Letter: Poisonous propaganda against refugees

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The Independent Online
Sir: Stephen Palffy's letter (22 July), suggesting the British Government should match Hungary's level of assistance to those fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia, and other similar calls in the past few days, demonstrate people's generosity towards refugees when their plight is properly understood.

Unfortunately, the debate about refugees has been poisoned by propaganda suggesting that the majority of them are 'bogus' or economic migrants, no matter that most come from countries where there is severe repression or armed conflict.

Indeed, if they flee from countries where there is civil war, it is often claimed by the Home Office that they do not qualify for refugee status under the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees, though they may be given exceptional leave to remain on humanitarian grounds. But without full refugee status they will be refused for years on end the right to bring their wives and children to join them.

In the last few years some of those fleeing civil war and persecution in Sri Lanka have been forcibly returned by the Home Office. Some Kurds, after being repeatedly beaten up and detained in squalid conditions in Iraq and Turkey, have been refused full refugee status on the grounds that they have not been personally singled out for persecution: they suffer only the same measure of danger as every other Kurd.

Many so-called 'bogus' refugees have just not suffered quite sufficiently, in the view of the Home Office, to be allowed to find sanctuary. The more sophisticated forms of torture, for instance, do not leave scars.

The numbers seeking asylum in Britain have declined dramatically since they peaked last year. Only some 30 to 40 a week are applying at ports of entry. The number already legally in the country and applying for asylum has more than halved since last year.

Nevertheless, the Government is spearheading moves to crack down on asylum-seeking throughout the European Community, and to introduce harsh legislation here. If people knew the truth of the situation, they would not support this legislation as it stands.

Yours faithfully,

M. LOUISE PIROUET

Co-ordinator

Charter '87 for Refugees

Cambridge

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