Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

Europe is a bystander to human tragedy, yet again

20/02/2015, 06:00:50 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

A few weeks ago, at the 70th year commemoration of Auschwitz, Roman Kent, a survivor of the Holocaust made a speech about his fear, that we again become bystanders to tragic events.  With tears in his eyes, he said,

“When I think of the holocaust as I often do …I think of the righteous gentiles who endangered their own lives, and their families to save the life of a stranger…We must ALL be involved and stay involved, no one, no one ever should be a spectator, I feel so strongly about this point that if I had the power I would add a 11th commandment to the universally accepted 10 commandments, you should never, never be a bystander.”

The indifference of those around them is both the most haunting refrain of many holocaust survivors and also the most pressing warning for the future. Elie Wiesel, the writer of Nightin 1999 said,

“…to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman… Indifference is not a response for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”

Elie Wiesel in the same speech went on to mention the totemic event of indifference to the plight of the Jews in Europe before the Second World War started, The Voyage of the St Louis,

“Sixty years ago, its human cargo — maybe 1,000 Jews — was turned back to Nazi Germany. And that happened after the Kristallnacht, after the first state sponsored pogrom, with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already on the shores of the United States, was sent back.”

The St Louis was not an isolated event, many ships full with Jews fleeing the rise of Nazism were turned back in 1938 to 1939 be it from the UK, US or Denmark or the then colonially controlled Middle East and Africa.

Looking back now, with 76 years passed, we can look back in shame how the world was a bystander to those fleeing Europe and genocide.


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Labour can lead on immigration by reforming the asylum system

26/10/2014, 10:05:28 AM

by Jack Tunmore

Ed Miliband’s speech in Rochester and Strood this week provided some welcome clarity on Labour’s immigration policy. It is certainly encouraging that he chose to focus on specific and achievable measures that directly affect millions of people: stopping the exploitation of workers and the undercutting of wages will be both progressive and effective, as will closing loopholes that allow agencies to hire only from abroad. A crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his Immigration Reform Bill will no doubt be popular – but Miliband was also at pains to stress that both he and by-election candidate Naushabah Khan were the children of immigrants and were proud of the contribution they and many like them had made.

These clear and concrete policies contrast well with Cameron’s increasingly alarming drift towards Brexit. They are also particularly timely as the whole political spectrum expresses incredulity that the Prime Minister had supposedly just discovered the UK had been landed with a £1.7 billion EU surcharge – Civitas damningly concluded that “this is all a problem of David Cameron’s making”.

Labour now has an opportunity to inject some nuance and decency into the immigration debate. An important start would be a wholesale reappraisal of our asylum system.

That is not to say that the asylum system will be a major election issue; or that such an appraisal would not be difficult. A report from the Migration Observatory published in July noted that attitudes towards immigration are more negative in the UK than they are in the US and much of Europe, with asylum seekers being held in much lower regard than students or high-skilled migrants. Reform of our asylum system is however a chance for Labour to show that we can lead rather than just follow the immigration debate. A balance of compassion and pragmatism is required.

It would be hugely positive, for example, for Labour to lead strongly on the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine’s report published last week which examined how asylum claims made on the grounds of sexual orientation are handled by the Home Office. To summarise: they are handled disgracefully, with “intrusive” interviews that sometimes even question the validity of same-sex relationships. Such questioning has no place in our society and Labour should be saying so loud and clear.


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Are Nick Clegg’s pants indeed on fire?

03/04/2014, 06:00:22 PM

In their television ding-dong last night, Nigel Farage accused Nick Clegg of “wilfully lying” about Europe when the Lib Dem Leader claimed just seven per cent of UK laws are in fact made in Brussels.

But he wasn’t the only one accusing Clegg of being economical with the facts yesterday.

He is also in hot water after berating his local council in Sheffield for not being willing to take in its share of Syrian refugees.

Clegg accused council chiefs of “tarnishing” the city’s reputation as a “city of sanctuary” after refusing to be part of the Home Office’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) programme.

In a piece of chest-puffing hyperbole, he claimed the Labour Leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore, had “decided to shut the door on some of the most vulnerable people in the world”.

Dore hit back, saying it was “outrageous” of Clegg to claim the council had refused to take in Syrian refugees and accused him of “not telling the truth”.

She in fact wrote to ministers last month “making it clear” the council would do so, providing the government would guarantee funding for longer than 12 months.

The refugees are expected to need to stay for up to five years, with many having complex health and social care needs.

Hull and Manchester are also said to have asked the government for further funding guarantees before taking any refugees.

Unfortunately, Clegg has form. Last year exasperated council chiefs had to formally write to him to ask him to stop misrepresenting the council’s budget, claiming the council was spending £2 million renovating council meeting rooms.

In fact, the council was spending £600,000 on essential maintenance to the Grade II listed Town Hall and making improvements to increase the number of income-generating civil ceremonies.

In accusing Farage of being an isolationist last night, Clegg mocked his Billy-No-Mates approach.

Still, better than being Billy Liar?

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It’s time for a rational discussion on immigration

26/12/2013, 11:20:24 AM

by John Stephenson

The divisions within the coalition appear to have widened of recent, as Vince Cable broke rank yet again to denounce the Tory approach to immigration. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week, the business secretary dismissed the proposed 75,000 cap on EU migrants as “illegal”, making reference to Enoch Powell in his assessment of Cameron’s populist style of politics.

Such a move speaks volumes for the quandary and confusion the Conservatives are facing in the run up to 2015 and Labour can now seek to cash in on any discord among the Tory frontbench.

Labour is right to steer clear of the battleground that has seen UKIP dominate the thinking of Tory strategists. Recent victories for the far-right party have arguably led to the prime minister’s tough stance on immigration and it bears a striking similarity to the concern surrounding James Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which went on to have little, in any, impact on the 1997 general election.

Though the Tories are keen to stress the errors of their predecessors for the “mess” they’ve found themselves in, this is not to say that Labour have not acknowledged the error or their ways.

In a speech to the IPPR at the Local Government Association, Chris Bryant admitted that the measures taken by the party when in government had at times been mistaken. A lack of transitional controls on workers from the eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 saw a disproportionately high volume of workers stream into the UK, while countries like Germany and France (which retained controls until the last possible moment in 2007) were spared such an influx.

Yes, the arrival of around 500,000 migrants between 2002 and 2010 created problems, but if the Conservatives are so willing to play the blame-game then it seems only fair that Labour return the favour. At the start of the Blair years, the government faced a mountain of around 71,000 asylum applications each years; dealt with by just 50 employees. The very position of Immigration Minister was created by the party to deal with the challenge.


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The government has made a shameful start on asylum

27/10/2010, 02:00:18 PM

by Susanna Bellino

On the day of the spending review, an optimistic refugee council set its Facebook status thus:

“Not much mention of asylum in today’s spending review, except that the home office is to save £500m by cutting IT and building costs, but will invest more in asylum casework. Could this be good news?!”

Sorry to burst your bubble, refugee council, but probably not.

The UK has had an ambiguous relationship with asylum seekers, to say the least. On the one hand, we like to appear liberal and sympathetic to their plight and the existence of such organisations as asylum aid and the refugee council demonstrate this. But on the other hand, headlines in the Daily Mail (Up to 80,000 bogus asylum seekers granted “amnesty” and Somali asylum seeker family given £2m house… after complaining 5-bed London home was “in poor area”) suggest that we are a nation that prefers to acquire its morals from right-wing tabloids rather than the universal declaration of human rights.

And despite the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats stance as the ‘fair’ party, things aren’t likely to change. The government has already been accused of deserting its promise to end the detention of children in immigration centres – a change that would have signaled one of the Lib Dem’s few influences on policy and demonstrated that the government was at last sympathetic to the cause of asylum seekers.


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