Letter: Refugees to the UK: Hungary 1956, Bosnia 1992

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Sir: As one of the Hungarian refugees welcomed by the West in 1956 ('When Britain's arms and pockets were wide open', 13 August), I am moved to compare the Britain of '56 and the one faced by Yugoslavia's refugees today.

The Hungarian uprising lasted less than a month - it started as a local conflict between citizens and the hated regime and its secret police. There were atrocities, lynchings and torture. Russian troops only arrived in the last 10 days at the request of the puppet government, and provided the Cold War's most abiding image of repression - of Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest. In all, 50,000 people died. A quarter of a million fled.

Britain still bore the marks of the Second World War and rationing had recently ended, yet this first wave of refugees from beyond the iron curtain met with humanity and compassion from the British people. Lives could be begun again, the heat of hatred given a chance to cool, and children such as myself offered a future with choices.

But it also has to be recognised that the Western Cold War effort was well served by offering asylum to the Soviet bloc's dissidents. Today's response is that the Maastricht treaty will bring about a very restrictive immigration and asylum policy throughout Western Europe, dramatically restricting the number of future victims of turmoil in Eastern Europe and elsewhere from finding the safety that we were offered.

Then, as now, the 'freedom fighters' called for Western military intervention, but more detached analysts saw that only escalation, not solutions, would result.

1 believe the same applies to Bosnia's call today and plead with politicians to resist the pressures from all sides. Foreign troops can only increase the carnage of civilians in a guerrilla war, where

the enemy is indistinguishable from the victim, and make martyrs of the aggressors, leading to

further grievances for the next generation.

The West today can boast of the longest period of peace and prosperity in Europe for centuries. If the post-war economy could afford compassion, then the hardship of climbing out of recession cannot excuse the Home Office's rejection of traumatised people attempting to collect their shattered lives.

I hope that British people, led by the many ex-refugees, Hungarians and others, will express their condemnation of the Government's behaviour, and especially at the proposed Asylum Bill soon to be put before Parliament.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW5

13 August