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22 February 1996

We Don't Want Asylum but an Open Door

Everybody should be free to enter Britain, whether they are black or white, whether they are political refugees or economic migrants, writes Helena Guldberg, on the threatened Asylum and Immigration Bill.

'Asylum' sounds very nice, like being the good Samaritan. It all sounds very British, to lend a hand to the persecuted. Not that it is very British. Britain has a long tradition of turning its back on refugees, whether it's the Jews escaping from Nazi Germany or the Vietnamese boat people.

But the very idea of granting asylum only means more restrictions on who enters the country. With asylum, migrants are divided into the deserving and the undeserving. People who are escaping poverty are criminalised as scroungers, with only those who are facing persecution even getting a hearing.

In practice that means letting the Home Office decide who is a legitimate refugee and who is not.

Freedom to enter Britain should be a right, not a jealously guarded privilege. The best way to fight the Asylum and Immigration Bill is to fight for an 'open door' - no restrictions on immigration.

The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Bill is built on the already existing legal framework that treats immigrants as criminals. British law assumes that immigrants and asylum-seekers are lawbreakers, scroungers and liars. Asylum-seekers are routinely fingerprinted, interrogated and imprisoned on suspicion of being 'bogus' refugees.

The fact is that people have migrated for centuries, motivated by a desire for survival. The issue is not why they pack up and leave - whether it is the need to flee persecution or the need to find a job - but whether or not they are free to choose where to go. Why should the British state have the right to decide who can attempt to get something better for themselves and who cannot?

If we accept that only a limited number of 'legitimate' refugees should be allowed in, we not only fail to fight racism but help to reassert the idea that foreigners are a problem.

Demonstrate against the Asylum and Immigration Bill, 24 February 11.00 am Embankment, march to Trafalgar Square.

Conference: The Myth of Empowerment and the Reality of State Power, Sunday 24 March 1996 in London
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