Letters: Treatment of asylum-seekers

Remembering the Nazi Holocaust
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Sir: How deeply saddening it was to read about the suicide of Manuel Bravo ("Be good, son, and do well at school", 17 September). These preventable deaths in detentions centres must come to an end.

I understand that his son Antonio will now have the chance to build the life his father dreamed of. The question is, would one want to stay in a country that treats people so badly.

The standards of a country are measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. The treatment by the British Government of those held in detention is a disgrace, which brings great suffering to people who have nothing and who live in daily terror of the outcome of their applications. The casual indifference of the British Government for the terrible plight of these people makes me feel ashamed to be British.

There must be a more human way for these people to be dealt with. In the meantime this policy of "You must die, so we can live" - this evil, for that is what it is - leaves us, the British people with blood on our hands, and those who do not speak out only collude.



Sir: As a member of a visitor group attached to a local detention centre, I write to endorse your article sparked by the suicide of a detainee. I am in fact surprised that there are not more suicides.

Asylum-seekers can be detained for many months (I visited one detained for two years) during which time they receive little information about their case, and live from day to day waiting for some solution. Many of them suffer from real physical symptoms caused by the stress. As the current detainee whom I am visiting said to me yesterday: "At least if I was a criminal, I would know my release date." The further irony is that those who are "successful" at being granted bail are not only denied benefits of any sort, but are told that they are not allowed to work.

It is my anger, and that of my partner (also a regular visitor) that enables us to keep trying to offer some support and friendship to people who feel they are denied the most basic humanitarian response.



Sir: Howard Jacobson, commenting on Holocaust Memorial Day (Opinion, 17 September) implies that "every European country" was aligned with the Nazi party. The architect of this policy was an Austrian and the perpetrators mainly German. The Nazis occupied most of Europe by force of arms. This somewhat limited the policy options of those occupied.

As an inhabitant of one of the unoccupied European countries I do not recall this policy being put forward by the government, who were more preoccupied with survival. The Holocaust was a Nazi disgrace, not a European one.



Sir: Most people would find a special Cenotaph for redheads rather odd but not inherently unacceptable unless there were no Cenotaph for those with hair of other colours.

Holocaust Memorial Day is also the odd man out among our memorial days in commemorating neither a universal ideal (for example United Nations Day or the latter day version of Remembrance Day, which embraces all victims of war) nor an event or person of particular relevance to Britain as victor or victim (for example, VE, Guy Fawkes' or the original version of Armistice Day) . Its supporters must therefore show that the Holocaust so overshadows all other examples of man's inhumanity to man that it deserves British commemoration in its own right or, at least, that it can plausibly represent all others pars pro toto and thus indeed celebrate a universal idea.

Distracted by the Muslim Council, Howard Jacobson fails to make either case and ends up with the equivalent of a redheads' Cenotaph rather than with a universal - and more disconcerting - Genocide Memorial Day.



Sir: Howard Jacobson's article about the boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day by the Muslim Council of Britain was rational and well thought out.

Have the young Muslims ever seen pictures of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children taken from their homes with nothing but a small suitcase of personal possessions? Made to march miles to trains of cattle trucks waiting to carry them to camps, where they worked or starved to death or were sent to gas chambers.

Do the Muslim community really want to compare this with what happened to Palestinians? Six million civilians living ordinary lives, wiped from the face of the earth for no other reason than they were Jewish? Holocaust day is a reminder to the world what happens when no one cares about ordinary humanity.



Sir: As a Muslim, I found Howard Jacobson's commentary most timely. George Santayana stated that "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

We should always learn about the Holocaust so that we might be overwhelmed not only by indignation, wrath, tribulation and contempt for those who showed cowardice, but also with pride of those who demonstrated heroism, magnanimity and goodness and risked their lives to save the lives of others. We should be inspired to ensure that such heinous crimes never happen again.



Ulster: bigotry or common sense?

Sir: As an Englishman who lived for six years in Belfast, perhaps I might be permitted to reply to Mike Barrett's letter ("Riots show an Ulster stuck in the past", 16 September)?

Firstly, apparently abstract constitutional issues have a deep emotive resonance because they touch on people's sense of themselves. Try out the theory down the pub that the English are a "false" majority that should accept eventual incorporation within a United Europe and see what the response is.

Secondly, Barrett ignores the collective memory of violence on both sides. Once violence is seen as in some way representative of the community from which it emanates, then the conditions are created for deep polarisation. Since it is impossible to know which individuals from the "other" community are truly dangerous and which are not, many people see it as rational behaviour to trust none of them. To outsiders like the English this looks like bigotry. To many who have to live with this situation, this looks like pessimistic common sense.

Of course, this may all still look like "medievalism" to Mike Barrett and he is probably right. But he might ponder how well the tolerant English reacted to the 7 July bombings in London. The newspapers were full of accounts by people saying that they suddenly found themselves looking at any dark-skinned young man on the Tube with instinctive suspicion. Under the right conditions of fear there is a little "medievalism" in most of us.



Obstacles to Turkish bid to join the EU

Sir: Although I am undecided about Turkey's accession to the EU, I find John Green's arguments in favour muddled and unconvincing (letter, 14 September).

Turkey has undeniably been significant in shaping today's Europe, but such influence cannot alone suffice to claim the right of accession. If it could, then the case for American membership would be just as robust as Turkey's.

Concerning Turkey's location in Europe, Mr Green asks if we would exclude Russia from the EU simply because the vast majority of its territory lies outside Europe. Well, why not? Geography is important. An EU with a coastline along the Sea of Japan and that borders China and Mongolia (as in the case of Russia), seems as peculiar to me as one that abuts Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria (Turkey).

As for the treatment of ethnic minorities in Turkey, Mr Green's fixation on the plight of the Armenians seems arbitrary given the European Court of Human Rights' findings of horrific ill-treatment with respect to the Kurds and to Cypriot refugees. Moreover, he does not even consider the other Copenhagen Criteria for accession: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, legislative alignment, and, most importantly, economic convergence and sustainability. These are considerations we cannot ignore. Given present demographic and economic trends, on accession Turkey would be the both the most populous and one of the poorest member states.

For an EU originally founded as a coal and steel community between six western European states, this may well prove a stretch too far.



The BBC was right about New Orleans

Sir: I was a resident of New Orleans: I now live in Houston.

The BBC's coverage of events in New Orleans - reportedly attacked by Tony Blair as "full of hatred of America" - was not out of line. The response of local, state and federal authorities has been absolutely inadequate.

We saw the BBC World Service pictures of dead bodies floating in the streets and other bodies left for days. It is totally appropriate for a news programme to air such footage in order to highlight the shortcomings of the authorities.

Similar footage was aired by other TV channels. I remember Anderson Cooper of CNN telling Senator Mary Landrieu, live, that he had just seen a rat eating the body of a woman that had been in the street for 48 hours and what was she going to do about it? There was no immediate answer.

Yes, there is a lot of anger in this part of the world over Katrina and the failure of government. Honest reporting is essential.



No rightward shift for the Lib Dems

Sir: While Diana Wallis is right that the next election will be fought on Labour's record in office, she is wrong to suggest that the Lib Dems' current policy review represents a shift to the right (letter, 19 September). The interview with Nick Clegg and article by Vince Cable (19 September) show that the party's thinking is moving in a more liberal direction.

The Conservatives are definitely not socially or politically liberal, and it is debatable whether they are truly economically liberal given their producer links. There is still a gap in the market for a party that believes in liberal policies - the Tories will remain the Tories, firmly on the right, whether they are led by Ken Clarke or not.



Titian masterpiece and lottery rules

Sir: We agree with Andrew Love MP ("Titian's great painting must be saved for the people of this country"; letter, 16 September) that Titian's Portrait of a Young Man is a wonderful masterpiece.

However, in order for us to help, we need to receive an application for funding - which in this case has not happened. Then, we review requests alongside others - judging the public benefits and value for money.

Since there are many competing demands for our support we cannot always help. However where we can we do - often as part of a bigger funding package. Recently, Walter Sickert's London Street, Bath and George Romney's Serena Reading have been kept in public ownership with our help.



Bin those hoarded documents

Sir: Lisa Markwell's column (17 September) on hoarding struck a chord with me. I am a probate solicitor, and have learned to dread the assurance by a bereaved relative that "Mum/ Auntie Jane/ Uncle Bob was a great record-keeper - she/he never threw anything out". As soon as this is uttered, I know I am in for at least one long session of ploughing through years of accumulated ephemera to extricate the few documents that are actually needed.

I have found school reports from the 1930s, menus from cruises, receipts and guarantees for the repair of household items that, if still in use, would be in breach of most contemporary safety standards. With the exception of some photographs, I am usually instructed by the family to "bin the lot, love".

You absolutely can't take it with you. Order your skip now!



Future of trivia

Sir: On Saturday you published a double-page spread showing tomorrow's hotshots. Sadly, no engineers and only one scientist. Are our tomorrows dependent upon footballers and models and media tycoons?



Immoral theory

Sir: Allan Hodge ("The logic behind 'panic buying' "; letter, 17 September) explains why for games theory "it is not rational for me or anyone else to practise forbearance if we are left to make individual decisions". But since when has it been rational for an individual to discount all but immediate personal consequences, despite knowing that the longer-term outcome is likely to be disastrous for everyone, oneself included? Why be impressed by the logic of a theory that would have us exclude not only morality but the most elementary good sense?



Sir: It is funny how drivers were losing time to queue up to buy petrol whilst it was probably at its most expensive and so are presumably now going easy for a while when prices have dropped a little. I don't drive; my trains have continued to take me wherever I want, usually on time, for an unchanging price.



Iraq: start from here

Sir: Robert Fisk asks "Why is it that we and America wish civil war on Iraq?"(15 September). I thought it was pretty obvious why. Imagine the loss of face NGOs, anti-war groups and liberal-minded suburbanites everywhere would suffer if anything less than full-scale dystopia descended on Iraq. Time the left got over the fact the invasion's happened and started supporting the Iraqi people in their genuine quest for progress and peace. Much as we can't dis-invent nuclear weapons we have to work from here, as Iraq cannot be dis-invaded.



Threat to liberty

Sir: So does Charles Clarke's proposed ban on "glorifying terrorism" mean that I will get arrested for wearing my Che Guevara T-shirt?