IN IRELAND we are more used to emigration than immigration, but this is starting to change. In the last year, the tiny trickle of immigration has increased slightly, and the number of people seeking asylum here has risen from a few hundred to a few thousand. This is still a trickle by European standards, but it comes as a shock to some. Ireland has for so long been a uniformly white country, that even a handful of black faces is enough to spark fear - and hatred.
Racism in Ireland, as everywhere else, tends to be stronger in the poorest areas. The reason is simple - when you don't have much, you have to hold on tight to what you've got. These are also the areas where most asylum seekers live. Because asylum seekers are visibly different, and are new to the community, its easy to separate them, to say that they're taking things that should be yours - your houses, your dole, your job. So if you want a better life, you start by taking back what should be yours, by right of birth, by right of colour. That's how the racists want us to see it.
The logic seems obvious, but there's a big problem with it. The briefest look shows that it isn't logical at all. You can't blame refugees for the poverty of the more deprived areas, because it was just as bad before they got here. How can they be stealing our jobs, when there aren't that many jobs to 'steal' in the first place? Indeed, as the government does not let refugees work or study until their cases have been heard, and only a handful have have had their hearings to date, the overwhelming majority are forced to survive on Community Welfare (the lowest welfare payment there is).
And if asylum seekers were to be stopped from claiming welfare, would their money be divided up between the rest of us, or would it go on another tax amnesty? We all know the answer. Asylum seekers are an easy target, since there aren't many of them and they don't have much power. They are being used as scapegoats for the government's neglect of the low paid and unemployed.
In contrast, the last year has given us a good example of something worth fighting against. The campaign against heroin has involved thousands of people organising, as communities, against something that is destroying those communities. The campaign has been strong enough to hold together in the face of sustained harassment by the gardaí and vilification in the media. Now that it has had some success in its immediate aims, making many places no-go areas for pushers, what's left is a group of organisations with strong local support and involvement, who are beginning to look at the problems that caused the heroin epidemic.
For all the talk of the "Celtic tiger', there are many places which have been passed over by the economic boom. Areas where housing and education are drastically underfunded, and where, for many, it seems like the choice is between heroin and the dole queue. Who is responsible? Is it refugees, who have to leave their families and friends, their whole lives, behind to escape from war or government persecution? Or is it the politicians, who only care about drugs when they spread to the more affluent suburbs, and are more concerned with tax amnesties for their rich friends than with creating well paid useful jobs?
In the run-up to the last general election, many politicians made great play of the increase in the number of refugees arriving in Ireland recently, appealing to people's prejudices in an attempt to win votes. One of the last acts of the outgoing government was to order the deportation of 500 refugees. Since then, the press has been full of stories about refugees causing crime or sponging off the dole, blowing up every tiny incident out of all proportion. It is against this background that the Anti Racist Campaign (ARC) was set up a few months ago. It was formed to counter the lies being spread about refugees, and to stop the growth of racism in Ireland.
Its important to see that the cause of racism, here as anywhere else, isn't simply fear of the new, or not understanding other cultures. If it was, then racism could be fought simply by educating people about different cultures, and we could expect racism to die out after a generation or so. Racism would stop being a problem once children from different cultures started going to school together. But in America, or England, where different races have lived side by side for decades, or centuries, racist attacks continue. And there is an obvious pattern - racism increases during recessions and decreases during booms. Visible racism, (abuse and attacks) is always stronger in poorer areas.
The real issue, the real reason why refugees are being attacked, is money. Working class people are being encouraged to divide against themselves, the Irish poor being set against the non-Irish (and non-white) poor. At the same time, for those who have a couple of million to invest, there are plenty of Irish passports available. The former president of Mexico, Carlos Salinas, was able to settle in Ireland recently, and you can be sure he wasn't asked to prove his 'refugee' status. It doesn't matter what language they speak, or what colour their skin, the rich will always look after each other.
Across Europe, while integration is supposed to lead to freedom of movement, the borders around Europe are getting higher and tighter. Again, if you're from a rich country or have money, you won't have any trouble getting in. But if you're fleeing civil war, or 'friendly' dictatorships who want to lock you up for talking too much about democracy, you're out of luck. Inside Europe, there's another type of border between richer and poorer areas. Every city and country in Europe has its poverty-stricken localities, where long term unemployment and anti-social crime are concentrated. And, just like in Ireland, the politicians and police aren't too concerned as long as they can contain it in those areas.
Our government, every government, wants to keep those barriers up. They want to keep refugees out, not because of their race or colour, but because they're poor. And the Irish working class are kept out too - kept away from the resources and power to make the decisions effecting our lives. We may have the same colour skin as our rulers, but our interests clash.
We want decent homes, decent jobs, good hospitals and schools, but politicians are concerned with 'managing the economy', ensuring 'good industrial relations' with a 'flexible workforce'. What does this mean? That we work on contract, rather than real jobs, with no security, and few rights. That our unions, where they're allowed, are bought off with 'social partnership' deals, offering minimal pay increases in return for an almost total abolition of strikes. That nothing gets in the way of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Anarchism, ultimately, is about freedom and equality. Everyone should have an equal say in the decisions that effect them, and the freedom to live their own lives as they see fit, the only limitation being the equal freedom of others. Obviously then, we oppose border controls and refuse the false distinction between 'economic' and 'political' refugees.
Equally, we oppose discrimination on the basis of colour or language, just as we oppose discrimination on the basis of sex or religion, and have always opposed the cruel racism against Travellers which so often goes unchallenged in Ireland. Institutional racism is the biggest enemy (immigration controls, deportations, etc.), but one which gets little mention. The people we should be fighting are the rich who make their profits from our work, and the politicians who make their money telling us what to do; not the victims they want us to scapegoat. Why fight over the crumbs, when you can have the whole bakery?