Leader: Mean and foolish rules block a vital resource

November 16, 2001

David Blunkett made a promise before the last general election and is delivering it. He said that as home secretary, he would make his predecessor Jack Straw look like a liberal. Now he wants powers of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without trial, censorship and unlicensed snooping that would make dictators blush.

These ambitions for greater powers of surveillance are of a piece with the government's asylum policies, which regard foreigners as a threat and which mark an unwelcome break with Britain's honourable and profitable history of welcoming the world's displaced. These policies are not only ungenerous, they are foolish. There are many cases that show that self-interest as well as humanity point towards a more open asylum policy as the best option.

Refugee academics admitted to the United Kingdom since the 1930s have shown an astounding propensity to win Nobel prizes. But even at a less exalted level, those now wanting admission are a partial answer to the skills problems afflicting universities, schools and the National Health Service. Some might even be persuaded to join the many university departments in which most academics are approaching retirement and no Brits can be persuaded to follow in their footsteps.

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