The tragic death of Mercy Baguma has highlighted the cruelty facing asylum seekers under the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’. The labour movement must fight against this barbarism, and organise all workers against capitalist exploitation.
Last month, Mercy Baguma, a 34-year-old woman, was found dead in her Glasgow flat with her baby lying by her side, alive but malnourished. A refugee from Uganda, Mercy had lost her job and income when her right to work in the UK expired. Living in “extreme poverty”, Mercy had been relying on donations from charities and families.
At a time when Glasgow’s refugee community has suffered violent attacks and deaths, Mercy’s death is a horrific reminder of the plight of refugees in Britain. The cruel Tory policy that forces asylum seekers into insecure employment is just one of many used by the ruling class to make seeking asylum a legal and financial nightmare.
70% of the general public is in favour of asylum seekers having a right to work. Nevertheless, the Tory government still enforces draconian measures to ban them from employment. This is despite 9-out-of-10 asylum seekers wanting to work. Exploiting migrant labour is an effective tool for the capitalists in driving down wages and dividing the working class.
Most of these vulnerable people are categorised as having ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ (NPRF). This includes child benefits, Universal Credit, housing benefits, and so on. Instead, they receive a miserable £5.39 per day, or £37.73 per week.
In one gruelling case reported by Refugee Action, an asylum-seeker admitted:
“I have to fast; I usually only eat once a day because everything is so expensive and can only get canned food at the food bank, which isn’t always healthy. It’s not what we want to eat; it’s what we have to eat.”
To receive enough money to survive, many asylum seekers have to apply for destitution funds. Over lockdown, there has been a 572% rise in applications for this money, with a excruciating 30-day wait period.
But waiting for the British state to provide asylum seekers with support is not limited to expenses. There has been a five-fold increase in the number of asylum seekers having to wait over six months just for an initial decision on their asylum claim.
Mercy Baguma was found dead alongside her malnourished baby son. @theresecoffey is asked for her response to this “as a human being”. Repeats standard line about support available from the government. No compassion, no empathy. We are led by sociopaths. pic.twitter.com/uzTo7r1xM4
— Paul Sng (@paulsng) September 3, 2020
Sadly, the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK is by no means a new phenomenon. In 2018, refugee charities contacted the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights to highlight the misery of these vulnerable groups, and to question whether UK policy followed international guidelines.
During the COVID pandemic, asylum seekers have faced indifference and cruelty from the state. Being kept in overcrowded hotels prompted one asylum seeker to contact the Home Office with concerns about social distancing. Despite their reassurance of safety, he contracted the coronavirus shortly after, and has now taken the government to court for their negligence.
Perhaps the government should have listened to the Academy of Medical Sciences, who recently released a report highlighting the risk of outbreaks at asylum seeker accommodation.
Keen to maintain their hostile environment, the UK government has restarted its deportation programme.
Under the Dublin regulations (asylum seekers must seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in), the state is sending asylum seekers back to France and Germany without testing the deportees for COVID. With France facing a second wave, the British state is sending these vulnerable people into a viral hot spot.
For those still able to stay in the UK, they now have to face far-right Britain First thugs harassing asylum seekers in accommodation. Only last year, these same goons were crowd-funding a boat to patrol the Kent coast for migrant vessels.
These racists have been emboldened by the reactionary rhetoric of Home Secretary Priti Patel. As the BLM movement continues to demand justice, the hostile environment is one of many tools the state uses to exploit and oppress black people.
Mercy’s starvation was not simply caused by a culmination of accidents. Rather, it was the result of intentional policies by a ruling class that is more focused on profits than people.
No one can bring her back or erase the trauma her child has faced. But we can fight for a world where people like Mercy get the support and care they need.
As socialists, we reject all chauvinism and racism. Instead, we call for trade unions and the Labour Party to organise amongst asylum seekers and refugees, defending them – and all workers – from exploitation.
The labour movement must demand jobs for all those who can work, and a genuine living income for those who cannot.
In the spirit of socialist internationalism, we struggle for peace and safety for all people, across the world. It is only through world revolution – to end capitalism and imperialism – that we can achieve this.