Why Black people must defend refugees in Britain

Marc Wadsworth

Perhaps one of South African Nobel Peace prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s most famous quotes, is: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

With the appalling scenes on TV news this month of far-right thugs using firebombs and setting alight a police van outside a hotel on Merseyside where refugees they were violently protesting against were cowering inside, never before did the great statesman’s wise words ring truer.

The Black led anti-racist The Liberation Movement (TLM), of which I’m co-founder, has joined 180 organisations who signed a Together With Refugees-initiated open letter to leaders of all parties in response to the appalling attack on the Suites hotel in Knowsley, where asylum seekers are housed. The letter calls on party leaders to “take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those who come here to find safety”.

Most have fled places like Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Eritrea, due to war and persecution.  As the letter states: “They have made terrifying journeys to reach safety.  And now, due to shocking delays and a failing system, they are forced to experience even more anxiety and fear, in a place they do not know, placed in accommodation not of their choosing, unable to work and with no control on where they live or what their future holds.”  

“Their lives are in limbo as they wait, sometimes for years, for a decision on their asylum claim.  And it is clear that these massive delays are directly leading to the use of hotels for people seeking asylum – a completely inappropriate form of accommodation and a glaring confirmation that the system is broken.”  

“Having already experienced great hardship, these men, women and children who come here for protection are now faced with violence, fuelled by inflammatory language of ‘invasion’ and policies that demonise them. The responsibility to create a system that is fair and compassionate, and brings cohesion instead of division, lies with our decision makers.”  

We believe, with the high risk of more of such premeditated extremist attacks around the country, leaders of all parties must now take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those people who come here to find safety, and set out the action they will take to prevent it. Those people who incite this anger and violence bring shame on this country, on the vast majority who are proud of our history of helping those in danger around the world. As the letter states: “This does not reflect the people of Britain,” I would add, black or white.

TLM condemns the divisive rhetoric from government ministers, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman, which is responsible for stoking up hostility towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers by, among other things, describing their presence in the English Channel as “an invasion”.

We note that Jewish leaders have also criticised such hate speech, after the violence on Merseyside, came just two weeks after Holocaust Memorial Day, which TLM marked by providing a keynote speaker at a commemorative event. The Jewish leaders noted that the same hate-filled lies from government politicians about Jews, in the 1930s, led to the murderous Kristallnacht attacks on their community in Nazi Germany, which claimed many lives. 

TLM is a cross-party, multi-faith Black Lives Matter-inspired anti-racist alliance of African Asian Caribbean and other people of colour and their allies, strongly supported at the grassroots by community and trade union activists. More than a dozen MPs back TLM, along with trade unions, with black-organised members, at a national and local level.

We applaud the brave actions of our sister organisation Care4Calais, who were in Knowsley to stand by migrants at the hotel, despite being heavily outnumbered by the far-right thugs. TLM, joining with other people among Britain’s justice-loving majority, give our solidarity to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and will defend them at every opportunity.

We note the statement from Merseyside police that several people, aged between 13 and 54, have been arrested during the violence and one of their vans was burnt out. Recently, fascists have mobilised on a national basis to attack vulnerable people from abroad, most of whom have fled war and persecution in their own counties and been put in hotels in England, Scotland and Wales. The fascists have used time-worn racist tropes about Britain being “swamped” and alleged attack by migrants on local females, to incite residents against them. 

Other cities and towns, as well as Liverpool, have seen local communities, trade unions and politicians commendably come together to build resistance to far-right hatred. We praise the statement this year from Britain’s largest unions in support of migrants. All communities should show solidarity, not waiting for bad-intentioned people, who wish to spread hate, to turn up before the necessary actions are taken.

The Conservative government, and their cheerleaders in the news media, have deliberately whipped up anti-migrant feelings in a cynical attempt to drawn attention away from the economic crisis they have unleashed on the country and are using scapegoats to do that. It’s Brexit-style anti-foreigner incitement to hatred now. Tomorrow black people will be the target again, which is a reason why we must voice our opposition show solidarity with the oppressed.

Britain, a wealthy Global North country, is not being overrun by Global Majority people of colour. In fact, Britain is ranked just sixth in Europe regarding the number of asylum seekers and refugees to whom it has given protection.

What Britain needs is an asylum system that allows for faster and fairer treatment of those desperate people forced to use it. That means, more not fewer safe and legal routes for them, as called for by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We demand positive action from the British government. But have to say, its deplorable retreat from some of the important recommendations made by the government’s Wendy Williams Windrush report, in the 75th anniversary year of the iconic ship bringing people from the Caribbean to help rebuild Britain after the war, including my late Jamaican ex-RAF father, does not bode well. We join with the Jewish community, and others, in saying: #NeverAgain.

Twitter: @TheLiberationM