Letters: Afghanistan's poppy crop

Spraying the poppy crop would risk disaster in Afghanistan
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Sir: The international community must back President Karzai in his opposition to the US-proposed chemical spraying of Afghanistan's poppy crop ("US wants to bring Colombia tactics to Afghan drugs war", 4 October). The current counter-narcotics policy of forced poppy crop eradication has only helped hinder stability, security and development in Afghanistan's poorest areas – a more aggressive approach would be nothing short of disastrous.

Chemical spraying was proven wholly ineffective in Colombia. Not only did it merely displace illegal coca cultivation to more remote areas, aerial spraying there led to starvation and displacement of entire farming communities, while posing severe health risks to both humans and the environment.

With a starvation crisis already in the south of the country, chemical spraying in Afghanistan would be catastrophic for the agricultural community there, while turning the local population further against our troops. It would trigger more political hostility against the Nato presence and Karzai government in a country where the battle for hearts and minds is already suffering tremendously from past errors.

Aerial spraying would light a political fire – both against the Karzai government and the troops battling so valiantly there. We need to win back the hearts and minds to succeed in Afghanistan, not destroy any trust that may have remained.

Emmanuel Reinert

Executive Director, The Senlis Council, London WC1

Forced removal of asylum-seekers

Sir: I welcome the article by your Law Editor, Robert Verkaik, entitled "Major airline refuses to help with forcible removal of immigrants" (8 October).

This constitutes a small step in the right direction in my view, but exposes a contradiction between the Home Office's assertion that "airline captains have the right to refuse carriage of a passenger and will do so if they feel appropriate for security or commercial reasons" and the airlines' position, which is to claim that they are legally obliged to carry out forced removals.

Having faxed letters to British airlines on numerous occasions urging them not to forcibly deport individuals I believe to be at risk of further persecution, I have a reply, dated 22 May 2007, which states categorically that "British Airways has a legal obligation to remove passengers from the United Kingdom if instructed to by the Home Office. We contravene the Immigration Act if we refuse to do so and could be prosecuted."

Clare Clements

Loosley Row, Buckinghamshire

Sir: Jonathan Lindley, Director of Enforcement at the Border and immigration Agency, asks that evidence of abuse be "provided to the police and border and immigration agency for investigation" (letters, 6 October)

I know of a case in which a man from Bolton was (allegedly) so badly beaten during an attempted removal in February that the removal was stopped. He was also (allegedly) racially abused. This crime was reported.

But despite this still-outstanding criminal investigation, the man and his family were deported to the Congo in July with less than 10 hours' notice, meaning no solicitors could be contacted and casting severe doubt on Mr Lindley's claim that "only those who have exhausted the independent appeal process" are so treated.

The man was last seen by his family being dragged off into a Jeep at Kinshasa airport. No one has seen him since.

Teachers and students in Bolton have written to the Home Secretary on numerous occasions with no reply. Who will be held accountable for the alleged assault, illegal removal and now disappearance of this man?

Jason Travis

Bolton National Union of Teachers

Sir: Thank you for your excellent series of articles exposing the true suffering of people seeking asylum in the UK. Anyone with a shred of compassion and decency will feel deep shame that this kind of treatment is meted out to traumatised human beings by "officers", some of whom appear to be little more than uniformed thugs.

I have no doubt that when the general election finally comes, asylum and immigration (not to confuse two entirely separate issues) will be high on the agenda for debate. How refreshing it would be if Messrs Brown, Cameron and Campbell had the political courage to engage in a sensible humanitarian discussion about our responsibilities under the Geneva Convention to protect those fleeing torture and persecution from some of the harshest regimes in the world.

Everyone has the right to seek asylum, but not everyone is able to reach the stringent threshold of proof required by the Home Office. There are many victims of torture, war and poverty who are neither "fraudulent", "illegal"', "bogus" nor any of the other terms used by those who would justify the current frenzy of removals.

They are just vulnerable human beings who are frightened of being returned to the horror from which they have fled.

Kath Sainsbury

Fieldworker, Justice First, Stockton on Tees

Sir: When both political parties vie with each other to be tough on immigration (while at the same time allowing cheap labour to arrive from Eastern Europe in order to keep wage costs down) it is not surprising a few thugs in the prison service feel free to thwack an asylum seeker. The mistake was made by Mrs Thatcher in partially privatising prisons and prison transport so that they were no longer directly beholden to the state and answerable to ministers in Parliament.

Nicholas Wood

London NW3

Sir: Your article about putting pressure on airlines to stop deporting failed asylum seekers (9 October) reminded me of the fable "The Oxen and the Butchers". A group of oxen decide to kill their butchers but are stopped when an old ox points out that humans will replace the butchers with botchers (who will kill them in a more inept and painful manner) because humans will not go without their beef.

Since the Government is unlikely to stop deporting failed asylum seekers even if all the airlines refuse to take them I dread to think what the Government may use instead. I'd much rather the failed asylum seekers were deported in passenger airliners, than boats and cargo planes.

Thomas Wiggins,


Shared dishonour in Zimbabwe

Sir: Peter Freedman (letter, 26 September) makes valid points but also seriously misrepresents aspects of the negotiations over the land resettlement proposals in Zimbabwe. His perspective is that of a representative of the British Government on the land committee.

I am African and I noted that from the Zimbabwean perspective a whole range of compromises was always possible. But the Zimbabwe government would not or could not agree on two aspects of the proposals. The first was the concept of willing-buyer, willing-seller. With this, the seller (usually white) had to offer his land for sale. Given the extravagant lifestyles large-scale commercial farmers enjoy in any third-world country, it was always unlikely that great numbers would volunteer their land.

Thus, by the mid-1990s, the pool of white commercial farmers prepared to offer their land had all but dried up. And much of the most viable and extensive land holdings were held by British-based public and private companies, largely unwilling to give up their cash-cows. So the Zimbabwean government proposed compulsory land acquisitions after a "reasonable" period of notice. This was unacceptable to the Brits.

The second aspect of the proposals any African government would have great difficulty in accepting is that they should contribute to the financial costs of the scheme. The land had been forcibly taken from them, so why should they have to pay to get it back? True, in 1980 Robert Mugabe had agreed, under enormous pressure, to these conditions in the Lancaster House negotiations leading to Zimbabwe's independence. He did so grudgingly; he had no choice.

Mr Freedman's submission that the farmers were not British is a red herring. The land had gone to non-indigenous foreigners through the actions of a British government. That government had to accept full responsibility in correcting the injustice it created.

He is right in submitting that "President Mugabe showed no interest". In truth, in the mid-1990s the "land question" was not on top of the agenda in the minds of most Zimbabweans. Mr Mugabe's undoing was the IMF/WB imposed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) which brought untold suffering to the working and peasant classes in Zimbabwe. As always, the suffering masses turned their anger on their own government, and polls for an upcoming election clearly showed they intended to turn him out of office. In response, as an election ploy and not as a feasible policy, Mr Mugabe forcibly tried to turn the debate back on to the "land question". When this failed, he resorted to the extreme violence we still see today.

Mr Mugabe and the UK government have both acted dishonourably.

Tony Greenland

Surbiton, Surrey

The great election that never was

Sir: One of the arguments against an immediate election seems to imply that as soon as the nights draw in, the entire adult population of Great Britain goes into hibernation. There is evidence that a great many of them continue to go to work, do their shopping and visit the pub. Might there be an argument for opening polling stations in work places, licensed premises or supermarkets?

Ann Livett

Montmorillon, France

Sir: In the light of the debacle over a non-happening general election, is it now time for me to stop giving Gordon Brown the benefit of the doubt?

Sarah Pegg

Seaford, East Sussex

Sir: It is good to see that New Labour is as innovative as ever – this time turning a lame duck into a chicken.

Alan B Evans

Priors Marston, Warwickshire

Parents want good schools, not 'choice'

Sir: Julian Gall (letter, 5 October) says "If we accept that choice in education is a good thing . . . ." I do not accept this. Most parents do not want "choice"; they want one good local school for their children.

Here in affluent Buckinghamshire I can choose to send my child to any of several excellent grammar schools, secondary moderns, faith-based schools and private schools. I do not need the additional choice of specialised schools: I want my child to get a good broad general education. As for selection: it reduces the "choice" (the options) of the majority who are not selected.

"Choice" is fool's gold. Politicians have failed to deliver on their promises of quality education for all, so they proffer us "choice" instead. Do not be taken in. Demand good free local schools, open to all.

Robert Sather

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Blame for mix-ups over recycling

Sir: As usual the local council gets the stick for a recycling problem (Patricia Hague's letter, 1 October), but I'm willing to bet the problem lies with the plastics industry.

Local authorities don't run recycling factories, all they try to do is supply the raw materials – collected waste – for the private companies that do. If the plastics factory won't take the material or pay a sustainable price for it, there's little the council can do.

But of course we're all children of Thatcher, and we mustn't tell industry what to do. So let's just blame the council and watch capitalism suck the planet dry.

Mike Shearing

Duyun, China


Visit the wounded

Sir: If our prime ministers, when they visited our troops, would have the decency to be seen to have a care for the wounded caused by their decisions, and have themselves photographed in a hospital ward, instead of trying to make themselves look gung-ho in front of a tank covered with smiling, happy soldiers, people might give them some credence that they take some small responsibility for the carnage they have created in Iraq. Or do they go there for reasons of spin?

Jonathan Gault

Newnham, Goucestershire

Family footprint

Sir: Frankie Godding (letters, 6 October) asks, "How much of a carbon footprint a family of eight children makes"? One answer could be that it depends on the family's carbon shoe-sizes. For example, if the Curtis family members cycle, walk or use public transport, they would significantly reduce their impact on the environment. If they were non-meat eaters, this would also considerably diminish the size of their collective footprint since livestock production makes an enormous contribution to global gas emissions.

James Boyle


World languages

Sir: R V Watts has written a perfect pastiche of the old imperial attitude to others' languages (Letters, 4 October). The inhabitants of Kings's Lynn have the luxury of their language being the lingua franca of much of the world. But if it wasn't, would he wish the glories of Shakespeare to be lost, so that all of England could speak Spanish or Mandarin instead of English? In Irish we say, "Tír gan teanga,tír gan anam" – "A country without a language is a country without a soul" – but it loses something in translation.

Mike Nolan

Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Low-energy lamps

Sir: I have good news and bad news for R F Parrott (letter, 5 October). The good news is that the 150-watt-equivalent output lamp, the 30-watt low-energy lamp, does exist; I have one in my kitchen. The bad news is that at present they seem to be available only from businesses specialising in corporate lighting and illumination. I found them by Googling on "low energy" + "30-watt", which leads one to dealers who recommend the 30-watt lamps as ideal for billiard and snooker venues, but are quite prepared to sell them to members of the public.

Bernard Hrusa-Marlow

Morden, Surrey

Live for the moment

Sir: How very pathetic of M Gould's mum/aunt (letter, 9 October) to continue "eking out a living on a state pension of less than £100 a week" while owning a house "valued at just less than a million". I'm downsizing and spending both the children's inheritance and the Revenue's share of my estate on unsuitable men and world travel!

Stephanie Dixon

Bramhall, Cheshire