_ Asylum Bill branded


The Govemment’s Asylum Bill has been branded ‘racist’ by refugee and immigrant support groups across the UK, and it is feared that its implementation would force genuine asylum seekers to return to situations of torture and persecution. The Bill, which reached its report stage in the Commons earlier this week, aims to speed up genuine applications while cracking down on bogus cases; opponents, however, argue that measures contained in the Bill will build a bureaucratic wall around EC countries that will effectively keep out victims of oppressive regimes. Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke told parliament that 24,500 new asylum applications had been received in 1992, a decrease on the previous year due to measures introduced to deter multiple applications. Of these, and excluding applications refused because of failure to provide information or attend interviews, only five per cent were granted refugee status and political asylum.

‘The simple fact is that very few

applications we now receive are from refugees as the international community has always defined that term,’ Clarke told MPs. However, given that the term in question was set down in the 1951 United Nations Convention, it could be argued that 40 years of civil wars and political shifts across the globe demand a redefinition. Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair pointed out that some people fleeing from civil war ‘might be in danger but not from individual personal persecution , they are not covered by the UN definition’ which states that only those in personal danger through religious or political beliefs are eligible for refugee status.

Sana Sadollah, co-ordinator of the Scottish Refugee Council, agrees that there are other problems inherent in the accepted approach to dealing with refugees. She points out that the 1951 Convention encourages refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, but quotes the example of Kurds who, if they crossed the border to Iran or Turkey,

would only encounter more


If only five per cent of asylum applications in the UK are accepted, it would have to be assumed that nineteen out of twenty applicants are ‘bogus’, which is clearly not the case. But given that the new Bill also plans to restrict and, in some cases, remove the right of appeal for those refused entry to the UK by an immigration officer, many of those caught in a bureaucratic ‘grey area’ could be made to suffer unnecessarily.

Sana Sadollah is keen to demolish the myth that asylum seekers are ‘gold diggers’ who come to Britain in search of an easy life. She knows of many refugees forced to rely for years on meagre facilities in churches or even to sleep rough on the streets. The Bill calls for everyone granted political asylum - even babies to be fingerprinted, placing them in a category occupied exclusively by criminals, and Sadollah stresses the adverse psychological effect this brings about. Not only that, but the prospect of being locked up in British detention centres while the government goes about its business can be extremely damaging to people who have approached the UK in order to escape prison and

The prospect of being locked up in British detention centres while the government goes

about its business can be extremely damaging to people who have approached the UK in orderto escape prison and interrogation at home.

interrogation at home.

Opponents of the Bill fear that the stance of the UK government - and that of other Western countries - may fuel right-wing sympathies by suggesting links between immigration and the current economic situation. And so, if operated fully, the Bill would undoubtedly reduce the number of those entering Britain by reducing the number of those applying. Sadollah points out one ‘very contradictory’ example: airlines who carry asylum seekers without the necessary documentation will be fined, but anyone genuinely in fear of their life will not be able to wait about for a passport or visa. Refused entry onto a plane, they will not appear in the list of figures of those denied asylum. As Sadollah says, the government is ‘allowing the airlines to do their dirty work for them’. (Alan Morrison)

A march and rally against the Asylum Bill takes place in Edinburgh on Sat 23 Jan, beginning at I I am in Waterloo Place. See Open listings.

_ Pedestrian


Large areas of central Edinburgh could be made more pedestrian friendly if the results of a report commissioned by Lothian Regional Council are put into effect. Based on experience in towns and cities across Europe, the report concludes that, not only would such areas be safer for those on foot, but that the economy of the city would also benefit. For example, in Edinburgh’s twinned city of Munich, successful pedestrian schemes saw a 40 per cent rise in retail turnover. The report assumes that better pedestrian facilities would bring about increased pedestrian usage , with more visits to shops in the streets concerned.

The Council is currently

considering a pilot route that would run from the Meadows to the Mound via George IV Bridge, with plans to widen pavements, provide pedestrian refuges, and narrower paved entrances to side roads to assist crossing. Before any work goes ahead, the Council will consult with local residents, businesses and road user groups.

Increased safety for those on foot is also a prime motivator of the whole process. Between April 1989 and March 1992, there were 816 road accidents involving pedestrians in Central Edinburgh, of which 188 were serious and 11 fatal. Meanwhile, a Department of Transport report published this week revealed that over 400 pedestrians killed in road accidents each year have blood alcohol levels over the legal drink-drive limit. On a UK average, this figure represents about one in four of all pedestrian fatalities, but the DoT report also shows the problem to be more pronounced in Scotland. (AM)

_ Regal closed

The Regal cinema in Bathgate finally closed on Thursday, 7 January because of a ‘dramatic' fall in customers. Staff were informed that their services were no longer required on the Wednesday and the last show of Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast went on screen at 8.15pm the following day.

The cinema was run by an independent company, setup by West Lothian District Council which owns the cinema building and provided a £19,500 grant in the current financial

year. ‘It became apparent that the cinema was trading at a moderate loss,’ according to manager David Boyd, who confirmed that there is a possibility that the cinema might be given a lace-lift and re-opened.

Councillor Peter Johnston, the SNP convener of the council said that it would look at any proposal to re-open the cinema. However, “hard decisions' will have to be made in October when llrban Aid Funding for the resource centre which shares the building will end. The council would not provide any capital for refurbishment, but would be favourable towards subsidising the running of the cinema, he said. (Thom Di n in)

Milk round goes sour

Government ministers may well see the ‘green shoots of recovery’ just around the corner, but for UK graduates the recession is still a gloomy picture. The 1993 ‘milk round’ a series of visits to universities by employers in search of new recruits - has shown a marked slump in the number of companies taking part, with only 500 involved this year, compared to 700 last year and 900 in 1991. And while those that are represented on campus take

on fewer graduates than ever before , the drive to increase student numbers in higher education has seen more and more students graduate only to join their unemployed peers from previous years.

Hardest hit in this year‘s milk round are Aberdeen University (down 50 per cent on 1992) and the newly elevated Napier University (down 44 per cent). Edinburgh sees a decline of 20 per cent, Glasgow 26 per cent. But worse may be to come: already companies who had only made tentative bookings have begun to cancel, with the result that when the milk round begins next month, the choice could be even more limited. (AM)

4Thc List 15— 28January I993