Decency for Asylum Seekers. Defend the Right to Asylum. A Report from Bangor

Pic Credit Mark Dixon

There has been a lot of internet chatter in Bangor, Ards and other places in Northern Ireland about asylum seekers taking jobs, housing and even places on GPs and dentist’s waiting lists. Some people feel asylum seekers are treated luxuriously with ”quality flats, 50-inch TVs and 3 square meals a day.” The claim is that local people are at the back of the queue and are treated as ”2nd class” citizens. Racism is undoubtedly a factor in these claims. But there are matters raised that come from poverty and deserve to be answered by socialists. All workers have a right to receive public housing, jobs, decent wages and healthcare when they need it. Many comments made by working people come from anger as they wait years on waiting lists. This anger is being manipulated by shadowy racist figures who deliberately spread malicious rumours. For example, that the Ballymaconnell Road care home in Bangor is to be renovated at great expense and used to house asylum seekers. Even though a local Unionist MLA has written to the Home Office and confirmed this is fake news the rumour is still being promoted.

Grim Reality for Asylum Seekers in Northern Ireland

Let’s unpick some of the facts from these claims. If you are an asylum seeker you are coming from a country where you were at high risk of violence because of your religion, your sexual identity, your gender, your ethnicity, or your political views. You may have come from Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine, South Sudan or any of the other warzones around the world at the moment: the United Nations recently declared that as many as 25% of the world’s population now live in war zones. Whatever your individual case you will have had horrific experiences that have led you to take the extremely dangerous decision to try to flee to a safer country. The percentage of asylum seekers who die or experience extreme violence during their attempt to reach a safer country is very high. In many cases they might be fleeing from warzones as a direct result of British military actions or British government policy.

The ‘Daily Mail’ and other right-wing rags would say that up to 99% of asylum seekers are bogus. But the true figure is closer to 0%. People do not embark on these hazardous journeys unless they have no other choice.

Firstly, let us say that there have always been asylum seekers though perhaps under different names. In my own Ulster-Scots family there is oral history that say that we fled to Ireland to seek a better standard of living and in some cases to escape persecution for their Presbyterian or Dissenter religious beliefs. Under capitalism and its divide and rule policies there will always be asylum seekers. Nearly always they will be working class. The real villains are the capitalist ruling class.

What do modern asylum seekers actually receive when they arrive in Northern Ireland? Firstly, they are not allowed to work. After twelve months, if the Home Office has not completed their assessment, they might be permitted to work but only on a job on the Home Offices’ list of shortage occupations i.e. frequently minimum wages in the likes of vegetable picking. Certainly, if they are taking jobs in ”shortage occupations” it’s because employers haven’t been able to find enough local people to do these jobs.  Asylum seekers are not stealing local jobs. And don’t forget that overall immigrants add to the economy. Many come determined to open shops or businesses. Overall, the collective wealth they create far outweighs any benefits paid to immigrants.

Until then they get £40.85 a week. For this reason, they might be provided with free meals. It’s hardly luxury. Hardly ”benefits tourists.”

If asylum seekers are lucky, they might get a room in a former hotel or care home. Again, spending most of your life in one room whilst you are not allowed to work and can’t make long term plans is hardly luxury. Especially if you are living with the stress of knowing that the Home Office might rule against you and deport you back to the home country from which you fled. If millions of pounds are being paid to rent hotels, care homes and other facilities, it’s not the asylum seekers who benefit. It’s the millionaire and billionaire property owners who benefit. And that’s why the Tory Government is happy to support this policy – to channel millions of taxpayers’ money to their millionaire friends.

Do socialists believe that asylum seekers should get preferential treatment in access to housing, jobs, healthcare? We believe that all workers should be entitled to a decent home, job, wages, health care etc.  So, if ordinary workers aren’t getting housing, healthcare, decent wages etc whose fault is that? The fault lies entirely with the Tories and their friends in the capitalist class who control the economy.

Tory Policies have led to Housing Crisis

Years ago there were huge numbers of public housing available in Northern Ireland. The existence of public owned housing was down to the labour movement campaigning for decades against slum housing. The 1945 Labour Government launched a mass public house building campaign as a result of this pressure. But then Margaret Thatcher and the Tory Party decided to sell it off. We are not opposed to people owning their own home. But for each house sold there should have been a new Housing Executive house built. There wasn’t. The Tories knew that their housing sell off policy would, in the long run, leave ordinary workers dependent on private landlords, thus making these Tory voters richer. None of the parties in Northern Ireland whether Unionist or Republican/Nationalist fought a campaign to save public housing.  Militant Left demands that there is a massive campaign of building new publicly owned housing to break the stranglehold of the landlords.

Workers Need Decent Jobs

Why is there a shortage of jobs with a decent wage that ordinary workers can plan their lives around? On and off there has been massive unemployment for decades. It is not connected to asylum seekers. Capitalism as a system depends on a degree of unemployment. Bosses want there to be people desperate for work that they can use as a stick to beat down anyone fighting for a wage rise. The threat that someone else will do the job cheaper is used to control workers. Again, nothing to do with asylum seekers. Militant Left stands for a minimum wage of £15 an hour and a 35-hour week. Any companies that say they can’t pay that should be taken into public ownership. Open their books to public scrutiny to see where the profits have been going. Never mind asylum seekers, let’s focus on the increase in Porsches and Range Rovers on our roads? The rich are clearly getting richer on the backs of workers’ labour.

Public Healthcare: The Basis of a Socialist Society

On healthcare, years ago we had an NHS with no private health companies where you could get an appointment relatively easily. Again, the Tories, and their capitalist friends in Tony Blair’s Labour government have systematically starved the NHS of funding to run it down and create opportunities for their rich friends in private health companies to make super profits. Most government money voted through Parliament to go to the NHS now goes to private companies. Socialists say remove all private health companies form the NHS and bar them from using NHS buildings. Bring the NHS under genuine workers and trade union control. Stop the gravy train of taxpayers’ money going to private pharmaceutical companies too!

So, if you really want to see a society where there is easily accessible public housing, jobs for all, decent wages and free healthcare immediately you need it, do not get sucked into the anti-asylum seeker controversy. Instead contact Militant Left and get involved in the struggle to create a fair society for all.