‘Stop deportations! Asylum rights are human rights! Equal rights for migrants!’ shouted over 500 people taking part in a March for Migrant Workers last Saturday.
The march through southeast London was organised by migrant workers and refugee groups with the support of the RMT trade union, the Transport and General Workers’ Union Immigrant Workers branch, Latin American Community Organisation, Bolivia Solidarity Campaign and the Today Las Voces Radio, all of whom had delegations on the march.
The march passed Becket House immigrant reporting centre near Guy’s Hospital, where a letter was handed in demanding the closure of the immigrant removal system – reporting centres, detention and removal centres – and an end to deportations.
The letter stated: ‘To workers and management at Becket House
‘We should like to take this opportunity of explaining why we are protesting against your employers.
‘Some of you may remember that Becket House has been the subject of a number of complaints.
Among them one of serious racial harrasment by two employees. This should come as no surprise.
‘Becket House is an integral part of the detention and removal system which is typified by the ill-treatment of so called failed asylum seekers who are woken by the sound of the door being kicked in at dawn or quietly “disappeared” after reporting to places like Becket House.
‘“Failed” asylum seekers are being deported to Iraq and Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and many countries in similar states of turmoil. Appeals are dismissed without due process.
‘The whole asylum and immigration system is an affront to a civilised society. Appeals are rejected without due process. People who have committed no offence are detained in conditions that would not be tolerated for those imprisoned those convicted and sentenced by the courts for criminal offences.
‘People who have fled for their lives are detained at Becket House, their children are bundled off with them and removed to the countries they have fled from.
‘In the name of humanity we demand that Becket House and similar reporting centres be closed along with the infamous detention centres.’
Speaking outside Becket House, Doug Holton, vice-chair of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said: ‘You go in the front door and you disappear in the tradition of every police state.
‘We demand this reporting centre and all the other reporting centres and all the detention and removal centres be closed down. They are an affront to civilised values.
‘We demand deportation ends now and asylum seekers are treated humanely.
‘They come from countries that have been laid waste by this government and by the American government.
‘The treatment of people seeking asylum is racist. We demand people are treated as human beings.
‘This demonstration is the start of a movement that will shake this government.’
News Line spoke to a number of the marchers.
George Mwangi from Kenya said: ‘I’m here to support migrants’ right to freedom of movement and the right to work.
‘It’s not just the British state but Europe and the West – the way they are behaving towards immigrants from the third world.’
Teaching assistant, Laura Rogers from London said: ‘I’m concerned about migrant rights, peace and racism.
‘The way this government treats people is generally appalling, unless you are a privileged member of the monied middle class.
‘Their policies on refugees and migrant workers are misguided and prejudiced.
‘As for education, it should have no link with the corporate sector whatsoever.
‘Children and parents are not consumers. Education is one of the fundamentals and should be free for all.’
Lena from Greece added: ‘I’m demonstrating for migrant workers’ rights. Their situation is not very good, to put it politely.
‘The British government is doing what all the European governments are doing right now. All of them are applying a neo-liberal economy.
‘Migrant workers with less rights – low wages, doing the jobs that are unwanted by the native population – are good for the economy.
‘The unions have an important role to play in organising migrant workers, although sometimes the unions are more interested in protecting the rights of the native population.
‘They should protect all workers’ rights.
‘The present situation, with all the brain-washing from the government and media, is very difficult. The government should be challenged on this every day.’
‘A lot of people who came here from Latin American countries are living in very bad conditions.
‘Sometimes, they start working for a company and they don’t pay them.
‘In many cases, they don’t have papers and employers take advantage of that.
‘Migrants living in London are important for the economy.
‘The British government doesn’t want to admit they want migrants but they do. They want them for cheap labour.’
Fabio Orozco from Colombia told News Line: ‘The police killed off Jean Charles de Menezes. He was an innocent man.
‘The police need to make sure they are chasing the right people and big mistakes like that – they have to think about the relatives and families.
‘It’s a life lost for nothing.
‘Migrant workers should have better rights, equal rights – the right to work and better wages.
‘As a foreigner we contribute to the country’s economy.
‘All the immigration laws are created against us. They are made to make it easier to get rid of immigrants.
‘The government and press are putting out propaganda against immigrants to gain votes for the next election.
‘That is wrong. It’s kind of undercover lies; it’s against us.’
Fabio’s aunt, Maria Orozco added: ‘We contribute a lot to this economy but the government doesn’t recognise our contribution.
‘It thinks we are a problem when we are helping the country. We are honest and hard-working people.
‘All migrant workers should have rights. They should be treated the same as everybody else.
‘They need to change the laws which are against immigrants. These laws are unfair. Most immigrants come here to work and support their families and at the same time they pay taxes in this country.’
Another Colombian, Rubielai Jimenez, said: ‘I’m here for help for people who don’t have any papers.
‘They should have rights the same as everybody else.
‘The employers report people without papers to the authorities and they get deported. That is unfair.’
Glenroy Watson of the RMT trade union black members committee told News Line: ‘This is just the start of the campaign to end this hypocrisy of the way so-called undocumented workers are being treated.
‘People only come to the West because they stole their wealth from their countries of origin, and it continues to be stolen.
‘We are demanding legality for all so-called undocumented workers.
‘They should scrap the immigration laws, there shouldn’t be any in the first place.
‘I’m all for open borders. Money goes everywhere so workers should have the same right.’
TGWU shop steward, Kwasi Agyemang from Ghana said: ‘We all need our rights.
‘Employers who see workers are here illegally, they use that as an excuse to exploit them.
‘Being illegal in a country shouldn’t mean you’re treated unjustly.
‘There should be no immigration laws. The world would be a better place if everyone could go where they want.
‘Foreigners shouldn’t be harassed or exploited.
‘It’s bad for British workers because the employers want to cut everybody’s wages and they want to divide workers.
‘I’m with the TGWU and fully support my union to organise immigrant workers.
‘I’m a shop steward for cleaners. The employers have people so hard up, one person has to do two or three jobs in order to survive.’
• See photo feature