In the Wake of the Riots, Britons Argue for
More Immigration, Not Less
By David Bacon
July 11, 2001
LONDON (7/11/01) - The British midlands are being
engulfed by race riots, pitting the children of whites who
lost jobs in the country's devastating deindustrialization
against sons and daughters of those who came to fill service
jobs in the decades after the second world war. While
Britain has its unique circumstances, the riots are
reminescent of the attacks on immigrant hostels in the
former East Germany, or those on North Africans in France.
With 130 million people worldwide living outside the
countries in which they were born, the migration of people
has become a permanent global social phenomenon, provoking
deep questions in western industrial countries. Who is
responsible for economic devastation and the lack of good
jobs? Do all residents, legal and illegal, immigrant and
native-born, have equal rights and status?
On April 6 this year, Perry Wacker, a Dutch truck
driver, was found guilty in a British court for causing the
deaths of 58 Chinese immigrants. They perished after he
closed the air vent on his truck trailer, as he loaded it
onto a ferry crossing the English Channel on a hot summer
day. Wacker meant to keep any sound from alerting British
customs agents who might suspect him of smuggling a human
cargo. His subterfuge was discovered nonetheless. When the
trailer was opened, all but two of the people crammed
inside, with room enough only to stand, had died from heat,
thirst and lack of oxygen.
It was not hard for the court to reach its decision.
Wacker was just a driver - the low man on the totem pole.
Ying Guo, residing in the town of South Woodford, Essex, was
also convicted - she had lined up jobs for the
border-crossers. But who else was really responsible? The
"snakehead" gangs of smugglers? European political leaders
who seek to win election by whipping up anti-immigrant
Who benefits from a world economy where people flee
debt-burdened countries to seek economic survival?
Jude Woodward, an organizer for the London-based
National Assembly Against Racism, charges that the current
British anti-immigrant hysteria "has been politician-led,
and quite cynical." Britain just had a general election, in
which Laborite Tony Blair won reelection by a big majority.
But Woodward says the campaign left a residue of increased
racism. "People coming to the UK or Europe are being shifted
by the law into the asylum system. And as this has happened,
politicians on the right have campaigned against immigrants,
saying the asylum system was being misused, Unfortunately,
the center left in British politics, like the labor party
and the labor government, have tended to buy into this
argument rather then stand up to it. That's what's fed the
According to the Assembly, almost all legal ways of
coming to Europe have been closed off in line with
agreements made within the European Union. "There's been
tremendous concern amongst Black people," says Sabi Dalu,
another Assembly organizer. She uses the term Black to refer
to all people of color, including those of Asian, African
and Caribbean ancestry. "There have been relentless attacks
on asylum seekers and immigrants. the biggest since the
1960's & 70's when you had waves of immigrants come in from
the former colonies like India and Uganda."
In a debate about immigration on the popular TV
program Question Time, white people in the audience asked,
'Can't these people just seek asylum in the first country
that they arrive in? Why do they have to come to Britain?"
The defenders of immigrants were all Black.
"Racism doesn't exist just within western,
industrialized societies," Woodward says, "but in the
relationship between those countries and the rest of the
world - the Black majority of the human race." She believes
that the problem will only be resolved by more immigration,
"There's a mantra in establishment circles that says
that good race relations depend on immigration policies,"
Woodward explains. "The only way to guarantee good race
relations, they say, is to keep more Black people from
coming in, so that you have a sort of acceptable balance.
This argument turns reality upside down. The most positive
thing for race relations is to have more Black people here,
because the more integrated society becomes, the less space
there is for racism. This argument is not primarily about
economics - it's about race."
Since the 80's, the EU has tried to harmonize the
different immigration policies of member countries, and as a
result, all have tightened immigration policies until
virtually no one is allowed in. Now, in the very last few
years, those policies are being questioned Demographically
and economically, Europe needs a renewal of its labor force,
which can only come about through new migration.
"The circumstances which caused the deaths of the 58
Chinese immigrants will only be changed when the whole
framework for migration into Europe is changed," Dalu
predicts. "At present it is virtually impossible to apply
legally enter the EU. There have to be legal means by which
people can come, and then apply for the right to stay here
indefinitely. That's the only way to stop people coming on
false papers, hidden in the back of lorries or even on the
undercarriage of aircraft."
Only a new demographic balance, she argues, and its
reflection in increased rights and power among Black
communities, will end the riots as well.
Copyright (c) 2001 David Bacon. All Rights Reserved.