Austerity hits migrants first

Austerity hits migrants first


Written by: CARF

One of the principal concerns European campaigners are airing at alternative rallies during the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam is the need to preserve the welfare state from draconian austerity packages in the run-up to the signing of the new Maastricht Treaty.

But across Europe, migrant workers, many of them long resident, with children born here, as well as rejected asylum-seekers, have already been excluded from social and welfare provision.

Anti-racism needs to be at the top of any campaign to defend the welfare state. For migrants and asylum-seekers no longer live in a welfare state. Their experience shows us the shape of things to come.

  • Belgium: The Secretary of State for Social Integration is considering the introduction of a Royal Decree on Emergency Medical Care as doctors in some hospitals are refusing to treat people without papers free of charge, saying hospitals are not reimbursed by the state.
  • France: If implemented, proposals put forward by the 1996 Philibert parliamentary commission would mean a denial of health care, except emergency treatment for contagious disease, for anyone deemed ‘illegal’ – justified on the grounds of curbing the excesses of ‘illegal immigrants’ enjoying free medical treatment courtesy of the French taxpayer. The Commission proposals also introduce the concept of ‘priority emergency’, described as untenable by Médecins sans Frontières.
  • Germany: A Kurdish asylum-seeker died on 25 June 1996 from acute cirrhosis after being denied a liver transplant by the authorities in Bremen on the grounds that they could not meet the cost of the operation.
  • Italy: In September 1995, authorities in Naples refused to help an Algerian undocumented worker with leukaemia, saying that as he was an illegal immigrant they could not operate free of charge. In April 1995, the baby of a Zairean woman died after a doctor in Caserta refused to treat her during her labour. At around the same time, a two-month-old Roma baby died in a hospital near Rome after doctors refused to treat the baby for bronchitis because the parents could not produce the 6000 lira (£2) demanded of them. Also in 1995, pregnant Giorgina Yaboah, married to a legal Ghanaian worker but worried about her immigration status, developed high blood pressure, which can be fatal in pregnancy, but was too frightened to go to the hospital in Modena and died.
  • Netherlands: The African Foundation for Aids Prevention and Counselling in Amsterdam states that the policy of limiting access to health care to those officially registered as residentsmeans illegals are too frightened to come forward for testing.
  • Sweden: Before hospitalisation, asylum-seekers must have their status checked by the Immigration Board, which is responsible for paying for treatment, according to measures introduced in 1996.
  • UK: The North Middlesex hospital in London was investigated by the Commission for Racial Equality after a GP alleged that the hospital was screening patients whose first language is not English. The Uganda Community Relief Association reports that GPs are turning away Africans with HIV and Aids, saying that the only way they can receive treatment is through hospital accident and emergency departments. The Terrence Higgins Trust, the African Advocacy Foundation and the Aids Treatment Project say that African asylum-seekers are being refused the new triple combination therapy for HIV on the grounds of their uncertain immigration status.
  • Austria: The asylum law of 1991, which states that asylum-seekers have no legal claim to assistance from the federal state, has led to increasing homelessness, according to the churches. Council housing in Vienna is not available to foreigners. According to the Socialist mayor, preference must be given to Austrian nationals.
  • Belgium: The Vande Lanotte law states that asylum-seekers only have the right to housing (and food) if they stay in state reception centres.
  • France: The Philibert parliamentary commission has proposed tougher criteria for access to public housing for immigrants.
  • Italy: Access to state subsidised housing is limited to nationals and privileged aliens.
  • Netherlands: The Coupling Law (1996) ties access to council housing to immigration status. As a number of towns and cities have refused to implement the national policy of evicting rejected asylum-seekers from their homes, the Immigration and Nationality Department has taken over the responsibility. Families with children will not be thrown on to the streets but taken to reception centres for asylum-seekers (which are usually holding centres pending deportation).
  • UK: The 1996 Asylum & Immigration Act disqualified asylum-seekers and immigrants without settled status from social housing and from housing benefit.
Family life
  • Austria: Bilateral accords granting family allowance for children living in the former Yugoslavia, Turkey and Tunisia were unilaterally cancelled in June 1996. Under new austerity proposals, it has been suggested that supplementary unemployment allowance paid to families with children living abroad should be abolished.
  • France: The Philibert parliamentary commission has suggested the scrapping of child allowance to immigrants. Despite countless rulings in French courts and at the European Court of Justice, France persists in prohibiting the payment of the adult disability allowance and the minimum old-age pension to non-nationals. It has also ignored a ruling by the UN Human Rights Commission that to freeze the war pensions of colonial ex-servicemen who fought for France during two world wars and the war in Indochina is a violation of accords signed by France.
  • Germany: 1993 regulations stated that only foreigners with unlimited right of residence or a limited residence permit are entitled to family allowance. Emigrants of German descent were instructed as of February 1996 that they must remain in their assigned region of residence for at least two years before becoming fully entitled to claim integration and social security allowances. (The regulations seem designed to keep them in the former GDR.) All workers, German nationals and others, must contribute to the insurance scheme for care in old age, but under the present law, workers lose all claim to this benefit if they return to their countries of origin.
Social security
  • Austria: To qualify for unemployment benefits, immigrants must have a work permit valid for two years, issued after at least one year’s employment in one firm, or a ‘license of release’ (gained after completing five years’ regular employment within the last eight years). Austria was successfully challenged in the European Court of Human Rights by a Turkish national who was refused an allowance to ‘relieve distress’, even though he had paid the same contributions to the unemployment insurance fund as Austrian nationals. (Proposals in the new Aliens Bill will make some foreign nationals eligible for this allowance.) A 1990 decree states that all claims for federal care made by asylum-seekers who cannot prove their identity, or are in possession of false documents, are to be rejected. The federal interior minister recently announced that state aid for Bosnian refugees will end on 31 December 1997 because it is impossible for the state ‘to perpetually care for people capable of working’.
  • Belgium: Under the Vande Lanotte Act, foreign students and their families can be expelled if they apply for social security for any period longer than three months. Asylum-seekers are obliged to stay at designated reception centres while their applications are considered and do not receive social security benefits but are paid in kind, ie, in the form of food parcels, etc.
  • Denmark: In order to receive benefits, asylum-seekers must demonstrate an attempt to learn the Danish language. At a local level, the Aarhus authorities instigated a policy whereby refugees must work for 20 hours a week before being allowed to take up benefits. Those who fail to comply, including women and children, have social security payments stopped.
  • Germany: Legislation on the reduction of social security allowance for asylum-seekers, civil war refugees and ‘tolerated’foreigners is presently going through the Bundesrat. The measures will lead to these categories receiving up to 20 per cent less in social welfare than the amount granted to German recipients during their first three years in Germany. Already the 1993 Asylum Benefits Law cut government financial assistance to asylum-seekers in favour of food, clothes and coupons exchangeable only in specific shops.
  • Netherlands: Legislation adopted on 26 February compels asylum-seekers with a temporary residence permit to search for and obtain paid employment. Those who do not will have benefits reduced. Already, from the beginning of 1997, the pocket money allowance granted to asylum-seekers has been reduced. A central body for the relief of asylum-seekers (COA) has set up a study group to put forward proposals on new allowances. A treaty on social security signed with Morocco restricts social security, as well as pension claims.
  • Sweden: Asylum-seekers who do not reside in assigned towns or cities may have benefits cut if new proposals put forward by a parliamentary committee go through. And refugees who fail to attend Swedish language classes will not receive full benefits but subsistence payments only.
  • Switzerland: A strict interpretation of Swiss law means that in order to receive benefits, a foreigner must have made contributions for ten years or lived in the country for 15 years. If the law is interpreted rigidly, then asylum-seekers are deniedbenefits. Under social security regulations issued by the Council of States (one of two chambers in the Swiss federal parliament), refugees must pay back money loaned by social services to cover rent and medical expenses. Social services have been given the authority to recoup money directly from cheques or salaries paid out to refugees.
  • UK: The habitual residence test means that those social security claimants who cannot prove the UK is their ‘centre of interest’ are denied benefits. The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act removed all benefits from asylum-seekers who applied after arrival and those whose claims have been rejected, a total of 13000 asylum-seekers, including 2000 children at present.

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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