Letter: Asylum Seekers

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The Independent Online
Sir: As lawyers defending the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers, we write to express our increasing concern at the lack of substantial change in the treatment of these groups by the Government. On the whole, the imperatives of exclusion still dominate policy.

When, in the summer, Somali asylum seekers arrived from France on Eurostar, Mike O'Brien MP was at the Gare du Nord in a flash, threatening an extension of carriers' liability if the company continued to allow the asylum seekers to board. There has been no similar sense of urgency over the restoration of basic subsistence benefits to asylum seekers (the withdrawal of which last year was held by the Court of Appeal to create for some "a life so destitute that . . . no civilised national can tolerate it"); no attempt has been made to resume the responsibility shouldered since then by local authorities. Then came the arrival of the Czech gypsies, and the use by the Government of the same intemperate language of "abuse" and "bogus asylum seekers" rightly condemned by Labour in the past as likely to inflame racism.

We note also the extremely tough line on detention of asylum seekers (witnessed by an increase in the numbers detained by up to a hundred a day, and by the use, for the first time ever, of riot charges against asylum seekers protesting their detention); and the bureaucracy which invalidates applications for renewal of leave and renders applicants liable to deportation, for failure to tick the right box. All these are further indications that, while ministers may find Tory policies abhorrent in principle, they find them expedient in practice.

Reviews are currently being undertaken on many aspects of immigration and asylum law. We urge ministers to be guided in their imminent policy decisions by principle rather than expediency, and by respect for the universality of human rights.

IAN MacDONALD QC; NICK BLAKE QC; OWEN DAVIES; LAURIE FRANSMAN; STEPHANIE HARRISON; RAZA HUSAIN; RICK SCANNELL; DURAN SEDDON; FRANCES WEBBER; TIM TREUHERTZ

The immigration group

London EC1

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