UK: A preening Home Secretary's policy of panic and injustice

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Mar 11 13:06:31 UTC 2007

Edward Pearce: A preening Home Secretary's policy of panic and injustice

Dr John Reid

TWO images present themselves: Dr John Reid announcing with pride that he
means to make life tough for illegal immigrants, and a weeping group of
people being taken to an airport for deportation to the former French
Congo where four million people have died violent deaths since 1998. Dr
Reid, the Home Secretary, was backed by an official saying on the radio,
and with quiet complacency, that the Government was now meeting its
targets. He was given a soft handling by the BBC's World at One. No-one
asked if the achievement of a statistical goal had anything to do with
just and civilised behaviour by the British Government. Which is a pity,
because it hasn't.

Contrast the Government's rhetoric with the intervention of Colin Firth,
the actor, whose mother has worked with refugees in the Winchester area
for more than five years. He wrote a letter to a national newspaper that
identified one of the people slated for deportation. He was a male nurse,
known simply as "Pierre", whose claim that he had been arrested for
refusing to administer a potentially lethal dose of morphine to a
political prisoner has not been challenged. Pierre had escaped through the
bribing of prison warders by friends. The ludicrously-entitled Democratic
Republic of the Congo has not recovered from a devastating civil war, and
the Kabila regime has a reputation for brutality and contempt for human
life. But every little helps when it comes to achieving Dr Reid's target.

Actually, it was better than that real progress. Pierre is one of 42
people, 23 adults and 19 children, who have now been deported and have
done their unco-operative bit for the statistics. Among them was a woman,
the victim of rape, who had been living peaceably with her children in
Yorkshire. Her home village had been shown in an excellent television
report as rubble. When the Bishop of Ripon protested, the Home Office
stated that "it could not comment on individual cases". No doubt Dr Reid's
popularity has risen. "Send these people back where they come from, that's
what I say." A few weeks earlier, a woman was taken away for deportation,
handcuffed and weeping, after being seized during a 6am raid. Neighbours
told reporters that she was a thoroughly, decent, well-liked person who
had lived in that road for five years.

The statistics are improved, the Home Secretary preens, but people living
innocent, inoffensive lives have suffered great injustice and cruelty as a
consequence. The Geneva Convention on Human Rights is being flouted and
the Home Office burnishes a reputation for high-achieving incompetence
with another, for stark insensibility. Such behaviour, though natural to
John Reid, a career bully, has institutional causes. The headlines only a
few weeks ago were all about convicted criminal immigrants who ought to
have been deported, but who, through the dozing computer and its dozing
Home Office minders, had quietly slipped away? So we do cruel because we
can't do competent, and we go on the radio and boast about it.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has just done his bit, advocating "community
service" for immigrants. Community service? That's a punishment here. So
we should punish immigrants pre-emptively, so that they learn about our
tolerance? "They should all learn English," says the Government as it cuts
savagely back on teaching English as a foreign language. We do cruel
because the red-top press, Sun, Express and the like, have been screaming
that the country needs to "get tough" with illegal immigrants and
asylum-seekers. Beware a cheap politician responding to the cries of the
two-syllable Press; something bad will happen. The politician worried
about that will turn to soft targets, women and children innocent people
on whom to practise toughness. "Lies, damned lies and statistics!" said
Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister in the late 1800s. Dr Reid has
achieved damned statistics.

The whole conduct of immigration has been mishandled to an incredible
degree for ever. Jack Straw, a man aptly named but probably the most
decent of the last four Home Secretaries, began with an insult: "Bogus
immigrants". What he meant was "economic immigrants"  people from poor
countries looking for work and wages. Arbitrary, under-informed tribunals
decided who was a proper immigrant and who wasn't. They did the job very
badly, so Albanian Mafiosi, members of the worst criminal group in Europe,
enjoy full citizens' rights because the Government had taken sides with
the Kosovo Albanians. By contrast, economic migrants, or those unable to
give irrefutable proof of actual persecution, have had to function below
their talents. An economic migrant with qualifications could not use them.
About 18 months back, a qualified dentist, another "bogus immigrant",
hanged himself in Edinburgh because he could not work as a dentist even
though the National Health Service was suffering form an acute shortage of
dental practitioners.

Let's be clear. I am not arguing that everyone who wants to come here
should come. The argument is not for softness, but for fairness. There is,
of course, a limit to the numbers which can be taken, but economic
migrants should not have been damned. A candid quota stated at the outset
would have been far better. Those in flight deserved priority, but that
apart, the first concern should have been rejection of criminals.
Preliminary checking might have been better done at enlarged British
consulates in the countries of flight. And what would have been wrong with
a version of the American Green Card system?

We might in that way have issued interim citizenship, a right to live and
work subject to good behaviour. Given conviction for an offence above and
beyond defective rear lights the card would have been cancelled and
deportation followed, a proper act, unlike the driving-out of harmless
people who are now making up Dr Reid's tally. Instead, we have a
Soviet-style early-morning knock, with or without breaking down the door.
As long as immigration policy is governed by hysterical headlines and
ministerial panic, people who have suffered in another country will suffer
in Britain.


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