Saturday, 1 June 2002

Blunkett Denies Asylum Seekers The Blanket

STEPPING ON TOES. David Blunkett, the British Home Office Secretary, is no ordinary bureaucrat. In seemingly blatant disregard for convention, he takes his dog with him to his office in Whitehall. He does not hesitate to step on his critics’ toes, and he looks straight through his political opponents without batting an eyelash.

But it is neither of these that make him unique.

Mr. Blunkett has been blind since birth, hence he is allowed to do what other politicians cannot normally get away with. But physical disability aside, he is one tenacious fighter, who minces no words, and respects no custom, when it comes to public policy. His latest controversial involvement came when he unveiled the contents of his new asylum plan for the United Kingdom.

For years now, Britain has been the destination of choice for refugees fleeing from conflicts outside Europe’s nearby frontiers, and beyond. Serbs fearing for their lives against Albanians in Kosovo, Albanians before them fleeing Milosevic’s Serbian paramilitaries’ reign of terror, Kurds trying to avoid persecution in Eastern Turkey and Iraq, Africans fearing for their lives in the chaotic continent’s various civil wars—you name the conflagration, the victims in its aftermath have fled across the seas to the UK’s tolerant shores—tolerant that is, until recently.

The situation could never have been sustainable in the long run. Every night, hundreds of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants slip through the port of Dover, hidden inside container vans, tucked under trains plying the Eurotunnel, or clinging precariously to cargo trucks from the continent.

Many more enter through the various international airports as tourists, never to return whence they came.

REFUGEES. Many come to escape war and injustice in their countries. Their homes have been burned to the ground, their friends and relations killed or scattered across the world. Starting life all over again in their former homes is untenable. For these people, Britain cannot in conscience refuse their entry.

However, countless more—the majority in fact—come across simply in search of better economic opportunities. Where they come from, jobs may not be as plentiful or as monetarily rewarding.

They are economic refugees, fleeing not from the horrors of war, famine and pestilence, but from the fallout of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. They argue that their difficulties are just as great, their suffering comparably as insufferable to those dodging bullets and sidestepping landmines in their bid to escape from home.

David Blunkett does not buy this argument. “We’re not taking people who simply turn up out of countries that are not persecuting them,” is how he rationalized his latest proposal on stemming the tide of immigration to the U.K. To get his point across, his latest policy proposal on asylum and immigration contains new guidelines that many civil libertarians and human rights advocates consider inhumane and unjust.

David Blunkett is unfazed. He continues to stare through his fiercest critics, and if necessary, once again step on their toes if they get in his way. And his dog might just take a snip at them as he walks by.

But he will not be at fault. He is blind, you see.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 01, 2002 (

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