Letter: A messy game of "human pinball"

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The Independent Online
From Mr Richard Dunstan

Sir: Lest it be thought that Russia and the Baltic states have a monopoly on the shameful policy of shunting asylum-seekers across their borders ("Bitter odyssey of human cargo no one wants", 30 March), it should be pointed out that our very own Home Office is busily playing the same game of "human pinball".

Every month dozens of people attempting to seek asylum in Britain are summarily refused and then expelled under the so-called "safe third country" rule - an invention of officials with no basis in international law - to countries through which they passed in transit. Special fast-track procedures, established by the Asylum & Immigration Appeals Act in July 1993, effectively allow the Home Office to "pass the buck" without examining their asylum claims and without any guarantee that the "third country" in question will do so. In 1994, over 860 men and women - including some fleeing human rights atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia - fell victim to this bureaucratic evasion of the Government's international obligations.

It is less than clear what is achieved by this policy. Of more then 150 asylum-seekers expelled to France since July 1993, for example, at least 80 have simply been shunted back to Britain where they have, finally, been allowed to make their asylum claim in full. The Home Office claims that it has no idea how much it is costing to deal with asylum cases in such an inefficient way, but couldn't the time (and salaries) of immigration officers, Home Office officials and appeals adjudicators be better spent?

Yours faithfully,


Refugee Officer

Amnesty International

British Section

London, EC1

30 March