An escalation in the war to end the right to asylum
Maryam Namazie
Published in Hambastegi English
September 18, 2000

The assault of Western governments and media against asylum seekers has reached absurd proportions. Under the pretext of a “war against human smugglers,” these governments are fighting an all out war against the very right to asylum. They are redefining the act of seeking asylum as a criminal one and characterizing asylum seekers as “illegals, bogus, security risks, welfare cheats and undesirables.” By doing so, they hope to create justifications for their racist laws, detention, physical and psychological torture of asylum seekers, inhumane living conditions, vouchers, racist assaults and killings and the deportation of innumerable human beings.

This deceitful propaganda war against “human smuggling” is not meant to create safer routes for those fleeing political and economic repression nor end human trafficking. Fortress Europe has already guaranteed that no asylum seeker can enter legally or safely. In fact, this war is meant to further deter, restrict and endanger asylum seekers, keep them out and end the very right to asylum.

Thousands have already died trying to get in. While racist and repressive laws have been directly responsible for the deaths, governments hypocritically feign “defence of the lives of migrants” in their war against human smugglers in order to conceal their culpability in the deaths and the repression asylum seekers have fled. Following the tragedy of 58 Chinese asylum seekers found dead in a container at the UK border, Western governments called for tough new measures to “halt the worldwide trafficking of humans” so as to avert scrutiny over why human beings must hide in an air-tight container to get to a relatively freer and safer life.

While the death toll rises, governments are adding newer and more repressive ways to “combat smuggling.” France will triple fines levied against transport companies who carry “illegal immigrants.” Australia has maximum terms of 20 years in prison for immigrant smugglers and has banned welfare workers from helping asylum seekers freed from detention centres to punish them for arriving illegally. Belgium is launching an information campaign to dissuade “illegal immigrants” who are lured by traffickers’ promises of jobs and welfare benefits (as if asylum seekers are taking life-threatening measures to live in inhumane conditions and eat rotten outdated food). Italy is securing deportation agreements with countries. In the UK, drivers carrying stowaways are fined 2,000 pounds per person.

The October 1999 European council of ministers’ lines of action on immigration explicitly divulge their real aims: cooperation with countries of origin, control of the migratory flow and continuing the fight against illegal immigration networks. The push for a United Nations convention on organized crime, which includes protocols on migrant smuggling and trafficking and strict provisions for the deportation of “illegal migrants” and an obligation for the home countries to take them back, is also aimed at restricting asylum seekers, increasing cooperation with persecutors and further criminalizing asylum seekers.

By focusing on human smugglers, Western governments are attempting to channel people’s wrath away from their policies and their direct complicity in the deaths and abuses. When fighting human trafficking becomes the “public’s priority,” deportation, the forcible return of human beings back to persecution, is rationalized in absurd terms. In Canada when a large number of asylum seekers entered “illegally,” most were deported. An “expert” with the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada portrayed the deportations as a success against smuggling. “Since smugglers get paid after delivering their clients, the mass detentions and deportations destroyed their business plan,” according to a newspaper article. There is no mention of the fate of those forcibly returned.

These governments have deleted the word “asylum seeker” from their daily vocabulary and instead repeatedly bombard the public with terms such as “illegals” and “bogus.” By doing so, they deliberately strive to conceal the repression asylum seekers are fleeing from and their own complicity in the political and economic repression in the countries of origin. Look at the asylum statistics. The main asylum applicants in Europe are from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Algeria, Nigeria, – countries where massive rights violations take place. In reality, asylum seekers are fleeing the intolerable. Most are fleeing from Islamist societies where they can be stoned to death for a voluntary sexual relationship, lashed for “improper” veiling, and imprisoned, tortured and executed for political opposition or organizing a labour strike.

If not resisted, an escalation of the war against human smuggling will only increase the number of victims on a tragic and unprecedented scale. While governments are determined to end the right to asylum, the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and progressive organizations are determined to push back their assault. Such resistance must become stronger, more militant and part of larger progressive social movement, which unconditionally demands an end to deportation, detention, racism, and inhumane living and social conditions. A movement, which demands full and equal rights for asylum seekers. A movement, which demands the freedom to choose one’s place of residence and work. A movement, which demands open borders.

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