Asylum seekers, deforestation and others

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Plan to deny failed asylum seekers NHS treatment is inhumane

Plan to deny failed asylum seekers NHS treatment is inhumane

Sir: The Government plans to implement legislation to bar failed asylum seekers from free NHS healthcare, except for life-threatening emergencies. This policy places doctors in an impossible position, as denying such vulnerable members of the population appropriate treatment violates civilised behaviour, medical ethics, and international treaties ratified by the UK. It also constitutes bad medicine and places the UK population at increased risk of infectious diseases.

Failed asylum seekers - many of whom remain in the UK for genuine reasons such as fleeing civil war - cannot earn money and receive no state support. Despite their frequently poor health status they are expected to survive extreme poverty whilst living in an alien culture without access to healthcare. All ethical and professional medical codes require doctors to treat patients without discrimination, as does Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights ratified by the UK in 1976.

Many medical emergencies cannot be evaluated until a doctor has taken a full medical history, examined the patient and carried out investigations. Having established a patient is ill but not at risk of immediate demise, is the doctor then expected to refuse treatment until such time as illness gets better spontaneously or becomes an emergency - by which time the cost of treatment may have rocketed?

Expecting doctors to eschew discrimination in medical practice for everyone except members of group whose physical and mental health is one of the more vulnerable in the world requires professional conduct that would normally risk erasure from the medical register by the General Medical Council. We urge the Government to drop any plans to bar failed asylum seekers from access to free NHS healthcare.



Turning rainforests into hamburgers

Sir: I'd like to congratulate The Independent for giving prominent coverage to the shocking problems of deforestation of Brazil's Amazonian rainforest ("The rape of the rainforest, 20 May). I hope that this will be followed up with a more detailed look at the issues: a passing reference to the part played by our demand for meat (at free-trade prices that exclude environmental costs) is surely worthy of closer analysis, as is Brazil's immense wealth inequality that allows the agri-business elites (in concert with Western interests) to exploit some of the world's last remaining wildernesses in a short-term rape and pillage for profit.

The deforestation of Brazil's Amazonian rainforest is also but one example of the devastating impact of the use of new strains of soya developed by Brazil's public agency, Embrapa, to exploit "imperfect" conditions. The Cerrado Savannah, with its vast swathes of riverine forests, another biodiversity "hotspot", has been cut and burnt at an even more rapid rate than the Amazon. The interdependencies within our food chain are undoubtedly complex but they are at the very root of our survival, and that of the other species with whom we share the planet's ecosystems.

At a local level in Brazil, there are many extraordinary efforts being made by NGOs, community groups and individuals to protect and preserve a uniquely rich biodiversity but these are small-scale by comparison to the destruction wreaked by free-market agro-business. We're already at the point where land in much of Brazil is priced in bags of soya: perhaps it's now time for the burgers on sale in our high streets to be priced in terms of trees, flowers, animals and birds.



Sir: I'm 26 years old. I'm from Brazil. Since I was born, I hear in the news stuff like: "Europeans get mad at the destruction of the rain forest." OK, I don't think it's a good idea to destroy a forest. But it seems to me that the "civilized" Europeans destroyed their own forests centuries ago.

Europeans enslaved people in Africa, killed native Indians in North America, stole all the gold and diamonds here in South America. Then, when there was nothing else to take, just turned their backs.

We have never invaded any other country. You rich and civilized Europeans killed, enslaved, and tortured. Then, I have to hear or read that you do not like the destruction of the rainforest. What did you do to your forests?

We do not like to hear in the news that the forest is going down. We are ashamed of it. But we need money here. You should consider what you people have done for the world before telling us what to do.



Sir: Business priorities always overrule environmental priorities. However, carbon trading provides a glimmer of hope for uniting priorities as rainforests and other woodland areas are in themselves a carbon asset and if this asset is valued correctly then it would make business sense for landowners to manage their trees as a carbon resource rather than felling them to make way for soya-bean production.

But this will only happen if a realistic price is set for the carbon asset and sadly the early signs are that again business priorities win, as already a plethora of sharp companies has started buying up the carbon rights on the cheap which they then sell on for a huge mark-up, thereby depriving landowners of the income needed to persuade them that maintaining the rainforest as a carbon asset is a serious business option.



Sir: Rape of the rainforest? Hang on a minute. Didn't we allow Brazil to go over US$200bn into debt? The debt is unjust and quite unpayable. Most Brazilians are poor, and many are very poor indeed. Why should they feel much empathy about our environmental preaching? Imagine this scenario: I have a tree in my garden, an absolute beauty. You don't want me to cut it down, although it's my tree. I owe you a very large sum of money, although I consider the debt unjust. How much of my debt are you going to cancel in return for me keeping it? If we don't want the rainforests cut down, we should pay for them not to be. It goes deeper than soya beans.



Oxford University needs open debate

Sir: I have a high regard for Alan Ryan, with whose forthright views I very often agree. But I find I can only attribute his remarks about Oxford's Vice-Chancellor, quoted in Lucy Hodges' article in your Education and Careers Supplement of 19 May, to a state of acute, and I hope temporary, dyspepsia.

Professor Ryan is quoted as saying "you stick a businessman in charge of a university and it's all a complete cock-up". Even if it were true that Dr Hood was only a businessman, which it is not, it is as absurd to generalise about all businessmen as it would be to generalise about all academics. And it is even more absurd to use phrases like "wrecking Oxford" and "reducing free states to subservience" when all that has happened is that ideas about improving Oxford's administration have been transparently put forward for open debate. Unless that act itself is regarded as sacrilegious (as some may do), it would be better to carry on the debate in a calmer and more measured manner.



The ancient libraries of Babylon

Sir: In asserting that the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, destroyed in AD79, holds "by far the oldest extant library in the world", Peter Popham ("Battle for the Books of Herculaneum", 14 May) suffers from blinkered classicism. The history of libraries starts in ancient Mesopotamia at least 4,600 years ago. Already then cuneiform tablets were accumulating in scriptoria, forming small libraries of literary texts. The development of the academic field of Assyriology is punctuated by the recovery of more spectacular libraries, from 1850, when Layard found the 7th-century BC royal library of the Assyrian kings at Nineveh, to 1986, when an Iraqi expedition uncovered intact in the temple of the sun god at Sippar, near Baghdad, a 5th-century BC Babylonian scholars' library. When archaeological work resumes in Iraq, expect more such discoveries.



Blunkett's plans will create more stress

Sir: Surely David Blunkett's intentions to make it harder for claimants to remain on invalidity benefit (report, 18 May) unless they are "severely disabled" is going to perpetuate the already deepening problem of work- related stress. If David Blunkett aimed to take a more pro-active stance within the business community to determine the causes of work-related stress and absenteeism, offering possible changes in working practices etc, this would be one significant way of reducing current and long-term dependents. Shared responsibility between government, business and the individual is needed if we are to understand this growing problem.



They're not safe seats; they're rotten

Sir: I echo the sentiments of Judith Hartley (letter, 19 May). I am a solid citizen of moderate views and yet I, too, have never cast a vote for a winning candidate in 30 years of voting. The same must be true of Tories in safe Labour seats and Labour voters in safe Tory seats. How much longer must we put up with this? The arguments used against electoral reform are depressingly similar to those used against reform before 1832 and we should stop referring to "safe seats" and call them "rotten seats" instead.

All the tinkering with postal voting, internet voting and the like will not reverse the corrosive apathy amongst voters: what we need is a vote that works!



Sir: Please may I raise my voice against your campaign for Proportional Representation. PR is fundamentally undemocratic because it grants a grossly disproportionate influence to those minor parties which had least public support and destroys all accountability of the major parties in the inevitable coalition governments which result.

At least, under our first-past-the-post system, the party with the most support tends to get a working majority which leaves them with no excuses not to carry out their manifesto. They are fully accountable, whereas, under PR, every party in government can blame the others in the coalition for anything that goes wrong.

Under PR, manifestos go out of the window and government policies are cooked up in hidden deals with the minor parties who can hold the majority parties to ransom. Where is the democracy in that?

Finally, a stark example: I suggest that Israel will never succeed in making a durable peace with its neighbours until they ditch PR. The minority religious parties will always get in the way.



Sir: I would just like to voice my support for your electoral reform campaign. However, if Mr Blair can ignore a million anti-war demonstrators on the streets of London then I'm sure he will find it easy to ignore the concerns of the public on this issue too. Has anyone thought of giving Jamie Oliver a call ?



Sir: We owe so much to ancient Athens, including notions of democratic government, that we easily forget the slaves who made the lives of most Athenian citizens immensely more comfortable and more creative in political thought and artistic endeavour than would ever have been possible without slavery.



A PM with backbone

Sir: Frankly I'm mightily relieved to learn of the Prime Minister's slipped disc, as this indicates that he's not as spineless as hitherto believed.



Sir: I am sorry for Tony Blair and anyone else who has slipped a disc. It is extremely painful and debilitating but it is not a "health scare" (report, 20 May). For me, the only scare is your sensational style of headline - please calm down.



Sir: I suspect that our Prime Minister's slipped disc is his halo.



Hoodie publicity

Sir: Perhaps the reported 22 per cent increase in shoppers at Bluewater has more to do with the acres of free advertising the ban on "hoodies" has inspired than the effect of the ban itself?



Beginners' luck

Sir: Thinking of Scrabble (letter, 19 May), I remembered that my husband and I were introduced to this game 40 years ago by an elderly cousin. We arranged our letters for our first game and my husband began. He put out all his letters and claimed the bonus points. Then came my turn. I saw with satisfaction that I too could put out all my letters. We had no idea that anything unusual had happened but it took our cousin several minutes to recover and I think he dined out on the story for a long time to come.



Banned but not silenced

Sir: John Walsh's livelihood ("Tales from the City", 19 May) can hardly be in jeopardy if he can continue to lament the loss of his driving licence at such tedious length in your pages. Having demonstrated his lamentable incompetence in controlling a tonne of speeding metal on at least four occasions, he should accept his punishment with rather better grace.



A way with words

Sir: Surely the most objectionable thing about the sentence about the Western quoted by Kevin Brownlow (letter, 20 May) is not the words being used but the clumsy way they have been strung together: or, as a linguist would say, syntax, not lexicon.



The man for the job?

Sir: Wouldn't it be great (albeit rather improbable) if Blair were to follow the rationale of Bush's nomination of John Bolton for the UN by appointing George Galloway as Ambassador to the USA!