterical climate”, he was sick of hearing local councillors
condemn fascism but then proceed to cut services, which in turn
gave rise to poverty. “We have to ask who is responsible for the
climate that allows racism to breed,” Kasab said.
In a debate on the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which
places greater duty on public sector bodies to promote racial
equality, delegates expressed concern that its powers did not
extend to private companies. They passed a motion calling for a
Unison campaign to force the private sector to adopt policies that
mirror those of the Act.
– A main aim of Community Care’s Right to Refuge
Campaign is to tackle the atmosphere of hysteria and prejudice
towards refugees and asylum seekers. Visit www.communitycare.co.uk
for more details.