(en) African refugees in Great Britain

Thu, 27 Feb 1997 16:25:08 GMT

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"We are not economic refugees looking for a better life in Western economies.We are all political refugees fleeing from the devastation thatWestern economies have caused in our countries. It is your economics thatmakes our politics that makes us refugees in your economies."

A. SIVANANDAN, Director, Institute of RaceRelations (IRR).

The British Government is using its new "fast-track" approach to asylum cases to attack politically active asylum seekers. People who have been prominent opponents of western-backed dictatorships in Africa and who have played an active role in fighting the Immigration and Asylum Act, face the prospect of deportation in the coming months as the authorities rush their Appeals through. . A detailed account of these issues is included in this message under the title "DEFEND REFUGEE POLITICAL RIGHTS".

Fight now to expose the British Government's racist hypocrisy and stop the threatened deportations.


In the wake of the Immigration and Asylum Act being passed, the British Government is rushing through " fast-track" procedures to target leading political activists in the refugee communities. It is trying to instil fear into asylum seekers living in Britain and backing up the brutal, western-backed, military dictatorships these refugees have had to escape from.

The trade union movement, students, anti-racists, the black community and refugee organisations must support an active and vocal campaign to stop these threats. The Asylum Act is an attempt to strengthen the people who control wealth and power, and divide the people who are down-trodden and exploited, in Britain and internationally.We should certainly exploit the legal difficulties the Government has run into with the Act (the High Court recently ruled that existing laws do not allow Local Authorities to leave asylum seekers totally destitute), but thousands still face terrible hardship and the threat of deportation; only a massive campaign of action can defeat this attack.

Every deportation we stop, strengthens the fight against this racist law and helps to build the struggle for liberation against repressive regimes in Africa and elsewhere. The fight to defend these activists is essential to defend the rights of every refugee, asylum seeker and immigrant threatened by the Act. Experience has shown that united, militant campaigns can stop these deportations

The immigration authorities have displayed their usual ignorance and insensitivity by choosing International Human Rights Day , 10 December, for the asylum appeals of two prominent refugee activists- Affiong Southey, a Nigerian asylum seeker, who has been a prominent and fearless fighter in the struggle to defeat the Asylum Bill; has worked actively on behalf of LARDECC, the Lambeth refugee centre and is a leading member of the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign (ITUSC); and Alexis Ehipah, a former deputy secretary of the Ivorian Relief Action Group (IRAG), which was very active in the fight against the Asylum Bill.

The authorities are targeting asylum seekers who were prominent in workers' and students struggles and the fight for democratic rights in Africa, and have continued this struggle in exile. Most of the asylum cases IRAG is defending (currently at least two a week), concern leading members of the Ivory Coast students union (FESCI), like Esther Lehou, who was arrested twice, beaten and injected with drugs to make her divulge names of people she was working with; or Alexis Ehipah, who was a leading activist at the University of Abidjan. Membership of FESCI is now punishable by imprisonment, and activists are at risk from a law decreeing that organising violence is punishable by public execution, but the British Government considers the Ivory Coast a 'friendly' country.Esther's appeal comes up early next year.

The appeal hearing of Guali Firmin, another FESCI activist and a well-known anti-government musician in the Ivory Coast, falls on 9 December 1996, the day before Affiong' and Alexis' hearings. Kwame Sampong from Ghana had his appeal on 23 October 1996, and is currently awaiting the result. Kwame has been a leading member of the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC) and has worked to expose British Government support for the repressive Rawling's government in Ghana.

All of these activists and many others face imprisonment, torture and death if they return to their own countries. Even in other African countries, the conditions of Western-backed military repression means that they would face imprisonment and further deportation, or be targeted by agents of their own governments. To this day nothing has been heard of Abdul Onibiyo, who was deported to Nigeria earlier this yesr, though he had had lived in Britain for most of the last thirty years and was a known opponent of General Abacha's military government.

Affiong Southey's case shows how the British Government is using the 'fast-track' approach to deal with activists- even though it was officially forced to take Nigeria off the 'white list' of so-called 'safe countries' because of the international outrage over the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni supporters. Affiong's asylum claim was turned down in July 1996, but her appeal date was 'fast-tracked' to 10 December 1996, instead of the usual time lag (still around a year). The Home Office had accidentally included with her letter the appeal notice of another asylum seeker whose claim had been turned down at the same time, but whose appeal was not for another twelve months!In the event, the Home Office was granted a deferral of Affiong's appeal.

As a former leader of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Affiong was forced to flee from Nigeria in 1991 when she was being hounded by the army. Many of her colleagues were imprisoned because they were active in the movement of workers against World Bank schemes that have deepened the poverty of ordinary people in Nigeria. In Britain, Affiong has fought to expose the links between Britain and Abacha's military regime. She is a founder- member of the People's Embargo for Democracy in Nigeria and the Campaign for Independent Unionism in Nigeria.

The Pan-Afrikan Freedom Fighters' Asylum Campaign defends the rights of all African asylum seekers to stay in Britain and organise politically in this country for the liberation of Africa. The support of workers' and student organisations in Britain is essential to stop these deportations and expose the racist lies of the British Government, which is a leading player in the imperialist system that exploits Africa and maintains its corrupt and repressive regimes. A successful campaign will force a Labour Government to repeal the Immigration and Asylum Act.

We are asking for practical support from trade unions, refugee organisations, students' unions and anti-racist groups.Get in touch with PAFFAC; send us a donation; get a motion through your organisation and raise this issue at national level; get supporters to appeal hearings and lobby your M.P.'s over these cases.

Send messages of support urgently and other enquiries to:-

snail mail PAFFAC c/o ARMMOP, 365,Brixton Road, London, SW9 7DB

Telephones + (0) 171 924 9033 or 0956 132143

E-Mail itusc@gn.apc.org

Sponsoring organisations so far (why not include yours, if it's not already sponsoring?) :- African Liberation Support Campaign; African Refugees and Migrants Monitoring Project; Banner Theatre; Black Quest for Justice Campaign; Brixton Community Law Centre; Camden UNISON; Chimyrenga; Friends of Move; Ghanakwambo Migrants and Community Action Group; International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign (ITUSC); Ivorian Relief Action Group; Kingsway College Students' Union; Law Centres Federation; Movement for Justice; Pan-African Grassroots Education Network; People's Embargo for Democracy in Nigeria; People's Empowerment Network of Lambeth;Save Immigrants and Asylum Seekers; Workers International.

------------------------- Diffusion : Collectif Kom(inter)net European Counter Network - Paris e-mail: samizdat@ecn.org http://www.anet.fr/~aris/


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