Unions representing Border Force staff and other public sector workers have called on ministers to tone down “dangerous rhetoric” about refugees which they claim is emboldening the far right.
In an open letter, the leaders of 24 unions as well as the charity Care4Calais say the language deployed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and other ministers over their small boats policy is “demonising” people seeking asylum in the UK.
The letter says the risk to life from the issue is now spreading “beyond the Channel”, citing the violent protests outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley, Merseyside last month, which were promoted and fuelled by far right groups.
A police officer and two members of the public were injured in the clashes, in which a police van was set alight and lit fireworks were thrown at officers.
The letter, seen by i, says: “The continued demonisation of refugees and the dangerous rhetoric employed by senior government figures is now spreading the risk to life beyond the Channel.
“The disgraceful mobilisation on 10 February 2023 by the far right to terrorise refugees in Knowsley is a direct consequence of the words and actions of the government. Fascists have become emboldened. The government must change course to prevent them advancing further.”
The union leaders also call on the government to adopt a safe passage scheme for refugees as part of the Illegal Migration Bill currently before parliament.
Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam Olivia Blake has tabled an amendment to the bill which would ensure any refugee can travel to the UK safely to allow them to claim asylum, which supporters say would break the business model of people smugglers who operate small boats across the Channel.
The policy was produced by the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents Border Force officers, and Care4Calais.
Signatories to the letter include Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS, Clare Moseley of Care4Calais and the leaders of Unite, Unison, Aslef, the National Education Union and the Communication Workers Union.
The letter says: “The citizens of the UK are facing a cost-of-living crisis due to the catastrophic failure of the government to build a society in which ordinary people prosper.
“This is not an accident. It is the result of conscious political choices that have driven down wages, cut public services to the bone and drained the economy of life.
“Instead of facing up to the consequences of their actions, the government acts to criminalise refugees and make them scapegoats for the cost-of-living crisis. In this regard, the working class in the UK and refugees coming to our shores have a common oppressor.”