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Stop the YMCA using Asylum Seekers as Slave Labour

no one is a slave | 26.05.2005 10:45 | Anti-racism | Migration | Social Struggles | Birmingham | Liverpool

Below is the latest leaflet from No One is illegal against the YMCA using Asylum Seekers as slave labour.


Background legislation
Section 4 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act allows for minimum (“hard case”) housing and other support for some failed asylum seekers. This bare minimum is available where a failed asylum seeker cannot return home because of circumstances beyond their control – because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. However section 10 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 says even this minimum will only be available on condition the refugee undertakes compulsory “community service”.

Slave labour
This is a punishment hitherto reserved for convicted criminals. It is also a modern form of slavery. It is in breach of the 1930 Forced Labour Convention of the International Labour Organisation to which the UK a signatory. The Convention defines forced labour as meaning “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. Asylum-seekers selected for the scheme will become homeless and destitute unless they perform the required community services/labour. This cannot be classified as a “voluntary” agreement to work. Trade unions in particular should be alert to the use of such wageless labour. The present scheme is based on the compulsory giving of labour (just like the national dispersal of refugees is based on the compulsory movement of human beings, which is itself a form of servitude.)

Breach of human rights
Section 10 has been condemned by the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords/House of Commons in its Fourteenth Report of Session 2003-04. In essence the criticism is one of slave labour. In particular the report attacks the section as being in breach of Article 4(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of forced labour), of Article 3 (prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment) and of Article 14 (no discrimination on grounds of nationality).

The YMCA’s collusion in the scheme
Lord Rooker in the committee stage of the 2004 legislation made it clear that the government wants not only local authorities and the private sector but also the voluntary sector to participate in this scheme as slave masters. Hitherto only one voluntary agency has agreed to participate. This is the YMCA which has agreed to run a pilot scheme in Liverpool. This was made public by the YMCA in a statement of May 5 which attempts to justify the proposed slavery.

* The statement says “YMCA England is the preferred provider” to deliver such a scheme. This the language of corporate bodies seeking tenders rather than an organisation fighting for the rights of asylum seekers.

* Historically all slave-owners seek to justify their role in showing that servitude somehow “helps” the slave. This was the position of the cotton growers of the Southern states of America at the time of the civil war – slavery being portrayed as a way that black plantation workers could have their welfare met. The YMCA portrays section 10 as being benevolent and helpful to asylum-seekers

* The YMCA says “No individual will be required to carry out any specific activity against their will” This is untrue, An asylum seeker within the scheme who refuses to carry out all proposed activities will lose all support – see clause 4 Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum-Seekers) Regulations 2005

* The statement says section 4 asylum-seekers should be allowed to enter into paid work and the YMCA will continue to be “outspoken” on this and other issues. We agree section 4 asylum-seekers should have the right to paid work and think all asylum seekers should have this right. However there is an omission from the issues on which the YMCA is “outspoken”. Those subject to control are outside the welfare state. Entitlement to most benefits and services are dependant upon immigration status. Since 1999 asylum-seekers have been subject to a new poor law (administered by NASS –the National Asylum Support Service) based on compulsory dispersal and “maintenance” below income support level. “Hard case” support for failed asylum seekers is even below these rates. Why does the YMCA not campaign for the restoration of full benefits/ entitlements for everyone subject to controls?

The issue of principle – no collusion
The statement presents as positive that “The YMCA is also already working with a large number of failed asylum seekers through a contract with NASS to provide accommodation to around 150 section 4 recipients”. This provision of (usually second rate) accommodation is not a benefit to refugees. This is because the YMCA is a party to evicting section 4 recipients on withdrawal of support by NASS. If the voluntary sector (along with the private sector and local authorities) had refused to become involved with the poor law and dispersal scheme then these could not have been implemented. This leads to the issue of principle. Our position is controls cannot be rendered “just”, cannot be made “fair”. All involvement on this basis only results in collusion – and in the present case in immigration slavery.

There is Home Office hypocrisy in their promotion of this scheme. The Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 imposes a penalty of imprisonment for trafficking people for forced (slave) labour. Maybe the Home Secretary should send himself to prison!

Collusion by Liverpool City Council?
It is ironic Liverpool, the great port on which slavery rested historically, has been chosen for the pilot scheme. The Immigration Minister has written to the Chief Executive of Liverpool Council seeking the council’s support for the scheme

What you can do

* Write to the following at the YMCA:
Richard Capie, Public Affairs Manager YMCA, John Sentamu, National President of YMCA ,Jeff Calvert, Chief Executive, Liverpool YMCA,

* Send copies of your letters to… Your local YMCA… Anti-Slavery International,... International Labour Organisation Young Womens Christian Association

* Mike Storey, Leader Liverpool Council

* The YMCA is an international organisation. Circulate this leaflet internationally

This leaflet has been produced by No One Is Illegal, 16 Wood St, Bolton, BLI IDU.


Come to the international No One Is Illegal conference, June 25th, 1-6pm, Cross St Chapel, Manchester city centre.

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