Letter: Ugly deeds in Dover

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Lord Bassam (Right of Reply, 20 August) says, "We've got officials working in the source countries to ensure we don't end up with the problem we've been confronted with over the last few months, which we accept is intolerable". This sentence does not make clear what Lord Bassam finds intolerable, and David Aaronovitch ("Let Dover stew in its disgusting narrow-mindedness and prejudice", 18 August) was entitled to his suspicion that Lord Bassam was referring to the number of people claiming asylum in this country.

I hope it is clear to Lord Bassam that this is something he has no legal right to do. Under the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951, to which this country is a signatory, we are bound to allow entry and hear the claim of everyone who wishes to claim asylum in this country.

If Lord Bassam has had time to study the judgement of Lord Justice Simon Brown in the Adimi case, he should be asking whether his use of officials in "the source countries" to deter people from coming to this country to claim asylum is in breach of article 31 of the 1951 Convention, which says we may not penalise those wishing to claim asylum for attempting to enter the country with false papers.

It is, of course, not usually possible to claim asylum while still in the country from whose persecution one wishes to escape. The attempt to deny entry to those with false papers is therefore an effective denial of the right to claim asylum at all.

When I have welcomed him to the Despatch Box in October, I look forward to hearing his answers to these questions in detail.


Liberal Democrat Social Security Spokesman

House of Lords

London SW1