Ever since Phil Woolas was appointed Minister of State for Borders and Immigration in early October he has been happy to give many interviews to the press. I can understand that. It must be a great feeling being appointed as junior minister and suddenly realising you don’t have to struggle for media attention anymore. They just listen to you…and print or broadcast whatever you say.
However, with being a minister comes responsibility for what you do and for what you say. And this is where I think Woolas seriously overstepped the line this week.
In an interview published in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday (18th November 2008) he accused asylum-seeker charities of “playing the system”. In the article he is quoted as saying “The system is played by migration lawyers and NGOs ” By way of explanation, Woolas asserted that “By giving false hope and by undermining the legal system, [they] actually cause more harm than they do good.”
I’m baffled. How can he accuse NGOs, which are doing their uttermost with limited resources to guide the few asylum seekers they can reach through a difficult and convoluted system, of doing more harm than good ?
Regular readers of the London Progressive Journal will know that I’m campaigning for my friend Guy Njike not to be deported to Cameroon. He was imprisoned and tortured there for his political activity and will be in danger if he is returned. Guy’s current solicitors are great. They are professional and are experts in their field. I really hope they can help to get Guy the protection he needs. I am concerned that with his comments Woolas is seriously undermining the excellent work of hard-working professionals like them.
I believe it’s time for Phil Woolas to realise he is not running an election campaign here, where such populist attacks might be more common. As Minister of State for Borders and Immigration he should not be dishing out accusations against immigration lawyers and charities. If he is aware of specific cases of malpractice among immigration lawyers and NGOs, then he should investigate these cases. This would be more appropriate than making such serious allegations of a general nature.
Apparently Woolas also told the Guardian that the “primary purpose” of immigration policy was to reassure the public that the government was in control of immigration.
Now I’m really worried: I find it disturbing that the immigration minister sees “reassuring the public” as the most important aspect of his brief. How will the success of his policy be measured? By opinion polls ?
Always the optimist I cling to the idea that Woolas is just trying to become more popular. Surely he can’t mean all the things he said in the interview. Or can he?
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This post was written by Sara Hall