Letters: The plight of Zimbabwean refugees

Britain throws Mugabe fugitives into limbo
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The Independent Online

As The Independent pointed out in its editorial of 14 January, the current immigration policy is causing destitution and massive suffering among refugees and asylum seekers. The protest outside Downing Street by human rights organisations and Zimbabwean refugees – who are unable to return home and are not given a chance to contribute to society in the UK – is testimony of the stresses that the immigration system is encountering.

An estimated 11,000 Zimbabweans whose claims for asylum have been rejected currently reside in the UK. Although the Government acknowledges that it is not forcing them to return home, because of the current situation in the country, it is yet to grant them leave to remain so that they can work and make a contribution to society. This throws them in a limbo where they are unable to seek employment and access health and other social services.

People become disempowered and marginalised. They drop out of the "system", which makes them harder to reach, administer or control. Local authorities are only able to treat the most severe cases, such as risk of suicide, and minor illnesses are allowed to deteriorate. With our work in the UK and Africa, we offer help to Zimbabwean people at both ends of the immigration process. At home, the British Red Cross helps destitute refugees and asylum-seekers who have nowhere to turn for help except charities; while our current Zimbabwe and the region appeal is supporting the country through its cholera crisis.

The solution to the root of the problem does not lie in the hands of the voluntary sector. To ease the deadlock over the status of rejected asylum-seekers, we recommend that the Government should consider giving them limited leave to remain and permission to work in the UK.

Nick Scott-Flynn

Head of Refugee Services

British Red Cross, London EC2

Flawed decision on Heathrow

The decision to expand Heathrow seriously undermines the Government's efforts to lead the way on climate change, and offers no proven benefit to the UK economy, as we advised government in the report Contested Evidence.

Air transport's true contribution to the public purse is still debatable, and the effects of the economic downturn are already having a profound effect on the aviation industry, the full extent of which we've yet to calculate. Cleaner aircraft technology will bring no benefit if the number of flights increases. The addition of a high-speed rail link to the plans does nothing to improve a fundamentally flawed decision.

Of course air transport will continue to play a vital role in life in the 21st century; but a full, independent review of the role of aviation in meeting our transport needs might have led to a more balanced decision.

Andrew Lee

Director, Sustainable Development Commission

London SW1

The Government now has an obvious solution to the intractable new runway problem. Immediately west of the two existing runways at Heathrow are three very large reservoirs. Now that Capt Chesley Sullenberger has demonstrated the feasibility of landing on water in a built-up area, there can surely be no reason to press ahead with new tarmac.

Instead, simply build a couple of terminals capable of handling seaplanes next to the reservoirs and convert about a third of major airlines' fleets. Lots of jobs, without the destruction of villages and livelihoods. The leisure craft that currently use the reservoirs will have great fun dodging incoming aircraft as well.

Kim Thonger

Olney, Buckinghamshire

Like everyone else, I was delighted that the US Airways flight was able to crash-land in the Hudson river with few injuries to those on board. However, I was even more amazed by the good fortune of the residents of New York City.

This incident highlights the severe danger that the residents of London already face, with flight paths right over the centre of the city. The risk that will only be increased when the third runway is built. The only right long-term solution is to build a new airport to the east of the capital.

Chris Evans

London SE1

Developed countries are living far beyond the world's environmental means. The UK's carbon emissions per capita are about 10 times what the atmosphere can stand. If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, we need to cut emissions fast.

To get there we must do three things: shrink demand, improve efficiency, and decarbonise supply. If we do all three at once, the effects multiply together, making stretching goals attainable. If we think we can continue with "green business as usual", such as offsetting growth in flying by more efficient aeroplanes powered by biofuels, we are in fantasyland.

Flying is about the most environmentally damaging thing anyone can do legally, in a given amount of time. On just one trip, a person can easily use what should be their whole year's carbon allowance. The inconvenient truth is that we must all fly much less. The last thing we need is a third runway at Heathrow.

Bill Bordass

London NW1

A go-ahead to a third runway with weasel words about improved rail access? We need the opposite: a commitment to a high-speed rail network now and a "wait and see" on airport expansion. A more inspiring vision would be a complete absence of domestic flights in this tiny country of ours, freeing existing runways at Heathrow and elsewhere for intercontinental flights.

I was a young chap in Yorkshire as the miners' strike unfolded. I watched with horror as the poll tax was "rolled out" in Scotland. I wondered at the sheer vandalism of selling our public utilities to private concerns for profit. Consequently I have been a Labour voter all my voting life. Not any more.

This bunch of clueless imbeciles are obviously numb to the bullets passing through their feet on what seems like a regular basis. The third runway at Heathrow is a disaster not only for the environment but also for the public's perception of this government. They are a government for big business and not the population who elected them.

And don't let them get away with "This project will create thousands of jobs." So would building high speed rail links.

S Wright

Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire

Baroness Valentine inadvertently highlights an inconsistency in the plans for Heathrow, when she talks of "properly pricing carbon into the cost of flying" ("Do we really need a bigger Heathrow?", 16 January).

To work, any carbon tax must have a moderating effect on demand. When the crude oil price rose last year, several airlines went bust. Everyone's talking about taxing carbon, but planning to accommodate a volume of flights based on untaxed carbon. The main element in this proposal is not carbon, it's fudge.

David Gordon

Hinton St George, Somerset

Doom blights the green shoots

I'm confused. Why does a little cautious optimism from a government minister cause "anger" ("Anger as minister gives upbeat view on economy", 15 January) while endless doom-laden hyperbole from the press passes without comment. Or is it now our patriotic duty to talk down the economy?

Kate Francis

London NW8

Writing about Baroness Vadera's vision of green shoots, Jeremy Warner (15 January) warns us that bankers turned government ministers frequently make inept politicians. He needs to keep up. Most bankers have been shown to be inept, whether or not they become government ministers.

David Williams


Veterans of the War on Terror

While I welcome the Government's apparent volte-face on the "war on terror", I am disturbed to discover that our rulers were not the conspiratorial knaves I have thought them to be, but that they really didn't know that terrorism relates to different causes in different places, and that acts of terrorism are not necessarily interconnected.

What a pity someone did not give me a ring at the time. I could have pointed out that suicide bombing was not an invention of Islamists (ask the Tamils). I could have assured them that Osama bin Laden had long sought the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's secular regime, and that a "war on terror" was just what the 9/11 bombers wished to provoke.

How did David Miliband miss what just about every moderately well-informed citizen was perfectly aware of? Still, better late than never (especially for those of us who are still alive, and neither mutilated nor bereaved).

Ann Dowling


As a visiting Australian, I was amused to read ("The spoils of war", 14 January) that our much unloved former Prime Minister was Michael Howard rather than John Howard, though not surprised he was in Washington with Tony Blair to get his parting gong from Dubya.

It only confirms my suspicion that for all our posturing, Australian political leaders do not really count on the world stage. It is not the first time that the overseas media got John Howard's name wrong . Let us celebrate together that this unholy trinity are now consigned to the dustbin of history,

Peter D Jones


Voice of people with a disability

In her article of 10 January, the splendid Deborah Orr commits an all-too-common mistake in labelling Mencap as a mental-health charity. It is not.

Mencap is the voice of the 1.5 million people with a learning disability. Unhappily, that voice is often muffled by the fact that not many people know that a learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth, or that it is lifelong. Mental health applies to those with one of the many forms of mental illness, some incurable, others not.

People with a learning disability are among the most excluded and that is why Mencap is driven by our vision of a world where such people are valued equally and listened to. Labelling is no great help – but incorrect labelling is even less so.

Lord Rix

President, Mencap, London EC1

Perils of coffee

Kathy Stephen says that despite a high consumption of coffee she has experienced no hallucination (letter, 16 January). How does Kathy know that she is not hallucinating?

Colin Ford

Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Real work

Commenting on the Government's social mobility white paper, Deborah Orr (15 January) makes a crucial point: Gordon Brown and those around him have learned nothing in the past decade. Presumably by creating a nation of winners they mean lawyers, doctors, accountants and investment bankers. The last paragraph is the most potent, asking for more respect and a decent wage for more modest jobs. Success is not always about "getting on" and climbing ladders. A good society is one which recognises and rewards "ordinary" work for what it is – the glue that holds it together.

Jeff Hebblewhite

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Carbon bootprint

Can anyone tell me what the carbon footprint of a tank or armoured vehicle is? Or a drone or war plane? What about an exploding bomb or white phosphorus? How much has the burning of Gaza contributed to global warming? While nations go to war the argument about a 100-watt light bulb seems completely pointless.

Helen Rawden

Crowland, Lincolnshire

Grammar myths

I fear Ralph Ellis (letter, 15 January) has a rose-tinted view of grammar schools. I believe some may have propelled their pupils into Oxbridge, but in my seven years at grammar school on Merseyside in the 1960s I knew of only one Oxbridge entrant. I don't think I heard the word university until the lower sixth. The coming of comprehensive education has been of great benefit to this country; it is a scandal that some are allowed to opt out of it and go into the private sector, thereby diluting its effect.

John Murphy

Chelmsford, Essex

Long story

I read the article "Success and the length of fingers" (14 January) with some amusement as I am hopeless at sport, maths and physics but have good verbal and literacy skills and yet my ring finger is longer than my index finger on both hands. Incidentally I am neither autistic nor a lesbian. However, thank you Cambridge University for providing a little light relief in these troubled times.

Patricia Nunn


Howard Watson

Malton, North Yorkshire