Friday, 1 January 2010

Thatcher: What We Always Knew

Well, the tabloids and the rest of the yellow press have had a field day, singing Thatcher's praises (as a cover for their own racism) as her preference for white Rhodesians over the Vietnamese 'boat people' is revealed in newly released Cabinet papers from 30 years ago. [see: 1, 2, 3]

In one breath she was lecturing Kosygin, the then Soviet Premier, over his criticism of the 'boat people' as "drug-takers or criminals", claiming they were "hard-working people" fleeing Communism, then claiming that there would be riots in the streets if the Vietnamese were given council housing ahead of "white citizens".

At the time thousands of the Vietnamese refugees were living in squalid camps in Hong Kong and the then Foreign Secretary, Peter Carrington, who had already visited the camps, had suggested that it was Britain's duty to take 10,000 of them over two years, much to Thatcher's horror.*

Her response was to claim, just as people have done since Malthus that there were too many people in the UK and instead she approached the Australian prime minister at the time, Malcolm Fraser, asking for his country's help in buying an island in Indonesia or the Philippines to house the 'boat people'. All this after Britain had up till then accepted only a handful of Vietnamese for resettlement in the UK!

* Australia became home to about 220,000 Vietnamese, Canada took slightly more, the US more than a million and France about 90,000. In contrast the UK accepted only 22,500 Vietnamese displaced persons between 1979-92. As for figures for individual years, 1974 saw 32 Vietnamese 'boat people' accepted into the UK, 1975 (the year of the fall of Saigon) 300, and 1976 just three. We have been unable to find figures for 1977-79.

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