Leading Article: Officials whose verdict is final

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The Independent Online
INQUIRIES in Kingston by our New York correspondent, Peter Pringle, reinforce the impression that members of the Immigration Service acted in an arbitrary and grossly unfair manner in sending back 27 Jamaicans who had arrived here on 21 December for a holiday. Of the 323 passengers on the flight to Gatwick, 190 were initially detained, 57 being subsequently taken to detention centres for further questioning. Twenty-seven were flown back to Kingston in a chartered plane on Christmas Day.

The Home Office says there were three main reasons for returning them: some said they would like to settle here - which suggests an improbable level of navety; others had new passports, but had previously been refused entry on an old one; others were said not to have been known by their sponsors in this country.

Our correspondent's interviews with more than half of the returnees found that all but one seemed to have had the documents required for entry: a valid passport, no previous refusal, a letter of employment and one from a sponsor in Britain.

No one doubts the need for controls on immigration, or that 'Yardies' from Jamaica have caused much drug-related crime and violence in this country. But those are not grounds for action that looks like large-scale racial discrimination. The true explanation probably lies in the nature of the flight, a cheap four-week family reunion trip payable in England by relatives or friends that created what a British official in Kingston called a 'new class' of traveller - seemingly one that immigration officials believed could not be trusted. That seven who should have turned up for yesterday's return flight failed to do so in no way justifies the treatment meted out to those detained and returned.

The worst aspect of present arrangements is that immigration officials can deny entry to any visitor whose assertions or documentation they choose to disbelieve. The onus of proof lies with the traveller. Since the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act came into force last summer, the only right of appeal is to a judicial review, effectively restricted to procedural errors.

It is a measure of the distress caused by this episode that some Jamaicans are even wondering whether a visa regime might not be preferable. But visas are expensive, the rate of refusal tends to be high, there is no appeal against rejection, and too often the staff provided to process applications is inadequate. What is needed rather is an effective check on the powers of the immigration service, together with the restoration of some form of effective appeals procedure.