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Monday, April 27, 2009 

Immigration and the Gurkhas.

Causes don't come much more righteous than the campaign for retired Gurkhas to be allowed to settle in this country. Following Friday's derisory if not downright insulting decision from the Home Office that would at most allow only 100 to emigrate here, the Sun and doubtless other papers are preparing campaigns, or in the Sun's case, a rather inaptly named "crusade" for their right to live here. Even the British National Party, which only last week talked of how other immigrants could never be considered British because they are of "foreign stock", supports their cause.

As could have been expected, the Gurkhas and their rights are being compared unfavourably with those who have also settled here in recent years who have not been welcomed with such open arms. The Sun lists, variously, those who slip in here to sponge off the taxpayer (mostly a myth), students granted visas to bogus colleges, the Afghan hijackers, and those who smuggle themselves in from France. The Sun, it should be noted, seems to have been rather kinder to the eastern Europeans who have entered the country to work since 2004 than the other tabloids, mainly perhaps due to it directly appealing to them in specially published papers. Nonetheless, no one could confuse the Sun with a paper that supports fully open borders, like say, the Guardian or the Independent.

The problem with the emphasis on the Gurkhas is that it means even less attention for those already here that are suffering under the vagaries of our asylum and immigration system. Almost everyone agrees that not allowing those who are awaiting the decision over their status, as well as those who are designated to be "failed" asylum seekers to work is a ridiculous situation which impoverishes all involved while contributing to the "black" economy and so robs the exchequer of tax revenue. Then there's today's little short of horrifying, if not in the least bit surprising report from the children's commissioner regarding the detention of children at Yarl's Wood (PDF). Mark Easton provides a summary:

What sort of country sends a dozen uniformed officers to haul innocent sleeping children out of their beds; gives them just a few minutes to pack what belongings they can grab; pushes them into stinking caged vans; drives them for hours while refusing them the chance to go to the lavatory so that they wet themselves and locks them up sometimes for weeks or months without the prospect of release and without adequate health services?

It highlights how we have completely different attitudes when it comes to outsiders. Even though we have one of the highest child incarceration rates in Europe, we would still regard the locking up of those charged with or convicted of no crime as being abhorrent. Yet this does not stop us from doing it to those whom, in the vast majority of cases, were genuinely fleeing oppression and then find their families experiencing much the same in a so-called civilised country. Undoubtedly, some are out to take advantage of our hospitality, and some are simply economic migrants claiming asylum, but even then their children are not complicit in or responsible for their actions. There has to be an alternative.

To get some sense of perspective, the number of Gurkhas that might take advantage of the full right to settle here is estimated at around 36,000. The Sun uses the word "just" before that number. The number that sought asylum here in 2007, by comparison, was 23,430. You can't imagine for a moment any tabloid newspaper using "just" before reporting that figure. Indeed, the hysteria at the beginning of the decade, when asylum applications hit a high of over 100,000 a year was such that the clampdowns which are now in effect were introduced, with targets for how many "failed" asylum seekers would be deported each year the main innovation. Such targets make no allowance for the personal situations of those who are abitrarily decided to be the next to go, including the likes of Ama Sumani, who was sent back to Ghana regardless of the fact she could not receive treatment for her cancer there. She was dead within two months. The Lancet called it "atrocious barbarism", and it's hard to disagree. Not treating with respect those who fought for this country might be described similarly, but surely we also owe a debt to those who come here seeking sanctuary to at least treat them with more than an ounce of humanity.

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The Gurkhas don't see themselves as British. They are proud of their heritage and would never want that to change. We owe a debt of gratitude to these brave men and their families who have chosen to fight and die for the Crown and are in embedded into British heritage.

Unlike the millions of migrants who move here to 'soft touch Britain' to collect benefits that no other nation offers, these fine people deserve to be given a home here if that is their choice.

It should never be said that Britain will not repay its debt of gratitude and honour.

I agree with the general thrust but I don't think that comparing a backlog total, (36,000 Gurkas), against a yearly total, (the 23,430), is reasonable.

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