Letters: Visa humiliation

Why must our African friends face humiliation over UK visas?
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The Independent Online

Sir: I have just returned from Nairobi, where I attended the funeral of a longstanding personal friend. Obtaining a visa for Kenya could not have been simpler - granted without notice at the airport on payment of a £30 fee. I now wish to invite the grieving husband (and perhaps one or more of his children and grandchildren) to come to stay with me for a while to help him adjust to a new phase in life. It ought to be simple, but it seems unbelievably difficult.

Having mastered the required paperwork and paid the £50 fee, it was generally agreed by our friends that any Kenyan citizen has to stand in line from four in the morning to have any chance of securing a UK visa. Moreover, there are likely to be several personal humiliations along the way. How is he to support himself? Does he want to come and live here? It will not matter that he has been here many times on business and as a friend. Or that, when I visit him in Kenya, it is my wife and I who are "supported". Or that he has the financial resources to live anywhere he chooses. He is unlikely to be believed, even if he has a written invitation from me. Applicants are at the mercy of seemingly blinkered junior officials who are suspicious of all applicants as possible asylum seeker or potential threats to national security. Personal friendship over many years carries no weight.

Only yesterday evening, I met a distinguished Ugandan lady here to celebrate the 80th birthday of an old friend. She was still humiliated in her search for a visa and was only able to come because of the helpful facilitation of a former colonial civil servant. Moreover, having spent £50 on an unsuccessful application, she was then required to spend another £50 when encouraged by her contact to reapply.

This is no way to treat friends from a sympathetic African country. It is also the best way to inhibit the kind of long-term personal contacts which can lead to national benefit for the UK. It remains important to maintain the academic and business contacts from which we have long benefited.

There has to be a more humane way of separating the sheep from the goats. For example, I understand from my Ugandan contact that the application form has no provision for distinguishing between those who have had long-term useful contacts with this country and those who may be applying for the first time. Why not?

PROFESSOR PAUL FORDHAM

SHREWSBURY

Stamp out animal rights terrorism

Sir: Janet Street-Porter rightly says that the animal rights' activists are impervious to rational argument (Opinion, 25 August). They are also abysmally ignorant. Which of them has not had the benefits of modern medicine and research, as Drs Robert Lockie and James Willis (Letters, 25 August) have pointed out. Medicine was revolutionised in the 20th century: insulin, immunisation, antitoxins, antibiotics, specific drugs and much else, all with the indispensable help of animal work - there was no other way.

Which of the protesters has had, or may have, an organ transplant or coronary bypass? These rely upon accurate fine surgery of blood and other vessels, which had initially to be practised on live animals, not dead ones or cadavers, since live tissues are different.

If the protesters drive our pharmaceutical industry and university research departments away, then yet more of our manufacturing bases and centres of excellence will go, and with them, thousands of jobs together with the essential scientists, who do the thinking. Is this really what this country needs?

The unacceptable activities of the animal rights groups must be stamped out with all the vigour and attention that is being given given to terrorists of other sorts.

DR JIM HUTCHISON

BIRMINGHAM

Sir: I read with interest Janet Street-Porter's article on animal experimentation, and found myself in (almost) wholehearted agreement with her view that the government could appoint a well-respected scientist to act as an independent monitor for all research using animals in the UK. Ms Street-Porter might be interested to know that instead of just one scientist, a statutory committee which I chair already exists to carry out this role.

The Animal Procedures Committee is made up of medical practitioners, veterinary surgeons and experts in biological sciences as well as at least one barrister, solicitor or advocate. When making appointments, ministers are required to ensure that the interests of animal welfare are adequately represented.

The Committee advises the secretary of state on matters concerned with animal procedures, and has a duty to have regard for the protection of animals against avoidable suffering and unnecessary use as well as the legitimate requirements of science and industry.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BANNER

CHAIR, ANIMAL PROCEDURES COMMITTEE, LONDON SW1

Pro-Europe Tories in need of friends

Sir: No one should be surprised by Ken Clarke's distancing himself from any pro-Europeaness in his bid to lead the Conservative Party. When seeking to lead the party in the run-off against William Hague in 1997 he formed a bizarre coalition with John Redwood in the hope of winning eurosceptic support. With friends like Clarke, it is little wonder the pro-European Tories feel marginalised.

Meanwhile, those who damn the eurozone for its supposed failings might notice in most of continental Europe the markedly lower prices for anything from a train ticket to a hotel room or any routinely purchased shopping basket, and ask what we in the UK have to be so proud of - and that is even before one considers the price and quality of public transport and entertainment.

The much over-hyped performance of the UK economy is based on ludicrous levels of personal borrowing (70 per cent of credit card debt in the EU is in Britain) and massively inflated property prices. Spain, from where I have just returned, seems vibrant, optimistic, cheerful and better served in most respects than we are here.

However, one can sympathise with Mr Clarke as he is seeking to appeal to electorates that are blind to realities and enjoy feeding on nostalgia and prejudice.

SIMON SWEENEY

SHERIFF HUTTON, NORTH YORKSHIRE

Banal GCSE syllabus must be reformed

Sir: Tom Greene ("Don't blame us for your O-level hangover", 25 August) misses the point by devoting so much of his article to attacking those commentating on the education crisis our country is undergoing.

I, also a GCSE student, fail to understand his indignation at criticism of the education system - which he seems to think equates to criticism of the students themselves. I do, however, become indignant, when I consider the fact that every year the GCSEs for which I am studying depreciate in value; every year things are dropped from the syllabus. Maths has lost calculus and the use of logarithms, while the science examination papers have been transformed into a banal selection of multiple choice questions, more akin to Who wants to be a Millionaire? than to the O-levels people sat in the 1950s.

He does hit the nail on the head when he writes that exams need to be changed "properly"; but this will only take place as a result of vocal and informed criticism - the very criticism he attacks. Even then, the Government's capacity to ignore criticism is so great that changes will probably not be forthcoming. This does not augur well for my generation, or generations succeeding it.

WILLIAM KELLEY

LONDON NW3

Christians, Jews and divine 'apartheid'

Sir: In his letter (23 August) Canon Chivers seems to imply that Jews have no need of the salvation Jesus offers. If this were true, it would mean that God practised apartheid.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognises that the "Jewish faith is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant". However, the Jews' awaiting of the Messiah "is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus".

The declaration Dominus Iesus, on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, states clearly that: "with the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity" and that although "it is true that followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

If one does not believe Judaism has been superseded by Christianity how can one believe our Saviour's words, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me"?

PETER MARTIN

LONDON SW17

United in dislike of foreign languages

Sir: I object to the comments made by Peter Whitby and others regarding the UK vs "mainland Europe" battle for languages. After two and a half years of living in France I have yet to see a mainstream English programme subtitled. Absolutely everything is dubbed: films, news, sport reports, UK-made documentaries.

We do not have a single French neighbour who speaks a word of English, except the ubiquitous "OK" and "stop" which is on signposts worldwide. The people in the UK who cannot or will not learn another language have a counterpart in France, Spain and Germany.

DEBRA HART

MARSEILLE, FRANCE

Historic UN deal on genocide in peril

Sir: Your summary of the key issues at stake at the upcoming UN World Summit shows how important the meeting could be ("The US vs the UN", 26 August). However it misses the most crucial issue currently hanging in the balance in the negotiations, an agreement on the responsibility of the international community to protect civilians from mass killings.

The current draft text says that states "share responsibility to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner" to protect civilians from large-scale killing including genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This agreement is designed to stop world leaders pontificating when faced with atrocities like the Rwandan genocide; indeed, the Rwandan government was one of the key countries behind this draft.

If agreed this would be a historic agreement which could save the lives of millions. Sadly key governments such as the US, Russia, India and Brazil are all currently trying to weaken or delete this agreement. The British government has said it supports the move to strengthen governments' responsibility to protect civilians in war zones. It now needs to use its influence to secure this.

JO LEADBEATER

HEAD OF ADVOCACY, OXFAM OXFORD

Sir: If it were not so tragic it would be laughable that a country that fought for its freedom from colonial domination now does its best to act as an imperial power. At the same time we are told that the Christian right has great influence over the policies of that country, yet I can see nothing Christian in opposing the efforts of the UN to help other human beings who are in need.

ILSE BOAS

LONDON N21

Mutual tradition still going strong

Sir: Jeremy Warner (Business Comment, 24 August) should get out more. To describe Standard Life as "last defender of the mutual tradition" is rubbish. As our survey of 2004 showed, one in three UK citizens is a member of a mutual; 19 million people compared with 11 million plc shareholders.

Mutuals continue to offer market-leading products across the financial services industry, as any analyst should know. At the same time, mutuality is a growing trend: Britannia Building Society have recently completed the first re-mutualisation by buying Bristol & West's branch network and so far hundreds of thousands of people have joined the new NHS Foundation Hospital mutuals.

Maybe it is Standard Life that is swimming against the tide?

PETER HUNT

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MUTUO LONDON SE1

Age of illiteracy

Sir: Masha Bell (letter, 27 August) complains that illogical spellings of English words mean that "far more pupils than need be continue to leave school virtually illiterate". Nobody ever had a problem before the introduction of left-wing ideology to teaching methods.

ALEX SWANSON

MILTON KEYNES

US sponsors Islamism

Sir: Baroness Ludford's hysterical laughter is uncalled for (Letters, 26 August). The USA has long sponsored Sunni Islamism in Central Asia and the Middle East, just as it supported military dictatorships and death squads in Latin America, as a means of fighting communism and ensuring political stability and control. The installation of Sharia law in Iraq will come as no surprise.

PETER MCKENNA

LIVERPOOL

Bird flu trumps Aids

Sir: While the potential outbreak of avian flu in Europe certainly merits close attention (report, 25 August) it also serves to highlight the vast gaps between the West and Africa. In Europe, the vaccines and anti-viral drugs are already being prepared and, should an epidemic occur, will no doubt be widely available. In Africa, anti-viral drugs are expensive and hard to obtain, and the Aids epidemic still rages out of control. An epidemic on the scale seen in Africa will never be allowed to happen in Europe.

MATTHEW CARRINGTON

MINCHINHAMPTON, GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Designer god?

Sir: Intelligent design does not predicate perfection in the world, or it would be called "perfect design". Moreover, for the purposes of the argument the natural world may also be seen (as in Genesis 3) to have been somehow compromised by the warp in human nature. What seems to me beyond dispute is that the argument is essentially theological (or theopetal) and therefore has no place whatever in the business of science.

THE REV COLIN V. SMITH

RAINFORD, MERSEYSIDE

Bring back the wolves

Sir: I think it's a fantastic idea to release wolves and bears back into this country ("The wolf at your door", 22 August). Can we release them in every town and city every Friday and Saturday night just after closing time?

JAMES BRANCH

LONDON W1

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