29 JANUARY 2005, Page 12

Dare to deport

Rod Liddle on the case for requiring refugees to leave Britain once the threat they faced at home has been removed Imet a Kurdish chap the other day, a man called Abbas who arrived here three years ago as an asylum-seeker from dusty Kirkuk, in Iraq. He was an affable man with a big moustache and an air of self-importance and self-satisfaction peculiar to that now familiar archetype, the local community leader. If I had a revolver I would reach for it each time I heard the sobriquet ‘community leader’. Can you imagine how we would react to a white Englishman who called himself a community leader? But I digress.

Abbas was a sort of community leader. I don’t suppose anybody had elected him but he was nonetheless treated with great deference by his fellow Kurds, all of whom were more than happy for him to speak on their behalf. No sooner had I finished interviewing Abbas, for a Channel 4 documentary about immigration, than a Derby Evening Telegraph reporter turned up to ask him who would win the Iraqi elections. It’s quite possible that he spends his entire life these days fielding media inquiries rather than engaging in his particular expertise, mechanical engineering. Maybe he has at last found his true calling, because Abbas was a master of dissembling, a paragon of obfuscation, a purveyor, in fact, of bare-faced lies. All of which were delivered with a slightly scary smile and the inevitable muttered suffix: ‘... my frent.’ The stuff he said which interested me most was about when he expects to return to his home in Kirkuk. In short, he doesn’t expect to return to Kirkuk ever. Nor do his compatriots. It won’t matter if Iraq is eventually ruled by the Kurdish equivalent of Roy Jenkins — Abbas is staying put in Derby, as is his inalienable human right. They are all staying put. They like Derby, even if Derby is at best equivocal about them.

‘I am lucky,’ he said, with a warning smile. ‘I have two countries now. Kurdistan and Great Britain. I am very happy to be in Britain. The British are our frents. Perhaps I will never go back to Kurdistan. Who knows, my frent?’ And there’s nothing we can do to make him go back, either. It doesn’t matter that we spent billions of pounds — and a good few lives — helping rid Iraq of his persecutors and antagonists, nor that we have endeavoured, against the odds, to impose a form of democracy upon his country. Now he’s here, he’s staying here — and the law is on his side. He’s a one-time genuine asylum-seeker who has, through some strange process, morphed into an economic migrant. As have the rest of the Kurds.

And, for that matter, the Bosnian Muslims, despite the fact that Milosevic’s airforce has long since ceased to strafe their villages. Nobody will tell me how many of the Bosnian Muslims who came here ten years ago have returned home. In most cases, they are not legally obliged to return home. They can do what the hell they want.

This is just one of the problems associated with asylum-seekers which goes way beyond the parameters of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. Michael Howard is right that we should absolve ourselves of the convention’s strictures, which are wildly out of date. But what we should do instead is another matter entirely.

Because of all the millions of immigrants to whom we will play host in the next ten or 20 years, the asylum-seekers will be the most difficult for us to absorb and integrate, almost by definition, whether there are 15,000 per year or 150,000. It is not the economic migrants from Romania and Poland and Bulgaria and Slovakia who will test our liberal patience; these people will, instead — to put it rather coarsely — simply clean our floors and serve us our drinks very cheaply. They have an evangelistic fervour for capitalism and the consumer society, these people; there is no need to worry about inadequate cultural assimilation.

No, the problem will come from the peo ple who have fled Algeria, for example, because they were members or supporters of the fundamentalist Islamic party which has been routinely persecuted by the Algerian government. It is the Afghans who fled the Taleban, the Iraqis who fled Saddam and so on. In other words, our asylum-seekers are predominantly Muslims fleeing the loathsome regimes of other Muslims — but who nevertheless may have hankerings to impose even more loathsome regimes in their place. The Western world is now full of people who have been forced to escape from the depredations of evil Islamic governments, but who may not be the sort of people, in the end, whom we might call classical liberals. It was the recent Algerian emigrés who effectively installed Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, the hook-handed cleric, as imam of the Finsbury Park mosque. They may hate the Algerian government, but they hate ours even more — despite the fact that we do not expend our energy trying to kill them, but instead give them housing and child benefit and grants for a nice community centre.

What Mr Howard must do next is utter the dreaded ‘d’ word. We may well have a moral duty to open our doors to people who are fleeing vicious regimes, and that duty may extend to numbers well in excess of 15,000 per year on certain occasions. However, we might expect the asylumseekers to have a moral duty to go home once that vicious regime is removed from office. And if they don’t consider that they have that moral duty, we should perhaps make it a legal duty. Nobody likes to talk about deportation; it has the whiff of the BNP and Enoch Powell about it. Yet it is a more moral option than restricting the numbers of those who wish to come here but letting them remain in perpetuity.

And then there are the failed asylumseekers. No fewer than a third of a million people have been refused asylum in Great Britain since 1997, but only about 20 per cent of these people have returned to their countries of origin. I am not sure why there is such a lengthy judicial process to deport these failed claimants or why we are so reluctant to grasp the nettle and simply send them to Heathrow. We would ease the burden on ourselves if we simply scrapped the appeals procedure. The problem, I suspect, is that there is a lucrative industry dependent upon the appeals procedure.

Meanwhile the Kurds in Derby are trying very hard to get on with the indigenous population, having at first made themselves very unwelcome. The indigenous population in this particular case is Pakistani Muslim. The Kurds reportedly ‘harassed’ their women, drove unlicensed cars dangerously and were wont to bellow such things as ‘Paki scum’ at the locals. There were a few fights here and there. It’s not just the white middle class which feels its tolerance stretched, is it?