Notes From The Underground

undergroundTwo interesting perspectives on migration this morning. First off, Melvyn Kohn discusses Home Office policy on torture victims. The HO require evidence that asylum applicants can claim systematic (rather than occasional) persecution. However in the absence of an official document saying ‘Yes, we tortured this guy. Signed: The Janjaweed’ many applicants have nothing to back up their claims except the laceration scars and broken ribs. And so many are turned away by a Home Office that follows the letter of the law rather than the spirit of humanity. Future historians will shake their heads in wonder and disgust over the sheer lack of compassion shown to migrants in 2009, just as we shake our heads over the governments of the 1930s that turned away Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany.

Kohn asks: what does this tell us?

Nothing, if we do not want to hear, if we only use the letter of the law.

But it speaks loudly to anyone with a conscience. It tells us that we need to review the legal standard of proof, bearing in mind that refugees often do not arive with anything more than the shirt on their back. How much prima facie evidence do we expect of them? But there are times when even solid evidence is ignored, and it has been my experience that this is rather often. I have seen cases of torture victims who have shown their wounds to the Home Office and still been rejected, one interviewer deciding arbitrarily that the victim was lying. The Home Office has since refused to let that person have a Medical Foundation interview to examine these claims.

But what do I have to back up such an argument? Nothing, you might say. And that is what so many refugees had in the 1940s when they too told of terrible tortures and had little or no proof except their word. Why did we not take it then, and are we going to repeat the same mistake today?

Then, Winston Smith gives us the reality of integration for the lucky ones that get through. Winston Smith is a weary and frustrated care home worker who deals mainly with 16-25s and his blog is essential reading.

We have only one resident from an ethnic minority background. He is an Iraqi refugee, Tariq, and a nicer fellow you couldn’t meet. Polite, well mannered and he studies and works part time. He is contributing much more to his adopted country than many of the indigenous residents who sit in their rooms all day stoned playing video games. No doubt watching friends and relatives being tortured by Saddam and then seeing his country descend in to internecine conflict have given him an appreciation of living in a fee society and he is using every opportunity he can to better himself.

One of our residents recently complained, “these bloody Poles and other foreigners are coming over here and stealing all our jobs, it’s not fair.”

I responded, “but you never actually look for work so why would you be bothered? Do you expect an employer to come and knock on your door and offer you work? You have to look for it.” He walked away perplexed at the notion that he would actually have to do something to get a job.

Anyway, back to Tariq our only refugee. Now Tariq did describe himself as a Muslim when signing up for our project but judging from the posters of naked women that adorn his wall as well as the discarded beer cans in his room I have deduced that he isn’t practising his religion too often these days. Who can blame him after the role he has seen religion play in the violence in his native land.


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