19th August 2001
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UN slams Britain on asylum seekers

Recipe for disaster

Britain took a beating from the United Nations on its asylum policy. The British Government's policy of detaining some 1000 asylum seekers in prison and treating them like convicts while awaiting decisions on their applications, was called "shameful." 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers demanded an immediate end to this policy of holding asylum seekers alongside convicts. A spokeswoman in Geneva described the policy as being in clear violation of international guidelines.

The UN also blamed some British politicians and a section of the press for creating a climate of hostility towards asylum seekers.

The UN strictures followed the killing of a Turkish Kurd asylum seeker in Glasgow, Scotland and another stabbing also in Glasgow which left the victim determined to return to Iran from where he fled due to political persecution. 

Coming from Glasgow a 22-year old man was stabbed to death in what appeared to be an unprovoked racist attack.

Just three weeks after coming there Firsat Yildish was walking home to Sighthill with a 16-year old friend when he was stabbed by two white youth.

Two months ago three Sudanese men were set upon, apparently mistaken for asylum seekers.

The day after Yildish was killed, the Iranian was attacked outside his flat in the same Sighthill area.

Now the frightened young man, Davoud Rasul Naseri, also 22, says he prefers to return home and possibly face persecution. Surely an indictment on British policy. 

It comes as no surprise. Racism, which manifested itself in violent outbursts in several cities and inner cities in the north of England in the last few months, and the hatred for asylum seekers are two faces of the same coin.

In the run-up to the June parliamentary election, politicians vied with each other to appear tougher on asylum seekers than their opponents. They claimed that the vast majority of them were "bogus" refugees. Why were more of them coming to the UK crossing continental Europe? Because this country was a "soft touch". Thus "soft touch" entered the lexicon of political abuse.

So the answer was simple. Weed out the bogus asylum seekers.

Some politicians such as the Conservative Party's Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdecombe even suggested that asylum seekers arriving in the UK be immediately sent to detention centres and housed there until their cases were decided.

Then Conservative Party leader William Hague was also slow to slap down party members who raised racist slogans during the campaign, thus giving the impression that the Tories would not be averse to a little bit of racism in their policies should they come to power.

It is difficult to say who followed whom. Did the politicians take a cue from the UK's gutter press- some of the tabloids- or did the tabloids rant on after the politicians?

Under attack from political opponents and the yellow press alike, the Labour Government panicked.

It thought that the Conservatives had hit on an emotional issue that could rally people round it at a time when die-hard Labourites from the working class and lower middle class were becoming increasingly disillusioned about New Labour's proclivity for privatisation and so-called Thatcherite policies.

Labour's answer was disperse and dispose, a hastily cobbled policy that has proved disastrous.

The Home Ministry under Home Secretary Jack Straw had set up targets. The idea was to dispose of a certain number of cases each month and repatriate a specified number of those who had failed to gain recognition as genuine refugees or were awaiting adjudication.

But the cases were completed and the monthly repatriations fell far below target. 

But the biggest blunder was the dispersal system that showed the sheer lack of thinking in the Home Office. With the help of some local councils across the country, the Home Office decided to disperse the asylum seekers away from London and more visible places to inner cities and the countryside.

No serious thought was given to having people of the same nationality or ethnic group together so that they would at least find comfort among their own kind.

What was worse was, they were generally accommodated in estates and economically deprived areas where local residents were already facing enormous hardships. 

One cannot entirely blame the residents of Sighthill and elsewhere for their reaction. This is the land of the uneducated, of the unskilled and the socially deprived. When government policy dictates that nearly 2000 asylum seekers are dumped in one area, as was done in Sighthill, Glasgow, without ever preparing the local residents beforehand, social tensions and racist violence are inevitable.

But officialdom and the tabloid press that loves to sermonise from the gutter instead of the Mount, cannot see this inevitability. Despite numerous warnings from voluntary groups that more violence is bound to occur unless the government stops its dispersal scheme, ministers are standing firm.

According to voluntary groups, the government has moved nearly 30,000 asylum seekers to the north in the last 18 months and another 25,000 are due to be sent.

This is a recipe for disaster. But the Home Office Minister Lord Rooker believes that the policy has "by and large been very successful". Except, of course, for the violence that has seen some killings, the good Lord forgot to add. 

Work all day, out at night

By Nedra Wickremasinghe
The lady on the run likes to be well dressed for all occasions, and her outfits should take her through work to after-office hours. 

Be it from the boardroom to an extended evening business do, business entertaining or attending work-related social engagements or even to a carefree ladies' night-out, your day clothes should be easy, safe and savvy, with options to make them glitzy and glamorous for the evening. Try balancing outfits between solid minimalism to buoyant prints of florals, waves, swirls and aztec. Remember also that, it is the handbag and the shoes that make the ultimate difference by setting the tone of the outfit as well as to the time of day.

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