By Mike Rowley
ONE of the most grotesque aspects of last month’s local election campaign was the media frenzy about “foreign criminals” being released from prison. If the gutter press is to be believed, the streets of Britain are teeming with rapists and murderers who have been let out of prison solely due to the extreme leniency of the government.
The reality, unsurprisingly, is very different. Firstly, all of those released had served their sentences according to law and were therefore, as is their basic right, released. The call for them to be deported is in effect a demand that these people, having completed their punishment, should be punished again for the crime of having been born outside Britain. It is, in other words, a racist demand. It is also inextricably bound up with the equally racist idea that if the very few of rapists and murderers should repeat their crimes, it would be better for them to rape and murder “foreigners” than British people. This is disgusting.
To be jailed is not necessarily, or even often, to be a rapist or a murderer. “Obstructing the police in the course of their duty”, a charge on which convictions can usually be got on the say-so of the cops, can get you a month in prison. The total number of “foreign criminals” is, anyway, very small. Just over a thousand have been released — according to law, as noted above — and of these only 85 who had committed “serious” crimes were still at large last week. Labour government policy has been to cram the jails full of people, mostly on short sentences for minor offences. The prison population is nearing 80,000, and considerably over a hundred thousand people pass through the British prison system each year.
Despite all this, the bourgeois politicians have jumped on the racist bandwagon with their usual haste. John Reid, the new Home Secretary, has been heard muttering about repealing parts of the Human Rights Act, which would entail “derogating from” (disobeying) the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the British government is a signatory. The Tories, of course, demand this.
Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for special restrictions on the movements of “undesirable” foreigners who have served criminal sentences and cannot be deported because of a clear threat to their lives. These restrictions would not of course apply to British nationals. The racism here is glaring.
Glaring too is the brutality, arbitrariness and authoritarianism of the whole proceedings. Since April 25, when the story broke, hundreds of foreigners have been moved from open to closed prisons, had their transfer to an open prison cancelled or even been hauled back into jail after being released on licence. People are being deported regardless of whether a judge recommended it, regardless of the nature of their crime and regardless of their ties and commitments in Britain.
In a few cases, people are being deported despite the fact that they hold British passports. Saqib Almas, a young man with dual British-Pakistani citizenship, is being deported to Pakistan on the grounds that he has committed minor offences and allegedly has “no ties” in Britain — despite the fact that he lives here with his family!
As well as being a racist outrage, the Government’s crazed flurry of deportations makes all of us, whatever our background and nationality, less secure.
Were it not for the pervasive racism of British society, it would be difficult to see why this “scandal” should have led to the replacement of the Home Secretary. Firstly, these people were entitled to be released. There is no reason why they should not have been released. Even if some highly-paid civil servant was considered to have made a “mistake”, the “mistake” of the thousand people not considered for deportation pales into insignificance before that of the three thousand people mistakenly identified as convicted criminals by the Home Office's Criminal Records Bureau (under a PFI contract of course!) or the neglect incompetence and even wilful corruption with which the Home Office is accustomed to deal with asylum-seekers.
There have been cases of asylum-seekers being told they are allowed to stay and study in Britain, then being kidnapped by Home Office officials and deported without warning; people not being told whether their asylum application has succeeded or failed; people being illegally deported while their complaint about Home Office brutality is going through the courts; asylum-seekers being offered permission to stay in Britain by immigration officials in return for sexual favours.
Yes, sack the Home Secretary for presiding over this disgrace—but not for allowing the release of a relatively few people who were entitled to be released in the eyes of everyone but hardened racists! We must campaign for the right of “foreign criminals” who have served their sentences to be treated in the same way as everyone else in such a situation, and allowed to stay in Britain.