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Must Britain’s borders be a site of brutality?

The Tory Party is imploding under the weight of its own arrogance. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been caught on camera boasting about taking money away from deprived urban settings and giving it to wealthy rural ones, as well as not seeing it necessary to disclose his wife’s non-domiciled tax status. His predecessor trashed the UK economy by imposing a right-wing libertarian “mini budget” before promptly resigning and then blaming her failures on what she hilariously described as the ‘left-wing economic establishment.’ Her predecessor oversaw the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom were disabled, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable, and epitomised what any reasonable person would think of when confronted with the term “unelectable” (Boris Johnson, of course, did win an election with a massive majority, and that literally anyone thought that voting for him was a good idea is disturbing enough to warrant an article of its own). 

Enter Lee Anderson — a man who I doubt could name each country in the United Kingdom without phoning a friend — who in a rare moment of clarity described the Tories’ general election prospects as hinging on ‘culture war issues.’ This is the likely route that the Tories will pursue, and the next election will probably be made into a competition about who can be the most overtly horrible to minorities. This is a competition that the Conservatives stand a good chance of winning — it is their entire reason for existing, after all — but the Labour Party under the leadership of Keir ‘my Dad was a toolmaker’ Starmer is by god going to give it a good go. As it stands, one of the groups most targeted by this culture war strategy are those seeking asylum in the UK. Much has been made by the British press and political intelligentsia of “small boat crossings.” This is a euphemism designed to strip refugees of any humanity. Their plight isn’t described in human terms; they are just blips popping up over the horizon. Small boat crossings. The purpose of this language is to make it easier to persecute asylum seekers. This includes a scheme aiming to deport people to Rwanda and a new bill proposed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman which aims to immediately strip anyone who crosses the Channel of any rights they have to asylum, including access to modern slavery support. This is all appalling. Nevertheless, tried and tested talking points by politicians and pundits serve to undermine any sense of moral outrage that should justifiably be felt, and dismisses any calls for change as idealistic, radically left-wing, or a call for open borders.

Now, speaking as an idealist on the radical left who doesn’t believe in borders, I don’t particularly like being associated with Keir Starmer, who was recently accused by PM Rishi Sunak of being ‘just another leftie lawyer’ (don’t make me like him now, Prime Minister). In that sense, part of this article’s existence is a gag-reflex at the notion of being considered in lockstep with the Labour Party, who seem to be doing all they can to distance themselves from any semblance of decency which emerged under the leadership of Corbyn. Personal motives aside, the following text is an attempt to compile all of the arguments against treating those seeking asylum with any empathy, and responding to them with the type of basic research that always makes Conservatives angry. But first, we should probably address the elephant in the room.

Can We Stop Pretending that this isn’t Racism?

For a long time now, there seems to have been a resistance to using the “r-word.” This is understandable. No one likes to think of themselves as racist or bigoted (at least, most of us don’t), and this leads people to curl up and put their fingers in their ears. Consider the storm around Gary Lineker’s tweet comparing language used towards refugees to that used towards Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Such comparisons are seen as beyond the pale, despite recent British history being replete with examples of just the type of dehumanising language towards minorities that have been used to justify oppression throughout the centuries. Prominent British tabloid the Sun (as one of numerous examples) dedicated an entire column to a journalist describing refugees as cockroaches. The former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joked about dead Libyans, compared Muslim women to bank robbers, and written a novel replete with hideous antisemitic caricatures. The Spectator, a prominent newspaper amongst fools, has published articles defending the Wehrmacht and suggesting that general elections be held on Islamic Holy Days so that Muslims can’t vote. Home Secretary Suella Braverman has described the current asylum situation as an ‘invasion,’ and her predecessor attempted to make it illegal to rescue those seeking asylum from drowning in the ocean if their boat was to capsize.

So, there’s nothing fanciful about this. The presence of racism amongst the political class is unanswerable. But the mere mention of these trends causes people to clutch their pearls so hard that they take on the density of a dying sun. The simple fact is that these refugees — some of the most disadvantaged people on the Earth — are being discriminated against, because they are black, brown, and Asian. One need only look at the discrepancy in attitudes between Ukrainian refugees and those from, say, Afghanistan or Syria to see this racism in action.[i] The British media and political class are happy enough to pretend that they care about the plight of Ukrainians, and at least pay lip-service to the idea that these are human beings escaping a devastating and unpardonable act of violence and imperialism. This sensitivity is absolutely not offered to the people coming to the UK across the Channel, even though, in the case of Afghanistan, our imperialist actions are largely responsible for the conditions which caused them to flee in the first place.

All of this is to say that, despite all of the political sensitivities, one should not fear calling these policies and attitudes what they actually are: racist. Now, moving on to some myth busting, what are some of the common talking points around this issue?

“We Can’t Take Everyone”

Recently, Braverman wrote an article for the Daily Mail (a newspaper which is basically the Onion without any self-awareness) in which she, without any hint of irony, stated the following:

“There are 100 million people displaced around the world, and likely billions more eager to come here if possible.”

Billions. Where do we begin? There is simply no prospect of billions of people wanting to come to the UK. It’s a statement so absurd that it can’t even be disproven. As for the 100m figure, she’s broadly correct, but using the number in the context of potential UK asylum applicants is outrageously misleading. About 50% of these people are internally displaced (meaning, they are still in their country of origin), and 32 million of those of the remaining 50% are already refugees (meaning, have already sought, and gained asylum). About 5m people are currently seeking asylum globally. Of those 5m, in 2022, the UK receives applications of asylum from just under 90,000 people, which, while still higher than Braverman can count, is nowhere near the billions hilariously suggested. The truth is that for every 10,000 people in the UK, there are about nine asylum applications (which doesn’t take into consideration whether these applications will be accepted). This is lower than the European average of 14.

“Britain is a compassionate country”

Britain is not a compassionate country when it comes to housing refugees, and anyone who suggests as such can be immediately dismissed as statistically illiterate. We give less money to refugees in the UK than other European countries. The weekly allowance for refugees in the UK is £36.95, compared to France’s £58.50. The UK largely doesn’t allow applicants recourse to public funds, and doesn’t allow them to work, whereas in the European Union asylum seekers are permitted to look for work after nine months if their application hasn’t been decided upon. These are all fairly easy statistics to find, in fact, many of the links in this article will take you to only a few sites (Amnesty International being a key one). These facts can be found on your phone in less than the time it would take between a refugee boat appearing on the horizon and making it to shore. There is little excuse for not knowing these facts, and even less so for deliberately obfuscating them in order to push through a racist policy.

Illegality, safe routes, and safe countries

The substance of the claims of illegality are deliberately thin. Conservatives will constantly mention that the Illegal Migration Bill is to stop people from crossing the Channel in small boats, on the grounds that this is illegal. Though, there are many ways of entering a country which are illegal, and which aren’t given as much airtime as refugees crossing the Channel. What if a refugee were to drive to a country to seek asylum, but had a broken headlight? What if they had an expired driver’s licence? What if they didn’t have one at all? What if they were driving in a car which was uninsured? What if it was a rental car and was driven outside of the contracted regions of the rental company? What if (and you’ll forgive me for my George Carlin impression) they were driving an uninsured rental car with a broken headlight, no driver’s licence and outside the jurisdiction of the rental company? I doubt that many people would say that this is reasonable grounds for breaking international law by deporting them to another country or detaining them without trial. The whole point of rights, after all, is that they still apply to you even if you’ve broken the law. This is why the 1951 Convention on the Rights of Refugees explicitly states that:

“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

Now, why would someone make the journey across the Channel from France? It might be useful to do a little imaginative exercise. Imagine you live in Wales (for those of you who do live in Wales, this step will likely be very easy). Now imagine it descending into some type of civil war. God knows why this would happen but just go with it. You have relatives who live in the North of Ireland, but there are no ways for you to apply for asylum from where you live. The only way for you to get to Ireland would be to cross the Irish Sea. The shortest route across the water is from Stranraer, Scotland. But to get to Scotland you have to pass through England, a safe country. At this point you either languish in a refugee camp in Scotland, potentially for years, without any way of ensuring that you get to your family, or you make the difficult dangerous journey across the Irish Sea. I know what I would do. No one enters the Sea unless the shore is scarier, after all. But even if this choice isn’t obvious to you, does it warrant being detained without trial, having modern slavery protections removed, and being shipped to another country thousands of miles away?

Safe Routes

The reason a lot of people arrive in the UK on boats is because there are no legal routes for them to take. Specific legal routes exist for all of three territories:

  • Ukraine
  • Afghanistan
  • Hong Kong

Each of these schemes have woeful inadequacies, which is why you will often see people from Afghanistan arriving in the UK by crossing the Channel. As for asylum seekers from other countries, no such routes exist. None. For Albanians, Iraqis, Iranians, and Syrians, (four of the top five countries of origin for asylum applicants in the UK) there is no possible legal route to the UK in order to claim asylum.


The solutions to this problem are obvious, and it takes an extraordinary effort on the part of the media and political classes to convince you that they aren’t. If we were to implement these five things, the situation would be resolved within a month:

  1. Immediately grant all current applicants from territories recognised to be at war (civil or otherwise) immediate British Citizenship or the right to settle in the UK regardless of how they arrived.
  2. Allow all asylum seekers to work, have recourse to public funds, and full civil rights.
  3. Scrap both the Rwanda scheme and the Illegal Migration Bill in their entirety.
  4. Allow people to apply from asylum from any British Embassy in the world.
  5. Set up offices for asylum applications in major refugee camps and hotspot areas.

The first three are matters of internal policy and could be done tomorrow. The last two could be funded with the money currently being used to fight ridiculous legal cases attempting to deport people to Rwanda.

And for the record, this would not mean an influx of billions of people coming to the UK. The common denominator in asylum applicants is, and always has been, desperation, not ease of access. If you refuse to recognise this fact, you have no right to wince when your morality is questioned. The truth is that many of the people cause such a fuss about refugees and asylum seekers are doing so out of racism, and it’s tiring to have to pretend that this isn’t the case. We have a government that is enacting policies specifically designed to harm black, brown, and Asian people, propped up by a media which explicitly draws on racist stereotypes. In a world not dominated by indoctrination, it would be easy to recognise that you have more in common with the people fleeing the bombs, sometimes made by us, than the billionaires telling you to hate them. Any party which cannot announce this simple truth is not worthy of your support, and any person unable to hear it is not worthy of your politeness.

~ Ellis Fox

[i] It’s worth saying that the services offered to those fleeing Ukraine are not satisfactory, and don’t measure up to the schemes offered by other nations, and that this is an outrage which should be taken more seriously.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Freedom anarchist journal.

Pic: Syria Freedom

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