Letters: Treatment of UK visa applicants

Visa applicants still treated with arrogance and disdain
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The Mary Dejevsky column (8 April) about the arrogance of UK visa staff and their disdain for applicants unfortunately rang very true in my experience. I have worked with Chinese individuals and organisations for more than 20 years and have frequently been appalled at the behaviour of UK visa officials. There seems to be a pervading attitude that anyone seeking a visa to visit Britain must have a particular agenda contrary to British interests.

On many occasions, requests for visas by Chinese business friends, visiting scholars to our universities and others involved in cultural or sporting exchanges have been rejected arbitrarily, and without explanation. It is also virtually impossible to access the administration to try to resolve these issues, and there is no recourse to appeal, from what I can gather. A lot of my Chinese friends and acquaintances have grown up learning English and largely are (or rather were) interested in the UK, its history and its relations with China, no matter that on certain occasions, even in contemporary times, that these have been tinged with a colonial imperiousness.

Many are now sadly disillusioned, and regard Britain, and certainly its consular officials, with a certain bemusement and dismay. They have turned their attentions and affections to other nations who are more welcoming and less aggressive in their dealings.

Ms Dejevsky is right: first impressions are crucial and I am tired of defending such gross bad manners and lack or courtesy. No doubt, this attitude partly stems from the lifelong sinecure that many civil servants continue to enjoy. Shame on them.

Lew Baxter

Cities500 International Publishers, Wirral

I can assure Ms Fox and Dr Culik (letters, 28, 31 March) that arrogance and poor practice is not limited to Moscow or Shang-hai embassies. After the visa is granted, you have to confront the same sort of thing from immigration officials here.

My late mother, who emigrated to Canada many years ago, was always questioned about her real intention of coming to Britain, apart from visiting her three children and three grandchildren. She usually told them she lived in the beautiful city of Vancouver and had no intention of being an illegal person here.

Aftab Jeevanjee

Chichester, West Sussex

Dubai's shameful secret of slavery

Johann Hari's article ("The dark side of Dubai", 7 April) has helped lift the lid on Dubai's shameful secret of slavery. Most of Dubai's one million South Asian construction workers borrow an average of £2,000 for the privilege of working 12-hour days, six days a week in the gruelling sun, yet when they arrive at their squalid labour camps most are paid less than half of what they were promised, and sometimes not at all.

The workers face two or three years of unrelenting misery before they are in a position to even consider sending money home or buying a return flight to see loved ones. We should ask of ourselves whether it is reasonable for business to continue as usual on the back of such human suffering.

Aidan McQuade

Director, Anti-Slavery International, London SW9

Johann Hari's article on Dubai gives the impression that the city-state is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. In fact, Abu Dhabi state, by far the greater in land area and oil revenue, is the capital of the UAE, and its sheikh the supreme ruler of all seven emirates.

There are certainly many cases of exploitation, and perhaps the law winks at these, but there are labour laws and, in Abu Dhabi at least, these are strictly adhered to by most companies. I lived for a time during my six or seven years in that emirate in an apartment block outside which there was a large construction project; the working hours were from 7.30am to lpm, with a long afternoon break and a resumption of activity from about 4.30 to 8pm; not exactly the l4-hour day Hari cites.

In the more remote desert/oil town in which I lived for some years, third-world workers also worked normal hours and were free to take on extra jobs, such as gardening or house-cleaning, in early evening or late afternoon.

Incidentally, I as a British professional employee, also had to surrender my passport to my company, in the UAE and other Gulf states in which I have worked; this draconian practice is not confined to third-world workers, and it is indeed unacceptable.

Susan I Harr

HULL, East Yorkshire

Genocide of the Circassians

Robert Fisk is, of course, right to keep reminding us about the Armenian genocide of 1915, which has left an indelible stain on the Young Turk government of Enver Pasha (report, 6 April). But he risks ungenerosity in dismissing as "usual weasal cliches" the statement by the White House security spokesman Mike Hammer that "the US can help Turkey and Armenia come to terms with the past".

The Turks, no less than the Armenians, are just now awakening from a long nightmare of censored history. It should not be unduly offensive to Vladimir Putin, with his immaculate KGB credentials, to point out that the greatest crime of the later tsars, overshadowing all other pogroms, was the genocide of the Circassians or Cherkassians, in the 1860s and 1870s. These people used to inhabit the Black Sea coastline between Georgia and the Crimea. The ethnic Abkhazians are a remnant.

The Circassian masses that fled to the Ottoman Empire can only have been too relieved to be allowed to call themselves Turks, something no self-respecting Armenians or Kurds will ever allow themselves to be known as, in the same way the Welsh and Scots would never answer to being English. The Circassians were nomads, scarcely Muslim, profoundly pagan, and in considerable necessity. The problem of their resettlement was eventually solved by the Armenian genocide. Thus it was that the denial of one genocide created the conditions for the next.


Leith, Edinburgh

More ado about Shakespeare

Your correspondents Jeremy Crick and Matthew Cossolotto (letters, 30 and 31 March) merely compound confusions about the disputed portraits of Shakespeare, this time from the wondrous world of the Oxfordians, who claim that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays. There is no evidence that Droushout's engraving of Shakespeare is based on a portrait of either Overbury or Oxford. Charles Wisner Barrell's claims about his 1940 X-rays have been thoroughly discredited by later X-rays, and by the cleaning of the Ashbourne and Janssen portraits.

Both were repainted. Neither contains the letters CK, and are clearly by different artists. The Ashbourne portrait was also given a radical hairshave and repainted. Restoration revealed the exciting fact that it depicted Hugh Hamersley, Mayor of London. Shakespeare manages to send even sensible scholars mad.

Dr Paul Barlow

History of Art and Art Conservation, Northumbria University

No apology for private schools

Anyone who dislikes the Labour government but is not particularly impressed by the opposition should reflect on the deeply authoritarian comments of Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP who claims public sector workers have a moral duty to send their children to state schools (report, 6 April).

While some Tories might display their right-on credentials by sending their children to comprehensives, can you imagine them criticising others for behaving differently?

Fee-paying schools owe their existence to keeping parents happy: the few bad ones close down. In the state sector the first concern is to please the political masters and their politically correct obsessions. In private schools, pupils are less likely to be bullied and have their education disrupted; in state schools only the most criminal are removed from mainstream education.

Are these things the fault of most public sector workers? Why should anyone have to apologise for spending their money giving their children a first-class education instead of on fancy cars and holidays to the Caribbean?

Rupert Fast

Esher, Surrey

Obama's dilemma over Afghanistan

John Hutton (6 April) writes that our soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan primarily to protect us from "terrorism", not to aid the Afghans. But what about Bonn, the agreement of December 2001 when we solemnly pledged billions to reconstruct the country?

Our own aid workers, let alone the Afghan people, could never accept that our own military objectives have overridden their efforts towards development. In fact, our battles in Helmand and "provincial reconstruction teams" elsewhere have often got in the way of a genuine partnership between aid workers and the local population. Civil-military operations, beyond normal security duties, have rarely worked.

If Nato, reborn under President Barack Obama's leadership, is going to make a real impact, let its main task be to defeat or at least contain the Taliban, but not to inhibit the reconstruction of the country.

The biggest challenge now will be to expand the hearts and minds campaign on both sides of the Durand Line and to accept that foreign troops will have to be withdrawn in favour of the Afghan army well before reconstruction is complete. This seems inevitable if the Afghans are ever to be masters of their own destiny.

John Montagu

Earl of Sandwich, House of Lords, London

One can only wonder what could befall an independently minded journalist such as Sayed Pervez Kambaksh should they dare to report on Afghanistan's new Shia Personal Status Law ("Karzai fights back as storm grows over rape laws", 6 April).

How is an Afghan journalist to provide critical coverage of a law that is reportedly set to legalise rape and the imprisonment of women in millions of Shia households within Afghanistan, and do so without incurring the wrath of the authorities?

Given that Mr Kambaksh received a draconian jail sentence merely for distributing written material that questioned the condition of women under Islam, one fears for the future liberty of all Afghan journalists.

President Karzai continues to solicit international support to rebuild his country; it is only right that in return international leaders insist that the President use his powers to halt the disgraceful Shia law, pardon Mr Kambaksh and start supporting universal human rights in Afghanistan.

Mike Blakemore

Media Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2

Find your fakes

After reading your report on the BBC probe that found 5 per cent of £1 coins to be fake (30 March), I checked my change. Out of five £1 coins one was counterfeit (inscription on the edge upside-down, off-centre and blurred). Could the percentage of fake £1 coins in circulation be even higher than the BBC suggests?

John Peters

Winchester, Hampshire

Beware of the lambs

Sophie's story ("Castaway dog braves bush tucker island trial", 7 April) highlights a powerful truth. If you're a dog, you smell a baby goat or a sheep and basic instinct kicks in. Sophie has "swiftly re-adapted" and "happily walks on the lead", but however obedient and well-trained your dog is at home, "Heel, boy, heel!" does not work out on the hill. It's lambing time now. What better reminder to please keep your dog on a lead.

Janice Gardner

Chesham, Buckinghamshire

Cloud of suspicion

I agree with the suggestion by Alice Jones (Havana Notebook, 6 April) that "a new bill relaxing the rules on allowing Americans into Cuba" will benefit the cigar industry there. Crucially, it will crush the trade in which foreign visitors buy inferior cigars in bars there (allowed as long as they are smoked in Cuba) and export them to the US (usually through Canada) for illegal sale as genuine Havanas, knowing cheated customers cannot complain to US authorities.

Donald Roy

London SW15

Didn't hold water

The last thing I wished when responding to Della Petch's letter (1 April) was to start a "She said, he said ..." waste of space. I only corrected a statement that indicated householders in Scotland did not pay for water services. I would be interested to see evidence of where I claimed to be worse off than the English; in fact, since both my children attended English universities we did pay tuition fees.

Norman Horne


Godless gangster

No, no, no, "Gangster boss" did not "turn to God" (report, 10 April). How many more times must one remind an "unbelieving" West that Buddhism does not "do God" and that religion in general should not be equated with theism?

Russell Webb

Ringwood, Hampshire