We should start by stating that it goes without saying that we oppose discrimination against refugees and we will stand toe-to-toe with refugees under attack from racists, xenophobes, the right, the state and other political opportunists. We will also counter falsehoods where they exist and tell the cold hard truth where it also exists. Now let us be blunt and start with the cold hard truth.
Current refugee policy is a joke and does not take into account many of the concerns of local people in terms of where refugees are housed, nor does it take into account the concerns and well being of the refugees themselves. Anyone who tries to address some of the legitimate concerns surrounding the housing of refugees and the funding of their settlement, is immediately labelled as “racist” – even if they are not. This usually results from a middle class liberal political/activist elite, shouting down those who do raise legitimate concerns. As it stands refugees are more often than not housed in working class areas which are already overcrowded, underfunded and underdeveloped. Housing refugees where resources are so scarce, especially without consultation and listening to wishes of the local community, unfairly results in animosity and suspicion against the refugees themselves. This can lead to the far-Right taking up the baton which is not good for either the locals or the refugees.
It is bad for working class communities because our concerns become hijacked by far-right political opportunists, deflecting attention away from the real source of the problem at hand. It is also bad for the new arrivals because allowing the far-right to monopolise this issue often leads to the inevitable harrassment of the refugees and they can unfairly become the victims of attacks, both verbal and physical, as a result of incitement by the xenophobic rhetoric of fascists.
It is also unfair to already impoverished communities because a strain is put on resources, and in a time of cuts and austerity, this is a far from sensible option. It is also grossly unfair for the refugees because they are coming from areas of incredible hardship, death and destruction to be simply thrown into an under resourced area making life far from perfect for them as well as locals already in those areas.
Make no mistake of it, refugees are not to blame for this situation. Who is to blame though and what is to be done about it? For a start the British state could use some of the tax revenue which it makes from the sales of the weapons used in the wars which creates the need for refugees to flee. This could fund the upkeep of the refugees and pump some much needed funds into working class areas in general. It would be even better if they simply did not bomb people out of their homes in the first place and thereby reduce the need for refugees to flee. Failing this, refugees could be housed in areas with a higher degree of funding and resources available.
Where concerns around housing are concerned, in this country there are empty homes roughly equivalent to the total size of the area of Leeds. This is enough to fulfill current needs. We should be campaigning to have these opened and made available to all who need them such as those on housing waiting lists, homeless people, refugees and all others in need. The lack of
social and affordable housing has resulted from years of the Labour and Conservative Parties selling off and dismantling social housing stock. More often than not this social housing stock has fallen into the hands of greedy developers and property speculators; capitalists who buy up cheap housing and wait for the price to rise and then sell it at a premium. Properties can remain empty year-on-year because of the deliberate creation of a housing stock shortage by the speculators and profiteers. For the houses that are left we are are made to compete with each other for the scarce supply. This also pushes house prices up to unaffordable levels for a lot of working class people, especially those of us on low incomes, those living in places like London, etc. The process of gentrification does not help either as it also pushes house prices up as greedy landlords cash in on the colonisation (colonisation by the affluent that is) of working class areas. Gentrification also results in a general rise in the cost of living from utility bills and food, to transport and other resources. The process of gentrification and the colonisation of our areas must be stopped and the process reversed.
This ties into employment and skill shortages. It is no secret that there is mass unemployment out there and few jobs to fulfill demand. This has come off the back of increased competition and the offshoring and closing down of a lot of the skilled and ‘unskilled’ industries in this country. Those jobs end up in places with slave labour conditions such as India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, etc. The workers in such places endure awful conditions whilst earning a pittance in return. Whilst this is going on people here are left without jobs. All the while bosses get fat on profits. Here is a proposed solution. We need social housing and we need jobs. We should be building much needed social housing whilst training apprentices to do this job. This fulfills the two essential needs of work and housing.
We should focus on stopping the problem at source. Halt globalisation resulting in slave labour work conditions, stop creating debt abroad, stop bombing people out of their homes abroad, stop funding and training murderous gangs of fascists such as Deash (ISIS) and Al-Nusra (Al Qaeda); stop creating economic and political ties with dictatorial regimes abroad (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc.), the list goes on. These are the things which cause people to flee in search of a modicum of safety, comfort and relative happiness.
Stop the problem at source and we stop the need for people to flee their homes. No-one wants to leave their home country and risk their lives coming to Europe only to be met with animosity and being housed in already under resourced and overcrowded areas. Either these communities receive extra investment in terms of housing and resources to improve the lot of everyone on the estates and accommodate the refugees, or the government should consider those affluent middle class areas that are already well resourced as a more suitable alternative to house and settle refugees.
Of paramount importance though is to consult and listen to local concerns over the housing and settlement of refugees instead of simply shrugging them off as if our opinions and concerns are worth nothing. No progress will be made without consulting and listening to local concerns. On this topic a listening ear will always be found in the far-Right who will add the racial dimension to
the issue in order to divide and rule in working class areas.
We constantly need to deal with the uncomfortable in order to find a solution to genuine problems that we all face. We will not get anywhere by simply holding a “Refugees Welcome Here” placard and hoping for the best. We need to address these issues as they are, even if addressing them causes us some political discomfort. This is the only way we can address local concerns, halt the monopolisation of the far-Right on this argument and make daily life better for all.