Howard accused of bogus claims on asylum appeals

Amnesty report: Refugee breaks cover to condemn moves to curb legal rights
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The Independent Online
Meran suffers permanent spinal damage, partial sight in his right eye and a loss of co-ordination in his right leg - the dreadful legacy or eight years of torture and imprisonment in Iran. As he talks he fidgets constantly in his seat to relieve the pain in his back, from which he is never free.

A university professor, now aged 59, he only lives to tell his appalling tale of inhumanity and cruelty, because - unlike thousands of other liberal intellectuals who died at the hands of Iran's Islamic government -his family was able to pay to have him smuggled out of the country. That, and the fact that the Home Office has granted him - a former Amnesty prisoner of conscience - asylum. Still fearful, he now lives in "secrecy" in England, hence the use of the name Meran, which is not his own. But yesterday he chose to breach that secrecy in support of Amnesty International's withering report into the Government's clampdown on what it calls "bogus" asylum seekers.

Meran's argument is that under the new proposals to limit asylum seekers' legal rights and claims to benefit, he may well have failed to get asylum in this country - a country he chose because he spoke only English as well as his native Persian. By necessity, he travelled through another country and on false documents to get here - both of which would now count against him in his claim. He said yesterday: "The Government is seeking to deny prisoners of conscience like myself the change to escape from state terrorism and is relinquishing its international obligations."

He was speaking Amnesty accused the Government of using bogus statistics and arguments to justify the hard line of the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

The report accuses Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, of falsely understating the number of successful appeals by asylum seekers against Home Office refusals to let them into the country. The Home Office has claimed only 4 per cent of those rejected because they passed through another "safe" country succeed at appeal, whereas Amnesty says the figure is 40 per cent. "The Home Secretary has made false claims with his figures to support a Bill which threatens the basic human rights of those fleeing persecution," David Bull, Amnesty's UK director, said yesterday.

9 Slamming the Door, the Demolition of the Right to Asylum in the UK, Amnesty International 99-119 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4RE; pounds 2.99.