Wednesday 5 September 2007

Slavery and Brutality Still Exist and They are in a Town Near You.

Recently I was asked to support the launch of a book on modern day slavery in Britain. The book depicts the heartrending experiences of a number of people who are the victims of our current asylum policies; human beings who the system has made slaves and has made vulnerable to levels of physical and mental brutality which Wilberforce and the Victorian anti slave camapigners would recognise.

I was pleased to be asked because the book makes a significant contribution to exposing the way in which our society allows many of our fellow human beings to be treated within our community. It is also an eloquent, moving and forceful cry for action.

The book is "Enslaved:The New British Slavery" by Rahila Gupta. Today Rahila achieved a major breakthrough in gaining extracts from the book published in the Guardian's Society section.

Campaigners and authors like Rahila deserve all our thanks for the work they undertake to bear witness to the brutal treatment meted out to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They put on stark display what many politicians and commentators determinedly insist on ignoring.

For those of us who have to deal with the victims of the asylum system on almost a daily basis Rahila has done us all a great service.

Let me give you just yesterday's example in my constituency office. A young woman we had been assisting some months ago came to us, ill, hungry and so tired she was dead on her feet. She came to this country some years ago as a minor and was taken into care. She was designated an "unacompanied asylum seeker" and given temporary leave to remain in Britain. After leaving care she was at first put into a private rented flat on her own but then told that under the Government's asylum policies she was to be dispersed to the Midlands where she knew no one.

She came to us when she was told to at short notice to pack up her belongings and leave her accomodation to be taken to the Midlands. Even to the layperson it is fairly obvious that she has mental health problems and exhibits all the symptoms of chronic depression and stress. We did all we could to get some support for her in the place they were moving her to.

Although she has been in this country some years she has now been told that her application for asylum has been refused and all legal rights of appeal have been exhausted. As a result she has lost all physical means of support from the state, including accomodation.

What does she do? She comes back to the only area she really knows in this country and the only place she has anyone she actually knows. Without financial support, terrified of going back to her country of origin, Eritrea, frightened of being picked up by Immigraton Officers to face detention and deportation, her only option is to sleep rough and borrow or beg for assistance.

This young woman is just another victim of the grotesque inhumanity of our asylum laws and of the corporate driven globalisation which creates such a scale of inequality and exploitation across our globe.

So I am honoured to be asked to take part in the launch of Rahila's book, along with Teresa Hayter from "No One is Illegal" and speakers from Southall Black Sisters. The launch takes place on 19th September at the Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, EC2. Try and come along, but also try and get a copy of the book. It's published by Portobello Books.