Teresa Hayter, 'Open Borders: the case against immigration controls'

IssueSeptember - November 2001
Review by Simon Dixon

While I was reading this book, the north of England saw some of the worst race riots in Britain for over a decade. In the lead-up to the recent General Election, main-stream politicians competed with one another to see who could produce the most right-wing immigration policies. In Oldham,one of the cities worst hit by the race riots, the leader of the far-right British National Party polled just under 15% of the vote. It is for these reasons that Teresa Hayter's book could not havebeen published at a better time.

Broadly speaking, the first two chapters chart the history of world migration, and the British immigration system in particular. Hayter explains the social and political forces that have influenced British asylum policy during the last century, starkly asserting that “immigration controls have their origins in racism” (p21).

Chapter three provides a detailed analysis of current legislation, and Hayter demonstrates an impressive knowledge and understanding of the often complex legal processes facing asylum seekers when they reach Britain. She provides some moving illustrations of the effect of detention upon people seeking asylum in western countries, and presents a savage indictment of the privately run Campsfield detention centre in Oxford. This is followed by an account of opposition to asylum in Britain, and also France, where the sans-papiers movement is campaigning for the legalisation of all so-called “illegal immigrants”.

Having demonstrated that immigration controls do not work Hayter turns, in the final chapter, to argue for their complete abolition. She counters arguments that total freedom of movement would be detrimental to the interests of third-world countries. Tackling the question of whether it is inconsistent to argue for the abolition of controls on the movement of people whilst opposing the uncontrolled movement of capital she states that human beings should be treated differently to goods and flows of capital. “The opening of borders” she concludes “could make the world a more harmonious and peaceful and less racist place”.

Teresa Hayter has first hand knowledge of British asylum policy, and is actively involved in the Campaign to Close Campsfield detention centre. She writes with the passion of someone who has seen the worst excesses of the present system from close quarters, and dispels many of the myths associated with immigration. She is to be congratulated on writing this outstanding book.

Topics: Refugees
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