Deborah Orr: The cruel hypocrisy that demonises the world's most vulnerable people

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The Independent Online

Yet further unspeakable initiatives are springing from the Home Office, with a report yesterday revealing that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is "planning to remove failed asylum-seeking children who have no family in Britain", beginning with a trial run involving 500 Vietnamese minors. I can only assume that the idea appeals because it's easier to manhandle children on to flights out of the country than it is to do so with adults.

It certainly isn't because there is little chance of the children coming to harm once they are repatriated. Vietnam is a major source and destination country for forced labour and sexual exploitation, with the UK one known destination country for the estimated 120,000 girls and women who are trafficked each year from east to west. All the evidence suggests that adults and children repatriated to their country of origin after trafficking are extremely likely to end up being trafficked again. The problem is so vast that a UN report suggests that in Asia alone, one million children are working in the sex trade.

Criminal gangs operating in Vietnam are known to recruit children by promising jobs or marriages abroad, or to purchase them from guardians eager to be rid of them. The Social Evils Department in Vietnam's Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs makes full acknowledgment of the problem, and has successfully convicted some traffickers. But it also admits that corruption is a serious problem at all levels, and is particularly severe among street-level police and border agents. A number of the 500 children will have pitched up on these shores in the first place under just such ghastly circumstances.

Britain is already shamefully hypocritical in its own supposed commitment to fighting people trafficking, since the Government talks prettily about combatting the trade, yet refuses to sign the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. It continues to deport women who escape from forced sex work in Britain, or are arrested under such police operations as Operation Pentameter, which targets the gangmasters responsible. Or is supposed to anyway. After a raid on a brothel in Birmingham six of 19 prostitute women were sent straight to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. No arrests were made among the men at the place who were paying to exploit these girls.

The Government explains its policy by suggesting that the Convention guarantees giving women a renewable residence permit allowing them to stay for a period in the country in exchange for evidence against traffickers. This, it is claimed, might act as an immigration "pull factor". Which is quite bad enough when one considers that people trafficking is now the third most lucrative illegal activity in the world, after arms and drugs. (It pulls in US$31bn). How the hell signing the convention is going to be a "pull factor" for unaccompanied children from Vietnam surely needs some further explanation.

Repulsive vignettes of casual horror for the elderly

Ask pretty much anyone what a bucket seat is, and they'll conjure up a glamorous vision of a sports car, or at the very least a comforting vision of a snug, safe child seat. Which is probably why, when Hazel Bicknell was asked by staff at the Maypole Nursing Home if she would be able to buy an £800 bucket seat for her father, Leslie Vines, she thought it sounded like a caring thing to do.

In the event, the seat was never purchased, as Mr Vines, physically healthy but suffering from dementia, died after only an eight-day stay at the Maypole. Exactly what caused the sudden and terminal decline in his health is unlikely ever to be known, since the GPs who owned and ran the home were in the habit of simply writing "bronchopneumonia" on the many death certificates they issued for their residents. But Mrs Bicknell describes her father's dead body as twisted and contorted into a strange shape. She is convinced that he did not die in his bed, as she was told by care home staff.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mr Vines died in a bucket seat similar to the one his daughter had been asked to purchase for him, as the Maypole already possessed two of them. Because it turns out that in the context of what we somewhat inaccurately call "care of the elderly", bucket seats are something akin to an instrument of torture. They are used as a method of forcible restraint. They look comfy but actually engulf and immobilise the frail, rendering them unable to get up and walk about, or even lean forward and adjust their sitting position. They inflict horrific bedsores and constrict the ability of the chest to expel fluid. Ruth Poole, an inspector of care homes for six years, is of the opinion that they should be "outlawed". Which sounds like an excellent idea.

This repulsive vignette of casual horror is just one of many contained within the latest documentary from the production company of investigative journalist Roger Graef, which looks into the 28 deaths that occurred in one year at the 32-bed private nursing home in Birmingham. If anyone wonders exactly why care of the elderly is in such a parlous state in this country, they can enlighten themselves by watching "Dying for the Truth" in the Real Story strand on BBC1 on Monday evening. "Bucket seats" are the least of it.

My 'Handy Harry' moment

I feel compelled to share a moment of sisterhood with wannabe television presenter Natalie Pinkham, whose three-year-old snaps of herself being felt up by Prince Harry have appeared on the front page of The Sun, and who is being viewed with predictable suspicion because she didn't seem too bothered by his advances.

My own Handy-Harry moment came in my mid-twenties when I was in a pub having a drink with colleagues after starting a new job. Not wanting to be overly aggressive amid people I hoped would soon be my bosom buddies, I tried to ignore the fact that the man to my left was so elderly - in his late fifties - that his arm seemed completely flaccid and brushed limply at my thigh.

Clearly a mistake. He suddenly reared into life, encircled my body with a perfectly functioning upper limb, cupped a breast firmly in each hand, and asked: "How do you fancy coming back to my place?" When I sprang to my feet and yelled that I most certainly did not fancy any such thing, the ancient satyr was completely unfazed. "It's just round the corner!" he volunteered brightly, as if concerns about transport might have been my only difficulty with his astonishing assault.

Should I have set in motion a sexual harassment complaint? Probably. Instead I told the tale to every single person in the office, got promoted to become his bitch-from-hell boss, and treated the guy with withering contempt till the day he dropped dead. I didn't dob up any cash for the flowers at his funeral either.

Ms Pinkham is eager to prove she had nothing to do with the journey of her pictures - stolen while she moved house - to The Sun. I, for one, believe her. But she shouldn't lose sleep over it. Harry may now be talked up as the muckiest little prince in history - which is very mucky indeed - but Natalie can rest assured that her presumptive chum has got off lightly.

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