Author: The Observer
For decades, Britain has given a safe haven to persecuted people. Now it refuses to take in the world’s most vulnerable
Mark Townsend draws attention to the shockingly low numbers of unaccompanied child refugees accepted into the UK by the Home Office (“Just 20 lone child refugees given a new home in UK”, News). In 2016, I spent two periods of two weeks working in a medical capacity in the Calais “jungle”. Ahmed, aged 12, came to see me with minor injuries sustained from falling off the back of a truck in an attempt to cross the Channel. “Why did you leave Afghanistan?” I asked. Through an interpreter he replied: “My father came to Calais five years ago and managed to get on a truck to Dover. He worked in London for four years, then the police caught him and deported him. On arrival in Kabul he was shot by the Taliban. My uncle said it wasn’t safe for me to remain in Afghanistan. He sold some land and gave the money to some men at the border with Iran to bring me to Calais.”
“How long did it take to get here?” “Three months.” “Which countries did you pass through?” “I don’t know.” “How long have you been here?” “Nine months.” “How many times have you tried to get to the UK?” “About nine times a week.”
When I asked refugees in Calais why they particularly wanted to come to the UK, one reason they gave was that the UK is seen as the most welcoming of countries. “You welcomed the Jews during the last war, the Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin, the Vietnamese boat people.” And now…? I weep.
Dr Nick Maurice
Only 20 unaccompanied children have been allowed into the UK under a scheme begun more than two years ago to resettle 3,000 vulnerable refugee children from conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa. Twenty. Words fail me.
Barton Well, Paulton, Somerset
Reading through elements of last weekend’s Observer, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is what it must have been like reading the paper in the early 1930s: the UK blocking the resettlement of thousands of vulnerable refugee children from conflict zones; KKK supporters marching through Newtownards, Northern Ireland; the rise of white supremacists in the US; the rise of the far right in Italy; the threat of financial instability across Europeand the encouragement for far-right nationalist political parties this is creating; and social tensions between Roma and Pakistani communities in northern England.
There is an urgent need for our moral guardians – in politics, academia and the media – to cohere around and campaign on a counter-narrative that can reverse this steady drift towards racism, nationalism and totalitarianism that our mainstream political systems are orchestrating.
Dr Charlie Cooper
War graves not racist
Christopher Fountain (Letters) uses one experience to draw incorrect inferences. He points out that in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery there are graves of Indian soldiers marked “An Indian Soldier of the Great War” and concludes that this was a racist approach to these gallant men.
If one visits a war grave in France, one finds three classes of memorial: stone walls with the names of those with no grave (the majority, including my great uncle), graves containing one or more bodies with names and graves containing a body with no name. The last two can be mixed. On gravestones, British troops are often not named and Indian troops are named where possible. Yes, racism was endemic, but the same rules applied in death to both British and Indian troops.
No place for hunting
Barbara Ellen is correct: trail hunting does not exist and never has done (“Let’s cut to the chase about hunting and how it brazenly flouts the law”, Comment). It is a convenient alibi for illegal hunting and unfortunately is all too often taken as fact. Hunting is a cruel and outdated pastime, with no place in a civilised country. The sooner an outright ban on hunting with hounds is passed, the better for all.
Tom Fitton, Greens for Animal Protection
Too late, Tony
Laudable though Tony Blair’s recent energetic efforts to try to reverse Brexit have been, he’s 20 years too late (“Labour MPs, don’t flirt with a ‘lesser evil’ Brexit deal”, Comment). He had 10 years as prime minister in which to educate the British public on the virtues of the EU and membership of it but, in common with his prime ministerial predecessors and successors, he did not manage to fit such a process into his agenda. I cannot recall him ever taking the time to promote the EU to the electorate. When British membership of the eurozone was being debated, the final decision was effectively delegated to Gordon Brown and the inevitable negative conclusion merely conveyed to the public a negative government attitude towards the EU. So, too late Tony, and you must also accept some blame for the pickle in which we now are in relation to the EU.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Yes, society affects the mind
In her fascinating article, Lorna Martin writes that her “medical records state baldly that I had mental health problems. But now I wonder how much was out-of-synch brain chemicals and how much was caused by our psychologically dysfunctional society” (“Therapy gave me a voice and inspired a TV show”, Focus).
These two explanations are not mutually exclusive: a dysfunctional society affects our bodies and brain chemicals in dysfunctional ways and our brain chemicals influence how we feel and interact with society. We are fundamentally networked creatures in constant biological and psychological communication with our surroundings.
Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry
Trinity College, Dublin
Britain not to blame
Patience Akumu lays the blame for Tanzanian officials’ action against homosexual activity in the country on Britain, its colonial service and laws (“A tainted imperial legacy that fuels the oppression of gay people in Africa”, Comment).
Tanzania gained independence on 9 December 1961; I was there. Blaming the lawmakers of well over half a century ago for today’s events is an insult to them, to the Tanzanian legislators of the intervening years and to the people of Tanzania for being incapable of assuming responsibility for their own laws and institutions.
I have lived and worked in the country for some years since and the essence of fair and just law is more evident there than in many other African countries.
Dromore, County Down
Wrong side of the track
I have sympathy with Anthony Walker in his protest about there being no railway station in Leigh, Lancashire or Washington, Tyne and Wear (Letters). However, the largest town without a railway connection has for many years been my home town: Gosport, Hampshire, population 85,000, and it’s in the south-east!
To get anywhere from Gosport by public transport, you have two options: get a bus to Fareham station, six miles along gridlocked roads, or take a short but expensive ferry ride to Portsmouth Harbour station.
West Wittering, Chichester, West Sussex