REVIEW : Out of the firing line and into the fire

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The Independent Culture
I would have thought that one of the consolations of being a Japanese Crane is that you stand very little chance of opening the classified ads and finding that you've been addressed as Pookie by your nearest and dearest. Nature has been sternly charitable to animals in this respect, offering them the benefits of fidelity without saccharine; no fluffy teddy bears clutching plastic roses and no cutesy nicknames. The makers of A Wild Romance (BBC1) clearly felt that this was an unfair advantage, so they hired Siobhan Redmond to add some twee voiceovers to pictures of prairie voles and puffins. It was a sort of "ickle girl" version of Johnny Morris, and it was so sickly that I had to leave the room for a glass of cold water.

When I came back things were a little better - somebody had had the neat idea of introducing these little vignettes of animal fidelity with clips from black-and-white romantic movies, a device that administered a controlled dose of anthropomorphism to those who can't cope without it, but didn't actually make you feel nauseous as you watched the nature footage. Whoever did the film research had come up with a series of little scenes in which the evolutionary imperatives were refigured as Hollywood fantasy. Then they decided that wasn't enough, and started to flash animal tabloids on the screen (Fairy Wren Weekly, that sort of thing) and I had to leave the room again. I learnt some things, though, including the fact that Sooty Tern females are no better than they should be, and that Cottontop Tamarin males are very good about looking after the children. I try not to identify too closely with lower primates, myself, but I have to confess that there was something about the Tamarin's haunted expression, as his two infants used him as a climbing frame, that was vividly reminiscent of Saturday morning in the Ikea checkout queues.

Network First (ITV), which these days seems to alternate between catchpenny populism (flying saucers and near-death experiences) and high-minded rigour (Northern Ireland and the arms trade), deserves credit for tackling the subject of British policy towards asylum seekers. Unfortunately, though the intentions were good, the documentary wasn't particularly; it was an ill-focused film which jumped from one case history to another, confusing as much as it clarified. Its clumsiness of tone was neatly captured by its title, "Desperately Seeking Asylum", a good example of television's addiction to meaningless allusions - what does a film starring Rosanna Arquette have to do with the distress of refugees?

What was eventually clear is that the current policy is based on the shoddy principle that it's better a hundred genuine refugees should be refused asylum than one false one should gain admittance. To the torments already suffered by many refugees, the government has added another - hope is strung up by the thumbs and dangled for months, as asylum seekers go over the bureaucratic hurdles. The real malevolence is that clearing the hurdle doesn't mean anything anyway. Despite positive recommendations from two Asylum Appeal Tribunals, the Home Office deported Thomas Ngimbe, a Zairean student. They argued, presumably, that he had no "well-founded fear" of persecution, a view they did not pass on to the two plainclothes policeman who were waiting for him at the bottom of the airplane steps.

Dr Kemel was imprisoned by three successive regimes in Kabul, saw his children murdered by the mujahedin and had to leave his wife behind him. He has been granted exceptional leave to stay, a knife-edge status, and has been waiting for a year for a final decision under the unfortunately named "fast track" system. He had the grace to say that at least he wasn't being tortured here.