Letter: Our refugee shame

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Natasha Walter is to be applauded for denouncing not merely the infamous Immigration and Asylum Bill now going through Parliament but the entire practice of shutting up refugees in detention centres and prisons ("Britain is hell for refugees", 26 July).

The Labour government has not merely continued but intensified the disgraceful policies of its predecessor towards refugees, by striving to prevent them from ever reaching the country, by granting their claims for asylum as grudgingly as possible and by attempting to deter them by detaining them in large numbers. The immigration officials are not required to give their reasons in any court of law for choosing particular individuals for detention; those individuals, who came here in distress, do not know why they have been shut up, or when their cases will be decided, or what will happen to them.

The Government may believe that, by harsh treatment of refugees, it is courting electoral popularity. Hostility to asylum seekers is a descendant of the hostility to immigrants fostered by previous governments to appease racist demands. It must be turned around; whether it emanates from government, from the popular press, or from sectors of the public, it shames our country.

We were supposed, after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to have a newly compassionate Britain. Compassion is what those fleeing persecution and torture have the right to be shown.