Asylum-seekers, Blair a long way from vindication and others

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The Independent Online

Asylum-seekers escape oppression, only to face gross injustices

Sir: We wish to register our abhorrence at the way in which asylum-seekers are being used as political footballs in this election campaign. A large number of asylum seekers come to our crypt care centre for help and many of them have joined our congregation.

Most have fled oppressive regimes and religious intolerance; they have witnessed or suffered rape, floggings, genocide and persecution for their faith and beliefs. We are aware of gross injustices to the majority of those who are genuinely seeking asylum in this country - inadequate legal representation, insufficient legal aid, and destitution once support has been withdrawn. In addition, we are seeing families being separated by the Government's current asylum policy .

We are grievously concerned that the Conservative Party is threatening to withdraw from the 1951 UN Convention on the status of refugees. We are equally concerned that, under Labour policy, some of those who have been denied asylum will face deportation and death. We regret that the media gives little coverage to their sufferings and plight.

We challenge the people of this country to look beyond the political rhetoric emanating from our politicians and from the media. Our experience is that genuine asylum seekers make a positive contribution to the life of our church and we ask that this opportunity be replicated in our society. Jesus Christ was an asylum seeker and found refuge in Egypt. As Christians we believe that all asylum seekers should be treated as human beings. They deserve our compassion and every case must be decided on its merit.





Sir: It is at best disingenuous, at worst malicious, for the Tories to assert the need for "limits" on immigration and asylum. Thankfully, our government is a signatory to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, and as such, under a legal obligation to offer to protection to those fleeing persecution.

Whilst it is legitimate to have a debate on the limitations of our immigration system, it is not legitimate to suggest that a British government could place limitations on asylum. Aside from our legal obligations, as the wealthy and libertarian nation that we purport to be, we should have, surely, the humanity to offer such people protection? Notwithstanding the high numbers of "bogus" claims, it must be better to have a generous system that guarantees protection to genuine refugees, than a mean system resulting in vulnerable being sent back to endure further persecution.

And who can blame the "bogus" but desperate claimants for wanting a better life? In this unjust world, their only crime is to be born with dark skin into a country ravaged by war and disease, pillaged by Western entities going about their "legal" but immoral business. Our fear of these impoverished and vulnerable people is irrational. It must be a sick irony to them that so large a proportion of our population, press and politicians perceive them as so great a threat to our British way of life, when in reality, our actions are more than indirectly responsible for the pitiful existence they have.

Michael Howard is dangerous. His vitriolic attacks on the most vulnerable people in our world are shameful. He appeals to peoples' baser instincts of fear and anger. Government must be about leadership through courage, not cowardice, which must mean that the Conservatives under Howard are not fit for government.



Blair is a long way from vindication

Sir: The announcement by Mr Blair that he will not take his re-election as vindication of his decision to invade Iraq suggests that there is a possibility that he could be vindicated (interview, 21 April). No doubt that vindication would rest upon the establishment of democracy in Iraq and the advancement of democracy in the Middle East. If this is the case we need to ask a few questions.

How is an invasion of a sovereign country in contravention of international law democratic? How can killing between 10,000 and 100,000 people be taken as democratic? How does marketising an economy, deregulating and privatising it, and only then setting up formal procedures for voting qualify as democratic? How is deceiving Parliament and people over the case for war democratic? How is the politicisation of the intelligence services democratic?

Amid the climate of fear Blair cultivates, how might the rolling back of civil and human rights be deemed to be democratic? How might the broader desire to increase the power of the executive be understood as democratic? These are only some of the issues that require us to think how it might be possible for a firmly anti-democratic process to produce democratic institutions.

It does feel that we are at a watershed with this election and that Blair's return to No 10 will finally establish the separation of those in power from the responsibilities of representative and parliamentary government, and the setting up of a corporate oligarchy, free of any real accountability and able to mould the world to its will.



Sir: The "intelligence" was no more than a justification for reporting and inspections, not a justification for war. The intelligence was shown to be sufficiently wrong by the inspectors to throw the issue of WMD in doubt for anyone other than those who were only using it as an excuse. Those people, Blair, Bush and and the rest were determined to execute regime change, whatever the excuse, and they made invasion inevitable by the logistics of their operation, planned long before UN 1441.

It is clear that the decision to prepare for war was made a year before the event. Blair gave himself no options, refused to accept the judgement of the Security Council majority and committed a war crime.



Sir: As ever, the Prime Minister avoids the central issue. It is not the desirable consequences of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that are objectionable, it is the killing of a lot of people to achieve that end.

Whilst the aims of his action are more laudable than the aims of, for example, Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, he shares with such people a willingness to kill to to achieve his aims. The purpose of a legal system is to protect society from such people; I trust they will all meet with justice in a court of law.



Sir: The Independent has no need to be ashamed of its failure to condemn those who killed Maria Ruzicka (letter, 21 April). Her death was merely collateral damage, as has been experienced by many thousands of Iraqis in the recent past. She was killed in a resistance operation by the freedom fighters of Iraq against the invaders of their country and the invaders' collaborators.

We should all note the difference in the value of an American life vis-à-vis an Iraqi life in this conflict. Collateral damage to Iraqis is dismissed without even a second thought, officially without even being recorded. Yet when a single American is killed, merely because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, it merits comment and correspondence in your paper.



Sir: What was the response of Blair to the plan to annihilate Falluja? Deploy British troops to help the American forces. In the coverage of the election and electioneering, not a single newspaper, not a lone commentator mentioned Falluja. The amorality of Blair is matched by the psychopathy of the press.



Sir: Blair says: "I will not take election victory as vindication for the war." Translation: "Please vote for me and forget the lies I told about the war."



This euphoria is over-cooked

Sir: I warmly welcome Janet Street-Porter's forceful debunking of the sudden gastronomic euphoria about our chefs' global culinary triumph ("We're screwed up about food", 21 April). A great many of our restaurants and our food scene in general are very much better than they used to be, but the PR-driven elevation of these achievements to the world's pinnacle is absurd and discourages the uninformed or timid from speaking their mind.



Sir: "You are what you eat" takes a whole new meaning when a restaurant that serves snail porridge is declared best in the world. My humble dhal and rice never tasted better! I am so, so glad I am a vegetarian.



Students from poor backgrounds

Sir: Your article "Top universities take more students from poor areas" describes research by the Sutton Trust reporting increases in disadvantaged pupils entering elite universities as "heartening for Labour". We would argue that these results are by no means heartening for Labour's widening access policy.

Although each student from a disadvantaged background entering university probably represents a life-changing success story, the most recent report of the Higher Education Funding Council for England on widening access shows that there has been no significant demographic shift in the proportion of disadvantaged students entering university; and that such students are still depressingly under-represented in the student body. Indeed, some studies have shown that the proportion of students from some disadvantaged groups has actually declined in recent years.

The only reason for any increase in actual numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is that undergraduate numbers overall have increased enormously. Universities, particularly very prestigious ones, are still dominated by students drawn from privileged backgrounds. When one looks at the figures quoted in your article one reads that Cambridge has accepted only 161 students from deprived backgrounds, this representing an increase of 48 per cent.




The decision to save the planet

Sir: Michael Cullup (letter, 19 April) despairs too easily about the environmental global crisis because he has missed an essential point about human psychology. It's easy to overestimate the amount of real choice people have and to assume they know more about these matters than they do.

In fact, as the social scientist Mayer Hillman points out, if people are properly informed about the seriousness of the matter and fair legislation is introduced, changes in behaviour can happen, just as everyone understood the necessity for rationing in wartime. It really is that urgent. But how can people be expected to understand when there is almost complete silence from "heavyweight" politicians?

Much of our unsustainable behaviour is not particularly chosen, nor does it give us a huge amount of pleasure. We just do it because everyone else seems to be doing it, or because we seem to have no choice. Talk of individual choice is only valuable in that it brings up the issue for discussion. To really change things we need legislation.



Road to Westminster

Sir: Maybe Michael Howard was confused when he appointed the Tories' chief strategist. He picked Crosby but he desperately needed Hope.



Brown's 'prudence'

Sir: John Curtice (19 April) should not assume that we all trust Gordon Brown. A major part of his economic strategy could be summed up as "PFI schemes and the stealth taxes to pay for them". His example of "have it now, pay later" is widely copied; as seen in the current record levels of credit-card debt. Using PFI to conceal the true levels of spending was rumbled years ago, so Mr Brown deceives no one, however loudly he boasts of thrift and prudence.



The Pope and the Nazis

Sir: A German is elected to the papacy, and although he was only 18 when the war ended, the old British press reflex about Germans and Nazis twitches into action. Perhaps you thought that Wednesday's issue had covered all the worthy stuff. Thursday saw a return to Fleet Street normality: barely a word on his hugely controversial church career, but a big photo of the teenage seminarian in uniform and a whole page on "Pope Benedict: his role in the Nazi years". It must be a relief to be back on familiar ground.



Mercenaries in Iraq

Sir: I share your deep aversion to the US-run war in Iraq. Yet I note that you, like so many others, still use the phrase "security contractors" (as in the story on the young American peace activist, "a suicide bomber attacked a passing convoy of security contractors"). These are mercenaries, pure and simple, as much as "Mad Mike" Hoare's mercs in Africa ever were, just better paid. Why not say so?



New democracy

Sir: While making a small investment on the 4.10 at Epsom this afternoon, I thought it might be interesting to see how my bookmaker was viewing the likely outcome of the general election. The teller found some difficulty finding the quoted odds among the wide variety of subjects on the computer and had to turn to her manager for help. I was greatly heartened to see they had classified the election under the heading of "novelty bets".