Letter: Fleeing Saddam

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In the aftermath of the Desert Fox campaign over Iraq, I am reminded of those Iraqi refugees in the UK who have, for years, been talking about the brutal activities of that regime. The use of weapons of mass destruction, for example, was evident in the chemical attack on Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in March 1988, killing about 5,000 people and leaving many more injured or facing long-term health problems. Yet, from a country of more than 19 million people, there were only 1,075 asylum-seekers in 1997, of whom only 255 were initially granted refugee status (Home Office provisional figures).

This is a good opportunity to review current UK policies and practices. How well do they stand up to the tests posed by this regime?

Is everything possible being done in our foreign policy to discourage any regime from serious human rights violations (including a refusal to supply the weapons being used in this process)? Is everything possible being done to support the appropriate international bodies (such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in their efforts to offer assistance to all displaced people within or near to their country of origin?

Do we have an evidently fair and just system for assessing and judging asylum applications in the UK; does this operate to the same standards as the rest of British law (for example, attracting the same expertise in advocacy and in expert witness work) and offer both welfare with dignity and accessible medical support throughout this process?

A foreign policy informed by an interest in human rights needs to be followed through in relation to policies for the victims of those human rights abuses.

Dr STUART TURNER

The Traumatic Stress Clinic

London W1

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