Basic protection to people targeted for torture and persecution, does not go far enough.

Dear Letters Editor,

That three main organisations supposed to protect the human rights of asylum seekers broadly welcome Blair's views (7 May 01) on asylum is frightening and potentially life threatening.

The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees gives basic protection to people targeted for torture and persecution, but it does not go far enough. For example, it doesn't recognise the persecution specific to women. Instead of introducing statutory recognition of rape as persecution and therefore grounds for asylum, Jack Straw has criticised court rulings which interpret the Convention to give women more protection, including from domestic violence. About half the women claiming asylum are fleeing rape and other violence, usually by military or police as punishment for opposing dictatorships. From the time they arrive, rape victims routinely face racism and xenophobia, compounding the sexism with which all rape victims are familiar. Under the Immigration and Asylum Act, thousands are driven into destitution and isolation through the voucher and dispersal policies. Women caring for families are often reduced to begging or prostitution.

Given government introduction of the most repressive and draconian immigration legislation ever, no human rights organisation would claim that Blair's election "reforms" are likely to offer more rather than' less protection - unless it were no longer independent. The Refugee Council has accepted Home Office funding to implement parts of the I&A Act. Is the same true of Amnesty International and the Refugee Legal Centre? How better to mute opposition than for those purporting to act for refugees to act for the government instead. With friends like these, who needs tabloids, witch-hunts and other racist attacks!

Cristel Amiss, Black Women's Rape Action Project,
Anne Neale, Asylum from Rape initiative, (Women Against Rape)
Niki Adams, Legal Action for Women