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(en) Freedom 6404 22 Feb, 2003 - Fear of the unknown

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 27 Mar 2003 08:34:15 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

A proposal to open an asylum-seekers' induction
centre in Sittingbourne has brought fascists on to the
streets and stirred up racial tensions in the area. Last
month over three hundred people packed a meeting
opposing the government's attempt to buy the
Coniston, a local hotel. Another five hundred were
locked outside. Five thousand people have signed a
petition opposing the centre, while several hundred
have marched on the hotel itself, shouting
'asylum-seekers out'. These included members of the
British National Party and the National Front. Signs
have appeared in pub windows saying 'no refugees',
while a handful of NF boneheads have held their own
demo and leafleted the town's High Street.

Racial tension in the area is rising. The local paper
reports 15 year old Sanny Muhith as saying "the
protests have already got the National Front down in
Sittingbourne, which is the reason my dad left London
in the first place". A reporter from The Voice was
subject to racial abuse during a protest meeting.
The town's Labour MP, Derek Wyatt, has fuelled the
fire, saying Britain has too many asylum-seekers.

When challenged by a local anarchist about this, he
admitted that such statements heighten tension. "I
accept", he said, "that when MPs talk the chances are
they add to the issue and may encourage the BNP".
Appallingly, though, he went on to say, "if you ask most
Labour MPs, they'll tell you there are too many

Yet again a Labour MP plays the race card and tries to
outdo the Tories in the vain hope of picking up some
votes! Yet the only people likely to benefit from this
are the fascists. Local Tory councillor Andrew Bowles
has admitted that it's now likely the BNP will stand
candidates in the May local elections.

But anti-racists in this mainly working class town are
fighting back. By a twist of fate, the owner of the
Coniston himself is the son of a refugee who fled
Poland in 1940. He hit the nail on the head when he
told the local newspaper that most people's response
was based on "rumours, presumptions and fear of the

The new centre would house a maximum of 111
refugees, each staying for only a couple of days. Some
120,000 people live in the area, making talk of refugees
'swamping' local services ludicrous. Equally ludicrous
is talk of the town losing a 'much-loved' facility when
the hotel goes. One local on last month's march said,
"this is about a hotel, not a racist thing". But the
reason the owners of the hotel are putting it up for sale
is that local people aren't using it. It's also lost out to
a new, modern hotel which opened three years ago.

Kent anti-racists and asylum-seeker support groups
have been active in support of refugees and in
confronting the fascists. Leaflets have been handed out
at meetings and counter-demonstrations have been
organised. As time goes by, more and more local
people have been willing to stand up against the
racists and support asylum-seekers. "Do the people of
Sittingbourne actually understand the plight of
asylum-seekers?", one asked.

It is, though, an uphill struggle. David Turner, an
anti-racist from the town, says that at one recent
meeting, "one person who tried to put a different point
of view was howled down and had the microphone
taken off him. So much for free speech".

An anarchist who lives in the area says, "it's important
that we work in the community. Many people in
Sittingbourne oppose what's going on. It's encouraging
that many are now willing to say so at public meetings
and to write to the local paper. The tide is turning.
What's so pathetic is the position of the Labour Party.
More union support would be welcome too."

At the start of this month, Tony Blair said that Labour
would halve the number of people seeking asylum. As
well as a war against 'terrorism', New Labour is also
waging a war against refugees. In a world made
unstable by capitalism, religion and imperialism , it's
hardly any wonder if the number of refugees is growing.
The reality of Labour's onslaught against them can be
seen on the streets of towns like Sittingbourne.

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