Article from Black Flag #215 1998.
Dover residents against racism
During the long hot summer two meetings took place in Dover. The 'heat' had little to do with our British summer and a lot to do with the rising tide of racism in this predominantly white, inward looking town. The meetings in the Catholic Social Club room, offered by the Chaplain to the largely Catholic Roma, were held to produce a leaflet confronting the nastier racist developments in the Westbury Road area of town. In August the Dover Express and Kent Mercury publicised a petition calling for the repatriation of “all asylum seekers” signed by 90 residents in Westbury Rd.
According to the articles, these petitioners represented 50 of the 80 households on the road. Phrases such as “Folkestone Road - no-go area”, “Asylum Alley” and “Refugee Molesters” headlined residents' allegations of sexual harassment by refugees, including the molesting of a young girl. One woman said she was too afraid to go out at night as each time she did she was propositioned for sex. Another 'had to give up her job' for fear of returning home along 'asylum alley'. The principal spokesperson, Mrs S. Amos, said she wanted no asylum seekers of any creed - "How can they come here to live when no-one wants them?"
The two papers published hostile lead articles, inspired by Jack Straw's new rules, titled 'Too soft for refugee molesters' on their front pagers. Add to this a spate of vicious, hate filled letters in the papers, and you get the general picture. In the Westbury Road article residents claimed that asylum seekers receive more benefits, preferential housing from the council, drive around in flash cars and carry mobile phones! One letter writer spoke of his/her distaste for refugees wearing shell-suits and playing ball in the park!
And now lets look at the other side of the picture. Some weeks ago, just one family (Roma) was due to move into a house in Westbury Road. The empty house was plastered with notices saying 'asylum seekers not wanted' and a board threatening to burn them out was placed outside. (A disgusted resident came to us with this information). The Amos woman, who lives next door to this family, placed barbed wire around her garden in a gesture of welcome and a Roma woman had beer poured over her head in the corner pub.
Elsewhere in the town, we were told of another arson threat, but no refugee had moved anywhere near the person who had made it! He is, however, close to the place where refugees and some locals play football regularly. This regular event is organised jointly by local Refugee Link, IWW, Sol Fed and KSA (Kent Socialist Alliance) members and is enthusiastically supported by refugees of varying ethnic origins; Kurds, Roma and Kosovan Albanians.
In another incident, a Kurdish friend of ours was attacked by three youths and told to 'go home'. This man was a victim of torture in his 'home' country of Kazakhstan where, in one attack, his 10 year old daughter had tried to help her dad as the police were beating him. She was kicked in the head and left with a broken skull, a wound that has never healed. She has been deeply emotionally affected by the incident.
One accommodation agency recently published a list of properties to let; on the list appeared in big capitals 'NO ASYLUM SEEKERS'. We investigated and the agency said that they felt 'pressured' into this by landlords. In pubs, on buses, people are spreading 'refugee stories'. I've heard a man in a pub calling for all refugees entering Dover to be 'machine gunned', an Italian cafe worker was verbally attacked by people in a supermarket who had 'confused' her with a refugee and an Egyptian resident was told to 'go home'. When compiling the leaflet we checked out the Westbury residents' allegations - they were found, of course, to be false. The police had no record of any attacks by refugees against residents. We pointed out that refugees get 10% less in benefits than locals and that they do not get council housing at all. In the social club room, members of AFA, IWW, Sol Fed, the Socialist Party, KSA and Refugee Link, Christians, Refugees and the non-aligned all sat together and hammered out the leaflet under the umbrella of 'Dover Residents against Racism'. Members of these groups then distributed the leaflet along the Westbury, Clarendon and Folkestone Road areas.
Meanwhile Dover's Multi Cultural Festival took place in the town-centre park on 29th August. The bulk of the work had fallen on the shoulders of Refugee Link and, in particular, two members. It's important to pay tribute to these two, because it was the first time such an event had been attempted in Dover, and involved a lot of hard graft. The Festival hosted groups playing music from Ireland, England, Peru and the Roma tradition; a local poet; a Hindu poet; a Unison Italian ice cream stall; KSA; AFA and various 'cultural' stalls. Most of the audience were refugees, but there were some locals. The day was a welcome change from the rantings of the Westbury true-blues.