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Jeremy Corbyn: Our Political Class Are Emboldening the Far Right

The Rwanda scheme is a repulsive election stunt from a government devoid of humanity. We must resist both the policy and the racist rhetoric that underpins it, writes Jeremy Corbyn.

(Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Mr. and Mrs. Saeid* arrived in Islington in the 1990s. As Kurdish refugees, they fled persecution in Turkey in search of a safer life. Not long after their arrival, immigration officials threatened to send them back home. As the MP for the area, I tried to appeal their deportation, but endless letters, emails and calls fell on deaf ears. We were left with no choice but to resist their eviction directly. On the date of their scheduled deportation, a group of us went round to their flat in Finsbury Park and formed a human blockade outside their door. After a protracted confrontation with the Home Office, they eventually won their battle for the right to stay. If the Home Office had succeeded, they would have been forced to re-live a life of statelessness and oppression. Instead, thanks to the kindness of strangers, they made a life for themselves, right here in Islington North.

Today, we are compelled to resist the cruelty of the Home Office once more, and fight for the futures of those who will change our country for the better. This week, the Home Office launched a major operation to round up and detain asylum seekers, in preparation for their deportation to Rwanda. Across the country, mothers and fathers will think they are turning up for routine meetings, where they will be chucked into a van and transported to detention centres. Forced to languish in a cell indefinitely, they will count down the days to their removal, to be sent away like chattel, to be discarded, to be forgotten.

Coinciding with today’s council elections, this is a repulsive stunt by a government that takes pride in its ambivalence to human suffering. These are people who have escaped war and persecution; it is heart-breaking that their arrival has coincided with this government’s deranged descent into full-blown barbarism. Despite repeated warnings that they are in breach of international law, the government is hell-bent on pursuing its Rwanda plan no matter the scale of human misery it will unleash. Sacrificing people’s dignity for a few votes, this latest move represents the last gasps of a dying government, determined to solidify its legacy as one that made the lives of vulnerable people even harder.

The Conservative Party, however, does not have a monopoly on human cruelty. Right across Europe, governments of all stripes have upheld a violent system of barbed wire, gunboats and demonisation. Germany’s Social Democratic Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, recently decided to restrict welfare for asylum seekers and accelerate deportations. A month later, Macron’s party followed suit in France. Earlier this year, Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis bragged that they had ‘succeeded in managing migration through a tough but fair migration policy’ — a tough but fair policy that resulted in the death of more than 500 people, including 100 children, when a boat sank off the Greek coast last year.

In the past decade, more than 29,000 people have either died or disappeared trying to cross the Mediterranean. Each had a name, a face and a story. Each life was a miracle to those that loved and depended on them — and each death a stain on the collective conscience of those who have criminalised human beings just trying to survive. Politicians across Europe know that their hardline immigration policies will not stop people making the treacherous journey across the Channel. That’s not the point. Their intention is to whip up hatred, division and fear.

To many in our political class, mass death at sea is simply the price of grown-up ‘pragmatism’. Conservative and Social Democratic governments alike tell us this the only way to stave off the rise of the far-right: the AfD in Germany, Marine Le Pen in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, Vox in Spain, the Swedish Democrats, to name a few. However, governments who embrace anti-migrant rhetoric do not neutralise the far-right — they only legitimise them and embolden them.

A Slippery Slope

Our own Prime Minister has bonded with Italy’s far-right leader, Georgia Meloni. And he has stood by his Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, as she warned of an invasion on our southern coasts. Braverman herself was primed to speak alongside Hungarian far-right PM, Viktor Orban, in Brussels last month — a decision Rishi Sunak refused to block. Meanwhile, their position in the polls continue to plummet, unable to persuade the public that refugees are to blame for the past 14 years of economic decline. These are not signs of a party reluctantly adopting an electoral strategy. These are signs of a party actively embracing the growth of far-right populism, no matter the electoral cost. These are signs of a country — and indeed a continent — on a slippery slope to fascism.

This term should not be used lightly. There are many acts that are terrifying enough on their own terms without warranting that label. But beware, fascism doesn’t arrive in uniform overnight. It arrives with suited politicians, one piece of legislation — or one emergency address — at a time. Earlier this year, Rishi Sunak claimed that democracy was being undermined by ‘extremists’. He’s right. It’s being undermined by a government that shows utter disdain for human rights at home and abroad.

The erosion of the right to asylum is part of a much wider, full-scale assault on civil liberties, particularly our right to strike, vote and protest. Indeed, right across Europe, the freedoms of protestors are being crushed by governments that are desperate to hide their role in the unfolding genocide in Gaza — governments who will soon demonise the refugees their complicity has created. What will happen to those of us who speak out on the streets against the government’s latest abuse of power? Today, our government is rounding up asylum seekers. Who’s next?

The Cost of Cruelty

We must be prepared to stand up for everybody’s human rights, no matter who is curtailing them. The global humanitarian crisis will not be fixed by deporting refugees more cheaply, particularly if British foreign policy remains one of endless war, a leading source of displacement. Instead, it will further entrench a system that sees migrants as problems to be managed, not human beings to be cared for. Anti-migrant rhetoric has infected global politics for decades. Without a principled fightback, it may well infect global politics for decades to come.

Sacrificing other people’s humanity for electoral gain isn’t just wrong in principle. It is fundamentally misguided. That’s because it exacerbates the worst fears of the Conservatives’ most loyal base, benefiting populist leaders who offer reactionary solutions to crises that years of managerialism and inequality have failed to solve. Far from keeping the Conservatives out of power, leaning into anti-migrant rhetoric may pave the path for their right-wing revival.

Another path is possible: build lasting support for an immigration system based on respect, dignity and care. One that actually tackles human trafficking through the only means of undermining the market: the provision of safe routes. Contrary to what you hear across much of our media, the British public are becoming more and more favourable toward immigration, and the vast majority support the rights of those seeking asylum. Making the positive case for immigration won’t convince everybody overnight, but appealing to the fundamental humanity inside us all is a good place to start.

Over the past 40 years, I have seen politicians from all parties pit workers and refugees against each other. Many claim to speak for the working class. So why don’t they speak for refugees who have escaped economic destitution, or migrants in low-paid and precarious employment? Pitting them against white people who share similar economic conditions helps nobody, other than those at the top who benefit from division. Those who exclude migrants and refugees from their class coalition don’t just paint a flawed picture of society. They obstruct the path to a more hopeful alternative. That’s because marginalised groups are not mere victims. They are agents of transformative change.

Refugees and Migrants: the Leaders of Tomorrow

From the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination to The Indian Workers Association, descendants of migrant communities have taught us how to build power in their workplaces and communities to achieve tangible change. In my own borough, there is not one foodbank, mutual aid group, renters’ union, community garden or co-operative that doesn’t rely on the dedication and contribution of refugees and migrants, working together to change the lives of everyone around them. Indeed, migrants and refugees who work in our NHS, in our schools and in our social care system are living proof that society is often changed by people whose names we may never know. They don’t seek accolades. They don’t seek recognition. Instead, they seek belonging in a society that cares for each other and cares for all.

The Left is always looking for leaders. Look around you — and you will see leaders in the communities we are meant to represent. You will see first-, second- and third-generation migrants building collective power in as many places as they can. It was Black women in Hackney who founded Sistah Space, a community-based centre to support African & Caribbean women affected by domestic and sexual abuse. And it was Black women in Hackney — including those from Sistah Space itself — who organised spontaneous protest outside Hackney Town Hall in support of Diane Abbott.

There is a valuable lesson here: we need not choose between Parliament or direct action as battlegrounds for change. Instead, the struggle inside Parliament is intimately connected to the struggle outside of it. If any government sells arms to human-rights abusing nations, we will be outside the factories forming a blockade. If they squeeze our wages, we will be organising in our workplaces. If they come for refugees, we will come together to resist their deportation. Inside and outside Parliament, we will prove the collective power of a movement made up of all backgrounds, all languages, all faiths and none.

The future of our movement is uncertain. All I know is that it cannot be imposed from above. It can only grow organically from below. In my own constituency of Islington North, we have achieved huge victories for each other by standing by our principles of redistribution, democracy and peace. That is what we will continue to do — and I will always stand in solidarity with people who have come from afar to make this country their home. We should be celebrating the institutions and friendships we have created together. Instead, we continue to mourn our collective humanity lost at sea. Refugees and migrants should neither be pilloried nor pitied. They should be empowered as the political leaders of tomorrow. They should be at the centre of an organised fightback against the assault on our democracy. They are the past, present and future of a better world.