Blogger Chris Paul in the Guardian comments. The emboldening is mine :
On Friday I was at a kind of Big Conversation event on Britain in the World at Manchester Town Hall. Hilary Benn and Hazel Blears were the MP guests and in BC style they worked the room with 15 minutes at each table.
Both seem to struggle with immigration and asylum. They appear to have a well founded fear of electoral persecution on this matter - if the UK is perceived to have open borders.
Young Benn responded to a question of mine about the extra hurdle for women asylum seekers of the sexism and the standard incredulity about rape and threat which tends to be dismissed out of hand and in some cases dubbed "domestic". We know in the UK how hard it is to get a conviction on rape 1-in-20 of cases that go to court, 1-in-50 of police reported.
How much harder if the rapists are 4000 miles away in Lagos.
In response to my tales of a woman in a wheelchair who had been repeatedly raped in Nigeria and a woman under serious threat of harm in North West Frontier Province Hilary swerved and gave an example from his Leeds casework of a woman who was experiencing domestic violence in Jamaica.
He said this wasn't an asylum case. That's as may be. Mine were.
Provided with my idea that it would be easier to win hearts and minds on a more progressive line on immigration if absolute AND relative poverty were tackled properly Hazel still recounted a rendezvous with twenty decent people relaxing in their gardens in her constituency whose number one concern was and is immigration.
She feels Labour cannot win unless we are tough on immigration.
I support the Strangers into Citizens idea of an amnesty with a two-year trial. I support a general idea of converting asylum seekers into work visa cases - without an out of country application. And I can tell you from looking close up that the mistakes made by government agencies on work cases are legion.
The complexity of the system for visits, holidays and working is way OTT.
So finally my questions:
We need to be able to sell what we believe in. How do we sell this amnesty and the real benefits of immigration ? A cross-party consensus could help but could drive racist votes.
Who is the leadership candidate to sell this, and how ?
The problem that Chris doesn't seem to acknowledge is that
a) the capacity of the UK is not infinite - either physically or culturally. There is - how can I put this kindly ? a risk that importing too many people too quickly, without allowing time for previous arrivals to integrate and take on the key British cultural norms (as defined by Gordon Brown - tolerance, inclusiveness, apologising when someone treads on your toes), may result in a society where those values - which surely underpin what succour we have given to refugees - are no longer valued.
b) the number of deserving cases is, if not infinite, extremely high.
Take the woman under 'serious threat of harm' in the NWFP. From a UK perspective pretty much EVERY woman in NWFP is under serious threat of harm. It's a place pretty short on radical feminists - a place where even suspicion of female 'dishonour' can be a death sentence. There are around 24 million people in NWFP, half of whom are women.
Or the poor woman from Nigeria, who has certainly done well to get to the UK despite her disability. Would anyone imagine she is the only one in danger in her home country ? According to the WOMEN, LAW and DEVELOPMENT in AFRICA site :
The Nigerian woman suffers violations of her rights from conception till she dies without redress by the society. At birth the male child is preferred to the female, as she grows the female child suffers various forms of violence such as genital mutilation or female circumcision, In the home she is denied education in preference to her male counterpart and subjected to heavy burden of household chores. As a child the female may be given out to marriage in some cultures and or become victim of trafficking.
During marriage the woman suffers inferior status in the home, she is not part of decision-making, denied inheritance rights as a child or wife and is a victim of domestic violence and marital rape. In the society the woman is a victim of various forms of sexual assaults without redress, denied access to credit and suffers poverty more than her male counterpart despite her enormous contribution to the Nigerian economy especially in the informal sector.
There are around 70 million women in Nigeria.
I could go on. In the cycle of atrocity and counter-atrocity in Rwanda over the last 30 years, probably the entire population, some eight million, would have had a reasonable case for asylum at one time or other. The same could be said for 50 million Congolese. Every homosexual in Iran and Pakistan has a case, every adulterer in Saudi Arabia, every democrat in China. Most of the non-Arab population of Sudan.
The asylum laws were passed in a different, non-globalised era, when international travel was still expensive and the main expected source of refugees was the Iron Curtain nations.