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May 2006 Journal

Letters to the Editor

Are there too many immigrants?

Sir - Peter Prager's carefully reasoned article (February issue) does seem to have stirred up a hornets' nest. The fundamental point overlooked by all three of your correspondents, who all criticise Mr Prager, is that there is a fundamental distinction between asylum-seekers and immigrants.

We can have a long and interesting discussion on who should be allowed to emigrate, and on what conditions they should be allowed to settle. Certain categories are, in the government's eyes, unproblematic: 'persons of independent means', entrepreneurs, or close family reunions. The disputable categories are unskilled labour and the semi-skilled in very low-pay industries (e.g. hospitality or nursing) or scarce-skill workers. The variables are the benefit of their labour to the economy, as against the infra-structural costs they impose, their impact on wage movements, etc. Then there are ethical and moral issues: ability to adapt, whether they help to improve our birth-rate, their religious and cultural practices. These are some of the key issues which determine a more or less liberal immigration policy.

Asylum is quite different. A person is entitled in national and international law to refugee status if s/he is outside his/her country of nationality because of 'a well-founded fear of ... (persecution) ... (because) ... or race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'. It is worthy of the utmost condemnation that our government is leading Europe towards the toughest possible stance to prevent possible asylum-seekers from reaching these shores.
One cannot apply for asylum at an embassy or consulate! Hence the need for people traffickers, phoney visa applications and forged documents.

We, in the light of our experience, and with knowledge of those who did not obtain a visa, should be in the forefront of those fighting for an enlightened and liberal asylum policy. Scared - as ever - of the red-top press, this government and its immediate predecessor have behaved worse than appallingly - not only in keeping asylum-seekers out, but in their treatment of them whilst they are asylum-seekers.

Just for the sake of historical accuracy, your correspondent Mrs A. Saville was perhaps lucky enough not to qualify. When I neared conscription age, a charming lady came to visit me from the Home Office to explain the merits of naturalisation under the ORM (orphan, refugee, minors) scheme. I jumped at it. She filled in all the forms for me. There was no fee, no police interview, no English-language test, and, subject to taking the Oath of Allegiance, I was a Brit a few weeks later.
Francis Deutsch, Saffron Walden

Sir - I would like to suggest a more practical response to Peter Prager's article. My Jewish community in Oxford has made a link with Asylum Welcome, an organisation that supports refugees and asylum-seekers. Our first task was to gather information. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What difficulties did they face and what were their needs? The reasons for our interest were twofold. First, as Jews, we are told no less than 36 times in the Bible: do not oppress the stranger. Remember what it was like to be strangers in Egypt. Second, many of us are children or grandchildren of refugees.

We found that, on the whole, adult refugees and families are now not admitted to Oxfordshire, but unaccompanied children are. Some of them are in school and some of them work, for very low wages. The Asylum Welcome Youth worker came to speak to the children in our Hebrew classes and generated feelings of concern. Although the young asylum-seekers receive support now, it is almost certain that when they are 18 they will be deported. Some have lost most of their families.
We have raised funds to help them go on holiday with their youth workers.

Every Sunday, a different class in our Hebrew classes brings in food donations, which are distributed to destitute refugees by Asylum Welcome. I believe both sides have benefited from the relationship. I am the synagogue's representative on an interfaith committee which supports Asylum Welcome. It seems to me that our own history should generate compassion in us for refugees. However, we should not expect them to be like us, but be willing to learn about their unique stories. We are likely to find people with whom we can empathise - not the stereotypes encountered in theoretical immigration debates.
Adele Moss, Oxford

Back to Vienna

Sir - What an odd letter from Thea Valman in your April issue in which she criticises my family for visiting Vienna on several occasions after the war. (I mentioned this in my Point of View article 'Love-Hate Relationship with Vienna'.) After the ignominy suffered by her father and grandfather in Vienna, she asks 'Why should they' have contemplated revisiting the city? Why indeed? Surely we must all be allowed to make our own choice. If her family did not want ever to see Vienna again, fair enough. Mine did, and that is fair enough too. Allow us, Ms Valman, to make our own decisions. Uncalled-for comments from people with a different point of view are neither helpful nor productive. Indeed, I found her criticism most hurtful and upsetting.
Peter Phillips, Loudwater, Herts

'An Eye for an Eye'

Sir - In his interesting review of the film Munich (April issue), Peter Prager quotes 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' yet again. Can we clear up this matter of the eye and the tooth once and for all? Surely this, in its time, was a major advance in justice. Previously, it was a life for an eye, was it not? Why should the Jews be looked upon as cruel since Jesus turned his other cheek?
Joachim Maier, Wembley, Middlesex

'So-called Letter from Israel'

Sir - I have often wanted to write and protest about your so-called Letter from Israel. Take, for example, the April issue. Surely there are far more important things to write or worry about than having to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in order to renew a passport - telling us, in minute detail, about the photographer who took the required passport photo. Such things as why many families uprooted from Gaza are still living a sad life in hotels, their belongings and furniture rotting away in removal vans, because they are virtually homeless and jobless. Or that, just a few days ago, a kind couple with two youngsters in their car gave a lift to a man dressed as a Hasid who blew them up in their car. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Are we not allowed to know about things like this? And what about compensation and the right to return of 85,000 Jews from Arab lands, driven from their homes and businesses, who have become refugees? Let's have a bit of fair reporting!
Bertha Leverton, London

'Other Side' of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Sir - Inge Trott (April issue, letters) suggests we look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Palestinian side. Well, here it is:
(1) If the Palestinians/Arabs had accepted the UN resolution and not waged war in 1948 there would have been an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state in peace.
(2) If they hadn't forced Israel to defend herself in 1967 or had not attacked on Yom Kippur in 1973 - the holiest day for Jews - there would not have been so-called 'occupied territory'.
(3) If they had gone down the road of Camp David or accepted Barak's generous offer giving them almost everything - even part of Jerusalem as their capital - they would have been nearer their goal.
(4) What if all the aid they have been given had been used for the benefit of the people?
(5) What if Arafat had said yes instead of a constant no?

Inge Trott should not adopt the view of journalists seeking headlines but also look at the cause of the present situation, which could have been minimised.
Gisela Feldman, Manchester

Sir - I think most readers would agree that the time has now come for Inge Trott to pack her bags and go to live among her friends in Gaza, who show their intention to live in a Palestinian state peacefully, side-by-side with Israel by directing lethal rockets at Israeli citizens - in response to which Ms Trott expects them to turn the other cheek.
H. Schragenheim, London

Glenn Miller mystery

Sir - I read Ronald Channing's account of Glenn Miller's death (April issue). As a member of HM forces at the time, I attended a performance of the American Band of the AEF at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. Glenn Miller was no longer alive but the performance of his orchestra was remarkable and will long remain in my memory. Neither Miller's body nor the wreckage of his plane was ever found. There is no indication whatever that he was killed by British bombs jettisoned by Lancasters returning from an abortive raid in Germany. Miller made a huge contribution to Allied morale and gave pleasure to millions.
Jack Lee, London

It is an amazing coincidence that Jack Lee was at the Miller band's emotional Paris performance. Research by aviation historian Roy Nesbit for Channel 4's 2001 New Year's Eve programme established that Lancaster bombers, returning from an aborted mission to Germany, dumped their bombs in a demarcated jettison zone over the English Channel and onto Miller's plane, which had to be two miles off course. A navigator on one of the Lancasters, Fred Shaw, witnessed the rare, Canadian-built Noorduyn Norseman monoplane go down but did not connect it to Miller at the time.
Ronald Channing

Home from home

Sir - We read with great interest Ronald Channing's article on the history of the Paul Balint Day Centre in the February issue. We certainly found out a lot about the beginnings of this excellent home from home. We are not very frequent visitors but, whenever we attend, we appreciate the fine home cooking and the programme.

However, there is one point we'd like to make. In the abovementioned article there is just one sentence given to the recently retired Sylvia Matus. She not only served for many years, she lived with the Centre and she loved it. She also organised various outings such as to the Jewish Museum, the London Eye and a lot more. Sylvia always accompanied us with Carol and Annie to Bournemouth and Eastbourne, worried about us, was happy with us; she was our personal friend.

We all know Susie Kaufman from her excellent work in her previous job in the Day Centre and we wish her all the best in her present position as the Centre's Organiser.
Hana Nermut, London and Anna Schlesinger, London

The Emperor's new clothes

Sir - I just have to tell you how much I agreed with your review of the film Caché (Hidden) in the March issue. I am a great fan of French films and, after reading glowing notices, I entered the cinema with great expectations. However, for all the movie's qualities - superb acting and photography - I felt not only frustrated but positively cheated by the time I left. But I suppose this is one of the cult films that it is de rigueur to admire - like the emperor's new clothes.
Edith Argy, London