Diane Abbott MP: The government has manufactured a ‘migrant crisis’ to distract from its own terrible policies

'Total applications for asylum seekers hit 100,000 or more at the turn of this century. They are far less than half of that now.'

Priti Patel

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Ever since coming to office and implementing austerity in 2010 the Tory governments (with the help of the LibDems and the DUP) have led a vicious campaign against migrants and migration. Of course, for racists that also includes anyone who might ‘look a bit foreign’.

As the attack on living standards continues so does the campaign against migrants. It is in this context that the latest campaign over the ‘crisis’ of refugees in the Channel should be seen.

There is no crisis at all.  Just a campaign.

Total applications for asylum seekers hit 100,000 or more at the turn of this century. They are far less than half of that now.

At the same time, there is a widespread implication that Britain takes a huge share of the refugee population. But this is not true globally where countries far poorer than this one, such as Iran and Turkey, are home to literally millions of refugees. It is not even true that Britain takes a disproportionate number of refugees within Europe, with both Germany and France taking far more.

One of the reasons we are seeing such heart-rending scenes of desperate people trying to cross the Channel is that safe and legal routes are closed to them, as the government reiterated this week. And it follows a major clampdown at the ports to prevent people coming through in the back of lorries.

Government policy has literally forced the vulnerable on to the seas. Or, to be accurate about the government’s main rhetorical flourish, government policy has provided a new market for the people smugglers.

The claims that these poor souls seeking asylum are not genuine, repeated frequently by the Home Secretary are simply untrue.  The research showing that two-thirds of all such claimants are finally granted asylum has been widely aired. So, the Home Secretary is either incompetent or worse in making her claims.

The strong suspicion too that the Home Office’s own research shows that her famous ‘pull factors’ driving these hazardous journeys is also myth. The suspicion will only grow as long as the Department refuses to publish its own findings.

The new nationality and borders bill is a dreadful piece of populist legislation, built on a series of false assertions and prejudices. It includes the forcible return of boats to France, removing the £38 a week allowance for those who arrive by any other route other than a government settlement scheme, housing asylum seekers in large reception centres (during a pandemic), and scrapping the appeals system altogether. For this government, too many smart lawyers have outrageously been upholding the law.

Labour cannot compete on the terrain of prejudices and falsehoods. Even if it were so inclined, this government will always be better at that.

I wish the new Shadow Home Secretary well. It is a full brief and the government is making it central to their ‘culture wars’, draconian legislation and racism.

But we will continue to struggle on these and related issues until we say that the crisis is manufactured, that it could be over in days with the establishment of safe and legal routes plus some co-operation with the French authorities, and that it is really a political campaigning tool used by the government to distract from the effects of the government’s own terrible policies. We cannot compete on their ground, as history shows us.

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