Letters: Asylum policy

Destitution will be the result of this inhumane asylum policy
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The Independent Online

Sir: Returning a handful of failed asylum-seekers to Iraq by chartered jet (report, 18 November) might seem at first glance a hugely expensive way for a government to run an asylum policy.

Such returns, however, enable the authorities to produce the cudgel that both main parties have shown they are prepared to use in their desire to cut asylum numbers: destitution. By sending back a dozen or more failed asylum seekers today, the Government can remove support from several thousand still in Britain tomorrow.

The strategy is intended to nullify part of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 whereby unsuccessful asylum applicants who do not qualify for help from the National Asylum Support Service but for reasons beyond their control cannot return home, can apply for "hard case" support under Section 4 of the Act, consisting of accommodation and food vouchers.

It's true that to qualify, a person had to be seen to be taking all reasonable steps to leave the UK. For years, however, the British government side-stepped the question of how it could return people to countries steeped in war and/or oppression by granting Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) to asylum applicants from countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

In 2002, however, the Government did away with blanket ELR for countries in turmoil, and it is now seeking to show that the number of countries where returns cannot be made - not least because there is no viable route in - are dwindling fast.

Those applying for "hard case" support, therefore, do so in the knowledge that their undertakings to return could carry real weight in the near future, with those refusing to comply facing the removal of all support, a move intended to coerce them into returning voluntarily.

The Medical Foundation is concerned about the real possibility of retraumatisation for many of those forced to return against their will. The UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status states that: "It is frequently recognised that a person who, or whose family, has suffered under atrocious forms of persecution should not be expected to repatriate. Even though there may have been a change of regime in his country, this may not always produce a complete change in the attitude of the population, nor, in view of his past experiences, in the mind of the refugee."

With asylum claims now down to the lowest level for years, surely the Government can afford to take its foot off the accelerator and demonstrate some humanity and compassion, particularly in respect of a country still as deeply mired in conflict as Iraq.



Global warming: the tragedy is avoidable

Sir: Johann Hari is to be congratulated for publicising "Contraction and Convergence" (C&C), (Opinion, 15 November). Is it too much to hope that someone from your economics section might now take it seriously? If that happens, even a government might begin to do so.

I am not holding my breath. No government dare implement C&C until the general public is ready for the consequences. For me, an unavoidable preconditon of saving the planet from the dangers Hari eloquently and repeatedly features is an end, not necessarily of economic growth in toto, but certainly of a dependence on it, and an assumption that it is the norm. That would be an inevitable result of limiting our carbon emissions to what the ecosphere can stand. Aubrey Meyer plays down this aspect, no doubt for fear of frightening off those he needs to impress. But the tragedy we are heading for is avoidable. The Green Party has been exploring possible answers much longer than anyone else. However most of the public's current expectations will have to be trimmed somewhat. For example, contrary to the received "wisdom" in some other parties, taxes on the better off will have to rise.

If C&C were to be proposed now, that is before the public have had the chance to mull over some feasible options, I fear that the answer to Hari's question would be revealed as his second possibility - that we are indeed addled hedonists.



Sir: In the same paper that offers readers a free map of the world illustrating all too clearly that man is no longer living within the sustainable limits of the planet (16 November) your economic correspondent, Hamish McRae, writes an article extolling the benefits of free trade and globalisation without once mentioning the environment.

It seems that you either have to be a politician or an economist to ignore the probability that conventional market-led economics, which proclaims all growth is good and more growth is even better, is inappropriate in a finite world at the limits of sustainability. Of course we should address the problem of world poverty, but exporting an unsustainable lifestyle may assuage our guilt but won't benefit future generations. When McRae argues that a greater liberalisation of trade will deliver for the world's poor "a decent middle-class lifestyle", he totally ignores the inevitable environmental impact of globalisation. It is an irresponsible argument because it denies the unpalatable truth that the rich West must drastically change its own profligate way of life.



Sir: Elliot Morley MP and minister for climate change, in his letter of 18 November, defended Tony Blair's environmental record and wrote "The UK is well on track to more than meet its Kyoto target".

The latest figures suggest that UK carbon emissions are on the up and the Kyoto target is unlikely to be met. Tony Blair has done his bit to muddy the water on the Government's policy and approach to climate change. His latest comments suggests a softening on the need to impose emission targets, which has angered NGOs. Finally, we have yet to see legislation aimed at cutting domestic energy consumption, a key factor if the UK is to achieve its Kyoto target. The only two bills passing though the commons and aimed at cutting UK emissions are put forward by backbench Labour MPs Alan Whitehead and Mark Lazarowicz.

Urgent government legislation is therefore required to deal effectively with the problem. And rather than trying to put a positive spin on the Government's track record, I would prefer to see the minister deliver on climate-change promises.



The sentencing of vulnerable women

Sir: The EOC welcomes calls for courts to rethink the sentencing of vulnerable women (report, 18 November). Consideration needs to be given to the differing needs of men and women when sentencing takes place.

The Gender Equality Duty, which will come into force in 2007, will place a new obligation on public bodies to eliminate sex discrimination, and will be a spur to changing the principles behind sentencing. Its impact should mean that more attention is paid to the differential impact and effectiveness of prison sentences for women and men. This may result in more attention being paid to other forms of punishment which could be more effective.

The EOC also looks forward to the outcome of the review by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and hopes greater consideration will be given during sentencing to the caring role of a defendant.



Extradition of Briton to the US is wrong

Sir: Leaving aside the outrageous and one-sided arrangements for the extradition of UK citizens to the US under the 2003 Extradition Act ("Clarke rules Briton must face terror charges in US", 17 November), there are two reasons why the extradition of Babar Ahmad should not take place.

First, it is alleged that Mr Ahmad publicly sought support for terrorism through the internet, that he did so while resident in the UK and therefore under the watch of the UK security services and the police. It is clear that he should be charged and brought to trial in the UK if the evidence is there to merit a charge. If there is insufficient evidence he should be released forthwith.

Second, we do not return failed asylum seekers to countries where we cannot be confident as to their fate. Yet the Home Secretary is intending to extradite a British citizen with no assurance that he will be subject to due process in a US court rather than be consigned to Guantanamo Bay or "rendered" elsewhere, where he could even be claimed to be beyond the rule of the US legal system.

The Home Secretary should be required to explain both why Mr Ahmad cannot be charged in the UK and why he is to be extradited to an uncertain fate.



Deal on TV football rights is good news

Sir: I very much welcome the deal which has been reached between the European Commission and the Premier League, which will now give public broadcasters a chance to bid for live matches (report, 18 November).

The EC's investigation, which has been going on since 2003, has caused a considerable amount of legal and financial uncertainly for many clubs in the Premier League and if a deal had not been reached it could have put at risk some of the excellent work these clubs do within their local communities. I hope that the new arrangements will be allowed to function without any further Commission intervention.

The Commission has pledged a new agenda of getting rid of absurd laws and ensuring that it gains the confidence of citizens and consumers with good and simple legislation. This should also apply to how the Commission deals with its competition cases. It should focus on those cases where there is real harm and detriment to the public by anti-competitive behaviour, such as overcharging by energy companies.

If the Commission has issues with the broadcasting of sports rights then they should investigate the broadcasting industry and not waste time and resources trying to undo Sky's monopoly of rights by interfering in football.



Stem-cell transplant to treat leukaemia

Sir: Michael Durham's account of his experience of receiving a stem-cell transplant for his leukaemia (8 November) was very moving. The ambulatory care approach he describes is obviously very acceptable to the patient and, it is hoped, will reduce the risks of transplants by keeping the recipient away from the antibiotic-resistant organisms that flourish in even the best-run hospitals.

The Leukaemia Research Fund would wish, however, to point out that most patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) have a much less aggressive form of the disease than Michael; also, most patients are much older than Michael. Because of this less aggressive behaviour and because the risks of donor transplants increase with age, stem-cell transplants are not commonly used in the treatment of CLL.

There is a common public perception that stem-cell transplants are the ne plus ultra of treatment of any form of leukaemia; in reality they are needed for only a minority of patients. When a transplant is indicated, it is often the only realistic prospect for long-term survival, but it is important to avoid the perception that any patient who is not offered a transplant is receiving sub-optimal treatment.



GPs under pressure

Sir: Peter Baker of the Men's Health Forum argues in favour of weekend clinics (Letter, 14 November). When I entered General Practice in the 1950s we did a surgery on Saturday morning and Saturday evening. But we did not do antenatal clinics, child-welfare clinics, immunisation clinics, diabetic clinics, hypertension clinics, well-woman clinics, contraception clinics and others. Which of these would Mr Baker like us to drop? Or does he want the GPs to drop?



Are all species doomed?

Sir: Might I say how distressed I was to read your report "Overfishing could wipe out bluefin tuna" (18 November). It seems that the fate of the Newfoundland and North Sea cod is to be repeated for the Mediterranean tuna. Obviously we can learn nothing from our past mistakes. In the face of such insatiable (and irrational) greed is there really hope for any species in the future, including our own?



Atheism vs Marxism

Sir: Communist regimes (letter, 11 November) have been hostile to religious believers not because they are atheists, but because they are Marxists.



Diligence of the police

Sir: Like all right-minded people I was appalled to learn of the killing of a member of the police in Bradford, gender immaterial (report, 19 November). What sticks in my craw is the fact that the men in blue turned it on, big time, and have now arrested several suspects, many miles away. If only such diligence prevailed daily, when non-police victims are murdered.



Bird-flu statistics

Sir: Your article on bird-flu confusion (16 November) exacerbated the problem. Saying that "Five pooled samples taken from 30 of the finches were tested and the H5N1 avian-flu virus was found in three, demonstrating that at least half of the Taiwanese birds were infected", is incorrect. The problem with the pooling approach is exactly that you can't determine the proportion of birds infected. You can merely say the minimum number infected was at least three, and the minimum number not infected was equal to the number of birds in the two negative pooled samples.



Sir: So normally migratory birds are staying here for the winter (report, 19 November). But why rush to assume that they're motivated by unusually warm weather or extra insects? My theory is that they are simply staying home to avoid contracting bird flu. While humans are taking unnecessary breaks in venues where the pandemic is brewing, like golfing holidays in Thailand, birds have more sense than to go gratuitously globe-trotting.