Letters: Immigration and asylum

A land of hope for those fleeing persecution
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The Independent Online

It has been my privilege both to travel the world and act as community liaison here in UK for refugees and asylum seekers ("Johnson: we need debate on migration", 9 November).

In the latter capacity I met a range of human beings from those clearly "on the make", to those simply seeking better opportunities, right through to those desperately in need of protection. For the last group, the failed application for asylum means being condemned to non-existence, no status anywhere in our world, simply loneliness and fear.

The issue is simple. We are in the UK a multi-cultural society of which we should be justifiably proud, the leaders in a 21st-century world still hopefully striving towards better civilisation. Even more importantly we proudly sing, "Land of hope and glory, mother of the free." It is those words which many asylum seekers cling to as their final hope.

We should, at very least, have the grace, courage and vision to finance and construct an immigration system which does justice to those words.

R J Hunwicks

Sturminster Newton, Dorset

The Government's belated admission that it has mishandled immigration and underestimated the pressure placed on local services is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't disguise the fact that it still has no idea how many migrants are coming to the country or where they are distributed.

Their latest population figures, for example, do not include the number of short-term migrants coming to the UK for less than 12 months or, of course, illegal migrants. This is a key concern for local authorities up and down the country who use this data in planning services. In Westminster we believe there could be more than 24,000 people "hidden" from these estimates, costing local taxpayers £6m per year, or £50 on Band D council tax.

There are no quick and cost-free fixes to getting migration measurement right. Ministers need to take a strategic long-term view and concentrate on getting the next census in 2011 right. The alternative is to continue down a path of confusion and miscalculation which ultimately deprives our local communities of the resources they are owed.

Cllr Colin Barrow

Leader, Westminster City Council

Global warming dance of death

I have for a long time now thought that nothing could, or at any rate would, be done to prevent climate change. With the growing realisation that a climate change treaty is unlikely to be agreed at Copenhagen next month perhaps it is time for this to be generally acknowledged ("Bureaucrats clash on shape of climate deal", 9 November).

People in wealthier countries will not accept the changes in their lifestyles which would be necessary. People in developing countries will not abandon the attempt to achieve lifestyles comparable to those found in the West.

For the foreseeable future a large proportion of the world's energy supplies will come from carbon-emitting sources and a large proportion of its food will come from methane-emitting sheep and cattle.

Deforestation has been in progress for the last 3,000 years or so. It will continue because the land is needed for agriculture and the timber itself has value. The world's population will continue to increase, producing pro rata increases in the demand for land, food and energy.

The activity leading to climate change is best understood as a dance of death governed by forces beyond our control. Individuals cannot materially affect the situation by insulating their lofts, not leaving their TVs on standby and planting a tree every time they take a flight to their holiday destination.

No country can give up its place in the dance without risking the impoverishment of its people, again without significantly slowing down the pace of climate change.

The only question we need to ask is what happens when the music stops and the exhausted dancers finally confront their destiny. Do we wish to be a rich country facing desertification, inundation by rising sea levels and the other horrors that climate change will bring, or a poor country facing the same fate?

Gordon Broadbent

London SW15

Because of climate change and ecosystem destruction, we are entering a time of mass extinction whether we like it or not ("Scientists identify 17,000 endangered species", 3 November). There are however many things we can do to take the edge off disaster.

I have just returned from Indonesian New Guinea, a province called Papua that is home to about 40 per cent of all the species in Indonesia, or maybe 4 per cent of all life on Earth.

Papua is still 80 per cent under natural rainforest, inhabited by indigenous people speaking 270 languages. Unfortunately, those forests are seen by plantation and timber companies, and their political allies, as a source of quick cash, to be liquidated as quickly as possible.

Yet I was struck by the different views of the elected governor of Papua, Mr Barnabas Suebu, who is committed to a very different kind of development. He and his advisers are after the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity, the harnessing of ecosystem services, and the storage of carbon, as ways to ensure the long-term prosperity of the Papuan peoples in an intact and diverse landscape. This message I have conveyed to the European Commission, in the hope that we Europeans might help Papuans find these new solutions.

But time is short to ensure that Papua's immense carbon and biodiversity resources stay where they are rather than being cremated in a self-destructive bonfire to yield further climate change and biodiversity loss.

The world has a notoriously short attention span, but we should all try to keep Papua near the top of its environmental agenda. If this ultimately means paying Papuans a fair price to preserve their forests and wildlife, then we should welcome the opportunity to do so.

Dr Julian Caldecott


Tories cling to the pound

Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 9 November) is right about one thing. We are very lucky not to be in the euro. We have far too weak an economy, too little manufacturing, and too poor an export performance, to trade out of a strong currency.

How many articles have we seen in the last 20 years in sections of the press proclaiming, with bar-room assurance, the British identity and thus superior value of the pound? It was asserted that the euro was a tissue-paper currency doomed to failure; and that our exit from the ERM had been a failure not of nationalist financial policy but, mysteriously, of the ERM

The Tory right, which now engulfs that party, sees sterling as a flag, when in reality it is a measure of the British economic performance – depreciated against that tissue paper to haling distance of parity.

Edward Pearce

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

No 'big hitters' for this job, please

You report (9 November) that Gordon Brown's sales pitch for Tony Blair as the EU council president is that Europe needs a "big hitter". This macho and sexist language tells us a lot about why Labour has lost support, particularly among women.

I would like the former Irish President and UN human rights chief Mary Robinson to get the job. She is not only a big talent with a track record of high achievement, but as a person of stature, judgement, integrity, personal modesty and attachment to law and fundamental rights she is everything Tony Blair is not.

But the fact that no one would think of attaching the label "big hitter" to her shows just how crass and irrelevant to our real leadership needs No 10 and its spin-doctors are.

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP

Liberal Democrat European justice and human rights spokeswoman, London N1

Drug abuse rife in city centre

I am sitting in a busy city magistrates' court at 10am, and the first few cases I report to you here, exactly as they are happening.

Young female gets drunk late at night in the city centre, is seen staggering and slumping on the pavement; spits in the face of a police officer who is trying to check she is OK. Pleads guilty to assaulting the officer.

Young male drinks too much and drives his transit van with his girlfriend on board. Pleads guilty to drink driving, nearly twice the limit.

Young female gets drunk, late at night in the city centre, loses her temper and smashes up a McDonald's restaurant. When the police attend, she kicks the police car, causing damage, and kicks and punches the police officers. Pleads guilty to criminal damage and assaulting police officers.

Young male, drunk late at night in the city centre, gets into an argument with his girlfriend, is seen doubled up and vomiting into the gutter by the police, fights with them, biting an officer on the leg, and has to be sprayed with CS gas to control him. In interview next day he has no recollection of any of this. Pleads guilty to assault and threatening behaviour.

It is now 11am, as I send this to you. We are still waiting to hear about any defendants who may have caused any difficulties having taken an Ecstasy tablet, or smoked cannabis; none are expected.

Peter Groome


Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset

MPs forced into the real world

Denis MacShane complains (Opinion, 5 November) that female MPs will find themselves alone at unstaffed railway stations should the reforms of expenses go through.

When British Rail was created, most stations were staffed. Successive governments kept cutting away at BR's money, forcing the board to reduce services and manning.

When BR was cut completely to the bone, the last shower sold it. This shower then continued the ridiculous system that sees private companies skimming for profit the vast amounts of money suddenly available to the railways, but not investing in such things as staffed stations.

Thus will female MPs join the rest of us in the real world where Parliament has done little since 1951 except slowly spoil everything. I look forward to Mr MacShane joining us in that real world. But I won't hold my breath.

Russ J Graham


Ashcroft's obligation

William Hague says he is satisfied that Lord Ashcroft has "fulfilled the obligations that were imposed on him" in relation to UK residence ("Tories finally come clean on Ashcroft tax status", 9 November). If I had ever asked one of my sons if the other had finished his homework and been told, "He says he has met the obligations placed on him," I would smell a very smelly fish and assume the homework had not been done.

Peter Day

London SE27

Comedians' errors

Malcolm Howard (letter, 9 November) says that he would rather watch Rebecca Adlington swimming for gold than listen to "so-called comedians using bad language". I would rather watch the goldfish on my screensaver than "comedians" making offensive comments about people who lack the means and inclination to fight back. I am trying to imagine Miss Adlington talking to the world's press after her next triumph and remarking: "And have you noticed that Frankie Boyle looks like a startled turnip?"

Stephen Shaw


Time is money

Simon Carr (Sketch, 6 November) asks why everything such as producing ombudsman's reports takes so damned long. Simple: billable hours. Nothing depending on legal expertise in obfuscations and the crafting of loopholes could possibly result in any responses to questions in less than three weeks from the time they are posed. Additional time is required for clarifications and correction of errors, which are also billable.

Rod Danton

Wingham, Kent

Unfair on fathers

How dare Mary Dejevsky ("A mother's right to choose", 6 November) make such a sweeping statement as "99 per cent it is she [the woman] who will have to raise it [a child], probably alone"? Statements like this compound the idea that the majority of fathers take no responsibility and cannot give the same level of care that mothers can. I am sick of fathers being represented in the media as the second-rate parent, with the mother always given preference simply because she is the one who does the physical bearing of a child.

Anna Hickman

Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

Latin for fun

Thanks for the reminder ("Haud mea culpa , domina," 9 November) that the Latin word ludus means not only elementary school, but also play, sport, game, diversion, pastime, jest, joke, fun, and even "dalliance". Have fun with Latin, kids.

W Watson