Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Travellers, Immigrants And Other Niggers

Beneath a thin veneer of British civility, racism is rife in ways that even the EEC Commission of Human Rights is criticising this government for. And yet most people in Britain know little of what is going on.

Squall 5, Oct/Nov 1993, pp. 14-16.

By now the whole country is probably aware that a member of the British National Party was elected as a councillor for the Isle of Dogs. Even the three major political parties were suddenly exposed as the distributors of election material designed to appeal to the recession-fueled racial discontent on the Isle.

At national level, the leaders of the major parties rushed in to distance themselves from the potential harm done to their respective reputations. “I want to make it quite clear that there is no place in our society for these sorts of policies,” announced John Major resolutely.

But an impression emerges that what is really wrong with being racist, is getting caught at it by the media. In areas where the media show little interest, eg travellers and immigrants, racism thrives to appalling degrees and yet not many people get to hear of it.

Recently in Torquay, an ex-member of the National Front was only denied membership of the Conservative party after the press got hold of the story and Tory Central Office sent word that the publicity was too damaging.

Only a few months ago, the Tory backbencher Winston Churchill made remarks about the threat to our livelihood and culture from the “relentless flow of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent”.

He continued: “Mr Major promises us that 50 years from now, spinsters will still be cycling to communion on Sunday morning - more like the muezzin will be calling Allah’s faithful to the high street mosque.”

Despite swift attempts by John Major and new Home Secretary Michael Howard to distance themselves from Churchill’s remarks, it cannot be denied that there are many people attracted to conservative philosophy, whose motives are, to put it mildly, seriously discoloured.

The Tory party has a history of blundered comments that expose the racist veins running very close to the surface of its agenda. In 1964 the Tories snatched the constituency of Smethwick from Labour with the slogan “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote labour”, a theme more recently taken up by Norman Tebbit when he suggested using the criterion of which national cricket team you support as a measure of whether one is British or not.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the disrespect being shown to immigrants is a law that came into effect this year. The Asylum Bill slipped into the statute books in July, accompanied by what can only be described as muted press coverage. SQUALL was told by someone responsible for training immigrant advisers, that there was little public interest in legislation which had no direct effect on the British citizen personally and therefore editors ignored it

The upshot of the legislation is that since July, no immigrant is entitled to income support or housing whilst their claim for asylum is being processed by the Home Office. This processing may take years and male members of families are often interned in detention centres or prisons whilst they await the result. Many of these immigrants are escaping torture or personal threats in their country of origin and yet, in the last year, the number of asylum seekers in British prisons has doubled. The EEC Commission on Human Rights have told the British Government that it is concerned that these people, having escaped poor human rights in their own countries, are receiving similar or even worse treatment in Britain

At present, forty Zairean immigrants are in Pentonville Prison, locked up for 23 hours a day, not because they have committed a crime but simply because their requests for asylum are being processed by the Home Office. Most of these people have very little knowledge of the English language and yet are expected to survive amongst a prison population convicted for a whole variety of criminal activities. Many of these interned immigrants have reported racism from inmates and prison staff alike. “Their degree of despair is unbelievable,” said the Chaplain at Pentonville.

One such immigrant, Omasase Lumumba, died after being beaten up by prison staff in October 1992. An inquest decided that he had been the victim of “improper methods and excessive force” and gave a verdict of “unlawful killing”. However, under the instruction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, no criminal proceedings were brought against any of the officers involved.

In issue 4 of SQUALL, we wrote about a family housing centre that was looking after the wives and children of a ‘clan’ of Polish Gypsys seeking asylum in this country after suffering severe racial abuse in their homeland. The male members of the family were interned in a number of detention centres strewn across the length of the country, some in Cornwall and some in Glasgow. Not only was the family separated in this way but one young male member, whose wife was pregnant when they arrived, was told that he may well be in the detention centre for another year. After hearing this, he said that he would rather go home to Poland than face such a prospect. Within hours the authorities had produced tickets for them all to travel back to Poland and, as a clan, all 112 of them left, much to the satisfaction and original design of the Home Office. Doctors in this country reported that these Gypsys did indeed have bums consistent with the violent racial abuse they had reported suffering in Poland and one of the children had a scar from being slashed with glass. This all appeared to make no difference to the speed with which their application was processed.

The Home Office may well say that there was no deliberate attempt to make their life as hard as possible in order to dissuade them, but none of the social workers involved in helping immigrants will deny that this is the reality of the situation.

It is often difficult to find out what treatment is being given to prisoners behind prison walls. As such it is an ignorable fact for the media that the civility politicians pretend is part of their political concern, extends only to those cases that are likely to be seen in the public domain. “There’s no place for these sorts of (racist) policies,” claims John Major and yet, the privacy of British prisons is very evidently ‘the place’.

There was much talk on the day after the BNP victory in Millwall of racist comments in election material sent out by the other parties. Most of it consisted of “island homes for the islanders” type comments. However far more overt campaign material was used in the last general election but passed un-mentioned in the national press.

SQUALL recently received a copy of the election leaflet issued by Bowen Wells in his efforts to get elected as an MP in the last election. His constituency of Hertford and Stortford is one of the very Tory blue Essex areas, a fact that obviously gave Wells the confidence to be so blatant with his politics.

Mary Whiffin, a Gypsy Field Officer in the area, filed a complaint to the Police against Bowen Wells and his agent, for an incitement to racial hatred under the Public Order Act There can be no denying that a leaflet entitled “Conservatives against Gypsys” is anything other than racially discriminatory and therefore inflammatory, but the Police did not think so.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Manning assured Mrs Whiffin: “The matter was thoroughly investigated and I have now been advised by the Headquarters Special Casework Division of the Crown Prosecution Service, that there is insufficient evidence on which to bring proceedings against either party.”

Even more alarming than this farce, however, is the fact that Bowen Wells not only got elected but did so with a large majority and one of the very few swings towards the Conservatives that occurred in this country.

Fortunately his ego was kept in check when his rabid efforts to pre-empt the DOE and introduce a law against Travellers as a Private Members Bill were dismissed by the House of Commons.

A large number of Tower Hamlets Councillors decided to boycott council meetings in protest against the election of a BNP councillor, seemingly unaware of the irony of their outrage. For in a Tower Hamlets Council public information booklet entitled: ‘How to complain about your problems’, and wedged between ‘The Poll Tax’ and ‘Drains’, is a centre page spread on how to deal with ‘Gypsys’.