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Saturday 10 July 2010
Letters: Treatment of asylum seekers
No abuse of asylum seekers
The picture you paint of secretive and traumatic removal flights is one I do not recognise – in fact the reality is very different (report, 5 July).
When the independent courts determine that a person has no right to stay in the UK, and that person must leave the country, then a return flight becomes our only option. The vast majority of these journeys pass without incident, with returnees complying with their removal.
However there are occasions when an individual poses a risk to themselves, other passengers or escorts. Only then, and as a last resort, do handcuffs or a minimal use of force become necessary.
Crucially though, an independent investigation found unequivocally that there was no systematic abuse within the UK Border Agency and its contractors. The report's author, Dame Nuala O'Loan, agreed that the use of force applied was justified and proportionate – used only to manage exceptionally disruptive detainees, and to ensure they complied with their removal from the UK.
We would always prefer that those with no right to be here returned home voluntarily. Unfortunately this is not always the case, which is why we will continue to enforce their removal.
Strategic Director for Detention and Criminality,
UKBA, London SW1
Thank you for publishing the article about the abuse of asylum-seekers. Many people have no idea about the violence that they are exposed to. It makes me ashamed, since Britain once had a reputation for being a safe haven for people fleeing persecution. Now, instead, not only are they criminalised and imprisoned in centres run for private profit, but they are exposed routinely to the kind of violence described in your article.
I have visited Yarl's Wood several times and supported detainees, and know how unjust the system is. Please carry on your reporting.
Despite what Steve Gay may think (Letters, 6 July), "failure" in asylum claims is a label applied by functionaries of the Home Office with a similar mindset to Mr Gay, and has staggeringly little relation to the claim's validity.
Further, the nation that takes most refugees from Sudan is Chad, one of the most poverty-stricken nations on the planet.
Oh, and finally, "useless migrants"? He doesn't use the health service? He doesn't like a clean office?
Media's role in Moat's rampage
In "Did the media help to pull the trigger?" (8 July) Johann Hari makes a convincing case for the effect of the over-reporting of the manhunt for the alleged killer, Raoul Moat, in Northumbria by the print and broadcast media.
One-tenth of the UK's armed police are apparently engaged in the manhunt for Moat. We have seen the footage of gun-wielding police officers combing the streets around Rothbury, searching woods and derelict buildings and stopping traffic to investigate. Each news channel trots out its experts to pontificate on Moat's handwriting and profile.
This whole issue should be put into a regional context. If news channels and newspapers demonstrated restraint, as Hari suggests, it would allow the authorities to carry out their work unhindered.
Johann Hari is spot on. As a criminologist, I followed the Bird case in Cumbria and on 6 July predicted on radio that we would have a copycat within eight to 12 days. Moat was in prison, therefore it took longer.
In the past quarter of a century, we have had two multiple shootings, one of which was a copycat, Hungerford, and then Dunblane, that would be "copycatted" in Tasmania. So two multiple shootings in the UK in 25 years and we now have two within four weeks. The media does not want to acknowledge the danger of copycats, in case it is seen to encourage them.
Well the media has, with the saturation coverage and glorification of angry, unstable men who have access to firearms. We'll have another one in the next fortnight and it won't be because some academic from Cambridge has predicted it.
The only caveat I would add is that neither of these losers was mentally ill. But they are mentally abnormal and, as Johann hints, there are plenty more out there.
Dr Kate Painter
Institute of Criminology
University of Cambridge
Like Johann Hari, many of us feel that in our media-driven society reporting of certain events goes far beyond what is reasonable. Even stalwarts like the BBC are becoming daily more embroiled in putting a tabloid perspective on their reportage.
Are we really so jaded that we need everything reported in sensationalist soundbites? Do we really want to give succour to the ranks of copycats?
Let's have mining with morality
Michael Palin's letter about Vedanta, "Bulldozer threat to forest people" (1 July) citing that company's battle to evict indigenous peoples from their land because of the minerals that lie under their feet, is one of the great issues of our time – not just for the metals, minerals and mining trade, but for our western societies whose hunger for raw materials is an addiction. In the past few weeks the sovereign government of a resource-rich country, Australia, has got rid of its prime minister because he had the temerity to challenge the miners over their excess profits. He proposed a 40 per cent tax. If a government of a nation such as Australia has less power than a miner, what hope Africa? What hope India?
After 30 years as a foot- soldier in the metals trade I have come to the conclusion that only pressure in the West, using our still-free press, and making representations to our own stock exchange, to ensure that companies listed there abide by the same rules where they mine, as they would in UK, will have any effect. This is the miners' Achilles heel, for it is to financial centres such as London that they come to raise money.
In Zambia, where the country relies on copper mining for over 60 per cent of its revenue, I have witnessed at first-hand foreign-owned smelters belching out sulphur fumes many times World Health Organisation limits on to local populations; seen roads made unpassable for the ordinary populace by ore lorries; witnessed tailings leaching into local rivers.
Only regulation of these companies here in the UK, where it hurts, will make sure that the pious words about the environment and local populations that they post on their websites mean something.
There are fair ways to obtain copper for our light switches and aluminium for our drinks cans. I advocate a Fair Trade Metal movement.
Lord Foster's tax status
I would like to correct an assertion made on your front page of 9 July. You reported that I am a "non-dom" which is untrue. I have never opted for non-dom status. I do understand why the confusion has arisen.
The simple fact is that I no longer have a home in the UK so I had no choice, under Section 42 of CRGA (ie the new Act), other than to tell the truth and confirm I am no longer a UK resident, which is a very different thing to being a non-dom.
Everyone who knows me and my family understands that I live in Switzerland. I did not go there for tax purposes – I went there because it has become my home. My family is there and my children attend local schools. The fact is I pay both UK taxes and Swiss taxes.
Foster + Partners
'Soft' subjects blight prospects
Hamish McRae asks "Can our graduates compete globally?" (7 July) but fails to identify the predominant cause for young UK graduates failing to find employment: they have read "soft" subjects that equip them for nothing much.
To prioritise physics over psychology, biology/chemistry against sports science and music/art/history over media studies would be hugely beneficial. A nation that, at all levels of the education system, fails to teach mathematics, science, engineering, technology and languages will never compete successfully with such as Finland and South Korea.
Quite apart from the direct relevance of the "difficult" subjects to many employment opportunities – for maths and science teachers, language teachers, EU civil servants, or new technologies relevant to a low-carbon economy, for example – they also equip those who master them with the analytical skills for any career that demands them.
Michael Gove should forthwith require all state schools to make the sciences and foreign languages compulsory. Furthermore, in these straitened times, universities that teach high-value subjects should be funded more generously than those which churn out large numbers of unemployable graduates.
Grow your own – on the Tube
It's fashionable these days to grow one's own fruit and vegetables, so it's pleasing to see London Transport is nurturing a tomato plant in a sand-filled cigarette bin on the east-bound District line platform at South Kensington underground station.
Perspectives on early-years learning
Handicapped by summer birthday
How I wish the views of Sue Palmer ("Early start means that many children fall at the first fence", 6 July) were taken on board in our schools. I am a mother to three boys, aged seven, five and 20 months. The eldest two have birthdays in June which makes them the youngest in their year group, and they both started school when they were four years old. The eldest has done remarkably well, but the younger has struggled.
It would be ideal if he could start school this September, but that is unheard of; instead he is to be given a statement of special needs. He has no special needs; he is a happy-go-lucky boy who turned five a few weeks ago and prefers to play with sand, water, ride his bike and play with his friends rather than sit down and read books and write his name.
The education system is far too regimented. Children are not assessed on their individual needs, but made to conform to what the government wants. As a result, my poor son will continue his school career with the label "special needs".
We have felt so strongly about this that we planned our third baby to be born in October and our fourth child is due in September. They will both benefit from an extra year at pre-school which will give them a big advantage over the poor children who have to start school at four.
Although we are told that the school starting-age is for the benefit of children, I believe it is a cheeky ploy to get mothers back into the workforce. I work as a midwife and have found things immensely easier since my children went to school, but it's not about us – it is what is best for the children.
Government goals are unreasonable
Your report on much-needed changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (6 July) brings very welcome news. I have been teaching reception and year 1 children for many years and know that if we don't get the results from our children that the powers that be require, we are deemed to be failing. No weight or consideration is given to gender or date of birth within the educational year.
But I must point out that the 69 Early Learning Goals are assessed at the end of children's first year in education, not before they begin, as you say. Even so, as the bullet-point list you publish shows, achieving some of these goals is still a tall order for many children after just one year in school.
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