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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 14:07 GMT
Is the UK a 'soft touch'?

It has been suggested that the hijacking of the Afghan airline was a big scam to get asylum in the UK.

Did the hijackers choose London because we have the reputation of being "soft" on asylum seekers?

Should the passengers be swiftly removed from the UK, as Home Secretary Jack Straw has asked?

Should they really be sent back to Afghanistan, where some may even face death sentences under the repressive Taleban regime?


Click here to read the response to our earlier Talking Point "Should the hijackers be given asylum?"

We should accept genuine asylum seekers and ensure that effective measures are put in place to judge each case on its merits, without letting rags like THE SUN sway us into a frenzy with their racist rubbish!
Clare, UK
Looking at all the comments makes you believe that English people are insane racists. (Which they are not!) I think that the hijacking is just one case too many for a nation that pays high prices for everything from petrol to music and has a National Health Service that allows old people to die in hallways of hospitals. The current feeling in Britain is that we can barely support our own let alone support asylum seekers. We should accept genuine asylum seekers and ensure that effective measures are put in place to judge each case on its merits, without letting rags like THE SUN sway us into a frenzy with their racist rubbish!
Clare, UK

Personally as one of a growing number of Euro-commuters, I see the state of Europe with regards to refugees and I see that Britain is not the only one with problems. But so is Germany, Belgium France, Netherlands and Ireland has a growing problem. But these refugees are just taking advantage of our antiquated social systems in which they can take all and give nothing back.
Mark, Germany/UK

Lets face facts. We allow just about anybody in who turns up claiming political asylum. Even in cases of doubt many receive exceptional leave to remain. Once in we give them a place to live and money to live on. Our legal system is such that it is virtually impossible to deport anybody once they are here. Soft touch - afraid so.
Andy, UK

The fact that asylum is even considered is ludicrous.
Neil Goodson, USA
The fact that asylum is even considered is ludicrous. These people are terrorists. This is pathetic that these types of negotiations are even made.
Neil Goodson, USA

The UK should not be allowed to become a place where people who don't like their own countries can come and live a life of luxury. At the end of the day, I'm sure that we all want to see our taxes increase so that we can afford to keep allowing immigrants in to this country. I can't see the money to keep them coming from anywhere else.
C Powell, UK

People are rightly concerned about the British Tax Payer having to foot the bill for asylum seekers. I wonder if these same people complained when British taxpayers were paroling the destruction of Afghanistan, along with the Americans, in the name of liberal democracy!
Maurice, UK

Lets thank god that we (British) do not need to gain asylum (for economic &/or other reasons) in other countries.
Mujnoo, UK

The world has turned their backs on Afghan women, who are in a horrible condition.
Marina, Ukraine
The world has turned their backs on Afghan women, who are in a horrible condition. They are treated much worse than those abused animals towards which British have such a soft touch. They are tortured by their husbands, fathers and brothers as well as by the oppressive government. They can't get medical help, education, can't leave their homes without wearing all enveloping hideous sacks, have no basic rights any human being should be entitled to. More women in Afghanistan than anywhere in the world die while giving birth. They are treated as slaves in their own country. How could you send them back when they ask for help so desperately!
Marina, Ukraine

The UK certainly is a 'soft touch' when it comes to political asylum! Perhaps if we paid more attention to what Enoch Powell said all those years ago, then Britain wouldn't be in the state it is now!
Ben, UK

All the hue and cry about compassion is OK but all nations must act in their own self-interest. What value do these fundamentalists add to the UK?
Rama, US
All the hue and cry about compassion is OK but all nations must act in their own self-interest. What value do these fundamentalists add to the UK? Is it more likely that they will be at the cutting edge of societal evolution or that they will be punishing others who do not conform to their medieval practices/beliefs? It is by giving shelter to such people that "soft" countries like UK and Canada have become safe havens for international terrorists. That will be their final undoing. But till then they will welcome anyone who happens to knock on the door.
Rama, US

It is amazing to me how people like Greg from Poland suddenly become an authority on what Australia, Canada, and the U.S. should be doing for refugees. The U.K., as well as the above named countries should take care of their own, and afterwards an attempt to resolve the problems of others might come into play.
Vic, USA

Well at least the Brits can console themselves that they have the say in the matter, most of us did not when the British came, and they lived like kings while the refugees if by a miracle are allowed to stay will be at the bottom of society, dumped somewhere in England.
Beatus, Nigeria

The diverse spread of nationalities and cultures that we have in Britain and have had for the previous years is a tremendous attribute we have as a nation. But we are physically a small country. There is little space for people to come immigrate for social or political reasons. I believe that the Afghanistan's do have a right to be here under the conditions that they face; i.e. that their life is in danger in staying in Afghanistan. I believe that people who come to this country, hijacking a plane or not, do not have a social or reasonable right to demand stay here if the country they originate from has a poor economy.
Alex Nicholson, England

This country is anything but a soft touch for those fleeing war, torture, persecution and the like.
James Mackenzie, Scotland
This country is anything but a soft touch for those fleeing war, torture, persecution and the like. Imagine having made the painful decision to uproot yourself, and often that of your family as well, only to make it here (if you can, given the visa restrictions the Home Office puts on those coming from some of the most brutal regimes) and find yourself detained for no reason, or supported on vouchers that identify you as that modern demon in our midst - the asylum seeker. Face up to the barrage of racism and madness in most of the papers, and wonder why asking for sanctuary should have made you a figure of hate. A little tolerance, please, people!
James Mackenzie, Scotland

The issue is not black or white - some asylum seekers are genuine and others are economic migrants. No generalisations will help us here. We only have a crisis because of the backlog in processing the claims. And a vicious circle is created when an 18-month delay attracts more 'bogus' claimants. Solve the backlog now what whatever necessary resources - don't heap further victimisation on those people who are fleeing persecution.
Robert S, UK

I really don't think Britain has 'soft touch' with regards to immigrants. I used to fly in British Airways from USA to India and I experienced the unfriendly behaviour from immigration officials in Heathrow airport. UK might have laws that give an impression that it is soft towards immigration but citizens of UK are un-welcoming and at least accommodating. Stop complaining about being soft towards immigration. I wonder if these Afghans knew about Britain. Has they knew, they might have chosen different country and saved themselves the misery of being looked down upon.
Rajesh Kaveti, USA

These Afghans lives are not at risk at all. The first 73 returned home quite safely. The remaining 70 odd will receive the same treatment. Go on Mr Straw, hurry up and return them to their homeland. Don't fall for emotional blackmail.
Bob, England

The world has largely turned its back on Afghanistan, despairing of finding effective way to help. Whether UK a "Soft touch" or not, the message those "highjackers" brought to UK,(the epicenter of a "Dramatic Act") is loud and clear:"Afghanistan matters."
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

Most of the refugess or illegal immigrants who come into the country also milk our benefits system and seem uninterested with integrating into our society.
Leigh Balmforth, England
I do feel for people who must find it necessary to flee their own countries for whatever reason. However, these people place a huge burden on the already stretched financial resources of our country (however calous that might sound). We have enough problems of our own that require addressing and more importantly the finances to address them. Most of the refugess or illegal immigrants who come into the country also milk our benefits system and seem uninterested with integrating into our society. It is time that the government takes a hard line.
Leigh Balmforth, England

The worlds most brutal terrorists the LTTE of Sri Lanka are given asylum in Britain and permitted to have international office and collect funds for terrorism. If that is the case why not give asylum to these afghans?
Parakrama S.Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka

This isn't an issue about ex-colonial powers paying back debts etc..! What we have is a UN charter which was established after WWII to protect refugees. Unfortunately in modern times it is completely inappropriate. People, rather than going through normal immigration procedures just turn up at EU ports and mention the word "Asylum" and hey presto, free housing, healthcare, education etc.. at the taxpayers expense. Here in Ireland we have thousands of "refugees" predominantly from Poland and Nigeria. Poland is joining the EU, and thousands flock to Ireland claming to be oppressed. Utter rubbish. They arrive suffering amnesia as to how they journey here with no official documentation etc.
Stephen , Dublin, Ireland

What a bunch of racists so many of my fellow Britons are! I'm ashamed to read the sort of selfish prejudice that they peddle.
Simon Dresner, UK
What a bunch of racists so many of my fellow Britons are! I'm ashamed to read the sort of selfish prejudice that they peddle. Briton is not a "soft touch": we jail people for no other crime than applying for asylum here, deny them benefits and then reject their claims. When Abacha was in power in Nigeria, thousands fled his dictatorship, but only a handful were found "genuine". I wonder what your correspondents would feel if they lived in a country where they were forbidden to work, go out of doors or receive medical care? Would they want to escape. I have a modest proposal: why not let the innocent hostages stay, but send Ann Widdicombe and her supporters to Afghanistan?
Simon Dresner, UK

We are all born behind a 'veil of ignorance' - ignorance of our talents, race or the political system we must live under. Those in more well-off countries have a moral duty to share the welfare and wealth they have been lucky enough to have been born into. Many studies conducted show how refugee influxes actually help most countries' economies, even flows on a large scale. Germany in the post-war era has accepted 1 million refugees, increasing its GDP by 3.8.
Tom Dyson, Britain

I think they should be sent back, England is far too soft and its not a Hotel for people from war torn countries. The UK needs to clamp down the tax payer is already over charged for people who want to cheat the over generous welfare state Britain has created
James Thirsk, Switzerland

From Jack Straw's comment regarding the hijack, it appears that if a Jew escaped from Auschwitz to the UK, and terrorised a Gestapo man (or worse, hijacked Luftwaffe plane somehow) during his escape, he should have been prosecuted for terrorism, hijacking of the plane, and surely countless other offences that the legal mind of Mr Straw would identify. Afgans deserve political asylum. No question about it. But there should be an international system that deals with the dispersal of refugees amongst free countries. Australia, Canada, US and others have plenty of space.
Greg, Poland

I think Britain is a "soft touch" and should be proud to be compassionate (unlike Haidar and his mob in Austria).
V Narayan, UK/Sweden
I think Britain is a "soft touch" and should be proud to be compassionate (unlike Haidar and his mob in Austria). However, one has to be practical, you cannot allow everyone in. Why are there so many refugees in the world ? Most refugees try to escape civil war. The weapons are mainly supplied by the USA, UK, Russia, so the way to reduce the number of refugees is to reduce or stop selling weapons. I cite Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia. Fare trade with the third world would also reduce the number of refugees.
V Narayan, UK/Sweden

Britain is a racist country just like Haider's Austria. this is obvious from the treatment and comments these helpless refugees from Afghanistan have received from Britain. British people can all over the world kill the locals and take over their countries (Australia, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada) but they do not want any refugees thus violating the UN charter of 1951. Britain should be expelled from the Security Council and from the UN.
Dipak Basu, Japan

This debate is a hideous exercise in frivolity. Those people are desperate for their lives and the seeds of their desperation is sowed - if not in full than at least in a considerable part - by the entire world.
Ali Ghafoori, Afghanistan

As a woman, I too would probably do anything to get out of Afghanistan
Val, Canada
The UK is not a soft touch for immigrants, but like most western countries it is a desirable destination for those seeking to flee from persecution. As a civilised nation we should be welcoming these people and helping them to start a new life free from intimidation and fear that they would have back home. Instead we often treat them like criminals. In the particular case under discussion, I see it a sign of the desperation of these people that they had to resort to hijacking a plane to escape the country. If we send them back they will be executed, make to bones about it, and the UK will have their blood on its hands.
James Sinden, New Zealand

I think Britain's well known for being a soft touch. As a tiny island nation with a large population, it can ill-afford to be so foolish. Britain is running out of space, and its indigenous culture is rapidly disappearing.
Ray Marsh, Australia

As long as we have a free national health service, and a soft social services, people will come to this country by hook or by crook. We have to get tough.
Brian, England

Perhaps people might prefer if we behaved more like the USA does with regard to Mexicans - give them a rub down with a dry cloth and send them back over the Rio Grande (despite the fact they actually have more claim to the place!). One of the pleasant things about living in a liberal democracy is that regardless of circumstance everybody is entitled to a fair hearing. If people are found to have a case they stay, otherwise they don't. I find it hard to believe that hi-jacking can strengthen anybody's appeal
Craig Harry, England

Those who are carrying on about why these people ought to be allowed to stay in the UK should ask themselves if they'd each be willing to take in, house, feed and support one of the refugees themselves. If the answer is yes, the problem of caring for them while their asylum applications are processed has been solved, and those who are genuine refugees can ultimately be sent to a safe country less distant (culturally and geographically) from their own. If, as I suspect, the aswer is no, the people expressing such sentiments are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites.
Ian, USA

The whole immigration thing is a farce. My wife sat around doing nothing with her life whilst we waited for her 12 month settlement VISA to appear. during which time we could not claim any state help. This all seems quite a waste when she could've jumped on a hijacked plane and walked straight in to the country! It winds me up when genuine case are penalised, and those who ignore the law and just walk in get all the benefits. I think the entire immigration system needs reviewing and reorganising. Thought needs to be given more to genuine cases rather than those that are simply a scam.
Rob D, UK

In Canada we have received a rash of boat-refugees from China over the past few months and so we too have been considered a "soft-touch". For a while I was very upset at the issue. I thought, why does Canada have to foot the bill? When this incident occurred, I realised my own bigotry and selfishness. As a woman, I too would probably do anything to get out of Afghanistan. I would hope people would have compassion on me and the situation I find myself in. So, even if the UK is considered a soft-touch, I think, in the end it is better to be compassionate than selfish - who knows what the future may hold
Val, Canada

If these people are granted asylum in the UK, other people will find a way of doing this hijacking, as it looks like it was not mere hijacking but it was a cover up way to reach the UK. Once these people are granted asylum lots of people from other countries will find a way to hijack a plane and land in UK and gain lawful residency.
G Bhatia, Australia

Allowing these Afghan people to stay, because they have entered the UK as a result of a criminal act, would be an insult to all the hard working immigrants who have legally entered the UK and who have earned the right to be here. We should send all the people concerned in a hijack, hostages and hijackers, immediately back their country and hold their government responsible for paying the costs incurred. I'm sure that this action would encourage governments all over the world to make security a higher priority!
Tony, UK

Why do we applaud the escape of two pigs, whilst condemning fellow human beings for escaping from oppressive regimes?
Jan, UK
There are two separate issues here. One is hijacking, which they should rightly be imprisoned for, and the other is asking for asylum. The hijackers should quite rightly be imprisoned for that, but the others who were on the plane as hostages, why should they be treated any differently from other asylum seekers in this country? (Which by the way isn't very well!). Why do we, as a nation, applaud the escape from the abattoir of two pigs, whilst condemning fellow human beings for escaping from oppressive regimes?
Jan, UK

Let them stay! This ordeal and the wretched xenophobic reaction by the tabloids and Straw are reminiscent of the return of East European Jews during WWII by the UK and the US, who were returned to be butchered by the Nazis. Afghanistan has turned into a form of hell after 20 years of Soviet plunder and Taleban murder. If hijacking a plane is one way of getting out, so be it. What would Britain do if a socialist black party took over Pretoria and 150 White South Africans hijacked a 747 to get out? Send them back? I think not. The Tories would be the first at Heathrow with a welcome mat.
Jay Sitlani, USA

I don't understand why there is so much fuss made about a few refugees.They are human beings and let them stay in UK. I bet the British politicians and Monarchy are wasting more money of your taxpayers than these refugees. I do not think there would be so much publications if these refugees were WHITE.
Madhu, Canada

If someone makes an application for political asylum then the UK has an obligation to consider it
Tom, UK
If someone makes an application for political asylum then the UK has an obligation to consider it, whether they arrive in a hijacked aircraft or just walk up to a customs post. The fact that they arrived in a hijacked aircraft is irrelevant, the terrorists who hijacked the aircraft must be dealt with according to the law and so must the asylum seekers. We don't want a reputation as a soft touch, but we don't want one as a state which condones the abuse of human rights either. A reputation for competence and integrity would be much better.
Tom, UK

UK soft to asylum seekers!! That's a joke. You people are always good at patting your own back.. In the name of the British Empire you plundered so many nations all over the world. Every poor nation of today is an outcome of your "generous Empire". You have an obligation to give asylum to these people of the cheated world. BTV, India
Balaji T V, India (The most plundered of all nations. An irony of your "genorous Empire".)

The British soft? I don't think so! Reading this forum just confirms the fact that you people are rude and cold. Where is your compassion? I don't know what the asylum seekers where thinking when they headed for Britain. Britain stole from the world for years (remember colonialism?), and now you people have the audacity to complain? Visiting this forum just makes me grateful my family decided to come to the United States, the land of immigrants!
Mahmood, Afghan-American (USA)

I have no comment on whether or not these particular asylum-seekers ought to be allowed to remain in the UK--that's for your country to decide. But I must say that I've never heard the UK referred to as a soft touch when it comes to asylum. A soft touch when it comes to cute and furry animals, perhaps, but not when it comes to asylum.
Rath Andor, USA

Yes our country has the same problem. Thousands of Bolivians and Peruvians just drift over the border and claim residence here. We have the brunt of everything. England has enough problems without these undereducated Muslims. Put them on the plane and say bye bye. LIKE ITALY DOES: good for Italy.
D Cooke, Chile

Charity may begin at home but it doesn't end there. We should be flattered that people still consider us a civilised enough place to come. We may be dealing with 'record' numbers of asylum seekers but that's only because we have let in fewer than other countries in the past. Frankly conditions for all women in Afghanistan are so appalling, I for one consider that any claim for asylum from these women is valid. The ringleaders should be tried and, if guilty, deported however, they committed a crime and they must have been expecting this.
Steven Rhodes, UK

After 10 years in this country, working with a work permit, paying honest taxes without any state benefits, and applying through the legal channel for my permanent residency, I have found a new way of gaining entry to the country: I can just hijack a plane! Isn't this an irony?
Vivian, UK

What is the law? If people have arrived in this country do we have an obligation to hear their case? If yes then hear the case and act accordingly - that is the law. If no then send them back - that is the law. The law is there for just such cases, if you don't like it then take action to change it and as long as 51% of the population agree with your views... need I say more?
Frank Bridge, UK

A soft touch, that's a scream, the UK is almost bottom of the European league for accepting refugees. The more tolerant and liberal countries like Sweden would have been a far better place. The hijackers probably believe some rubbish about the UK being a home to freedom and democracy. Just look at the comments you already have for that warm British welcome.
James Scobbie, Scotland

Shouldn't you be proud that people still choose our country to escape to? That we have an (undeserved) reputation for being a compassionate nation? Proves we're better than those Europeans, doesn't it? And if our services are over-stretched, it's only because of penny-pinching idiots who voted for tax cut after tax cut, not because of a tiny 'record number' of refugees swamping the system.
Julian, North UK

I feel that they should not be allowed to enter this country. Our government seems weak and we will look vulnerable to the rest of the world. We have enough problems as it is without adding to them by letting disruptive individuals into our country.
Frances Healey, England

Why should the British tax-payer pick up the cost of housing these people? There are a record number of asylum seekers in this country at the moment. The last thing we need is more. Especially when the whole hijacking was merely a cover up - a way to get into the country and then be imprisoned here so that they could stay. I feel very begrudged that I, along with my fellow taxpayers, will now have to foot the cost of these people. There are British people/places that need money and investment. Spend the money where it is needed most and send these people back to their home.
Tim, UK

These people could afford air travel and they are from Afghanistan so they must be well off in their country, so why the hell would they want to come here and live in some hell hole in Essex unless they had a good reason. Their case should be judged on a case by case basis, fairly like all asylum applications. What are we becoming when tabloids can whip up a frenzy of racist little Englanders rally again this non-existent tidal wave of asylum seekers.
Eddie, UK

No we should not give these people asylum. Many of our services are stretched at the minute serving the current number of UK nationals. We must stop accepting people if we stand any chance of getting resources such as the National Health Service running in an effective manner. If we do accept them, where will the next plane load come from?
Craig, UK

If this was such a desperate act, why fly all the way to the UK when they had already landed in Moscow? Get them back on the plane and wave goodbye!
Anon, UK

Let them stay, their lives are at risk. A country as rich as England I think is obliged to take these helpless people in. Tony Blair you must give these people a fair trial.
Barry, England

If we were to send out the clear signal that you can short-circuit the asylum application process by committing a criminal act, we'd be insane.
Henry Case, UK

I think they should be sent home as there are already a lot of refugees living in England and claiming benefits. There are English homeless people that need help first. Charity starts at home.
Jim Watkins, England

NO WAY! Why should this country fund the time whilst at Stansted Airport, a few nights at the Hilton and will no doubt be receiving state benefits within the week. What an example this is setting. It is a joke.
Helen Dawson, England

It's an absolute outrage that these people see the UK as a soft touch and so easily taken for everything. They should all be sent back today, this would send the message that they cannot use emotional blackmail to win asylum. You only have to look at the Rwandan Commander who was living in London claiming all the benefits, after ordering the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children.
Sarah, UK

No! I'm not racist or anything like that, but we are certainly regarded as a soft touch in this country, or at least that is what two Kosovars have told me. To allow these Afghan people to stay would enforce our soft touch image. People are generally sick of others from around the world coming over here to live on our hard work, we need harder immigration laws!
Jason, UK

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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijackers 'face execution' back home
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Asylum: What now for the hostages and hijackers?
25 Jan 00 |  UK
Head to head: Is Britain a soft touch for refugees?

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