Magazine article The Spectator

Hop off, You Aussies

Magazine article The Spectator

Hop off, You Aussies

Article excerpt

'Individuals who seek to create fear, distrust and divisions in order to stir up terrorist activity will not be tolerated by the government or by our communities.' So said Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, on Wednesday, when outlining the grounds on which undesirable foreigners can be deported or excluded from the UK.

But you don't have to create fear and distrust to find yourself excluded. Being Australian will do. Earlier this month, an old schoolfriend of my wife's was booted out of England for no reason that she -- or we -- could understand. Julie Hope, a 50year-old divorcee and mother of three grown-up children, arrived to stay with us in London in March. She had given up her job as a garden designer so that she could take what she called a 'late gap year'. She has many friends and relations in England and Europe. Her father is an influential New South Wales grazier, and her children were educated at Prince Charles's old school, Geelong Grammar.

Last month Julie accompanied us on a holiday to France, but left before us to stay with cousins in Suffolk. We took her to Nice airport for the easyJet flight to Stansted. It was all very routine. What followed, however, was anything but routine.

About eight hours after her flight left, Julie rang me on my mobile to tell me she was being sent back to Nice on the next easyJet flight, and would we please pick her up at the airport? There was no time to ask her what had happened. Could it be that the immigration officers at Stansted, in their post-7 July zeal to protect our borders, had decided that Julie was somehow an undesirable alien? The idea was just too absurd . . .

and then we heard Julie's story.

As she came through the arrivals gate, eyes red and swollen, she was barely able to describe the horrors she had endured at the hands of Charles Clarke's finest. For five and a half hours they had bullied and humiliated her, rifling her personal correspondence and belongings, eventually arriving at conclusions so utterly wrong that they would be laughable if they weren't so sinister. Julie's crime, it seems, was that she had worked illegally in England. The immigration officers discovered the 'evidence' for this in Julie's diary and personal correspondence, which they read without her permission.

Julie came here to see friends and to enjoy herself. She stayed with us in south London and also with friends of hers and ours in Holland Park, Suffolk, Hampshire and Northumberland, lending a hand in house and garden, as is the Australian way. She once accompanied a busload of children from my daughter's school as an unpaid 'responsible adult' on a trip to Normandy.

She made four trips to France, staying with friends in Brittany and Rouen and going to Flanders with her parents. All these details were neatly chronicled in a notebook in her handbag, with addresses and telephone numbers. She also had with her a letter from her mother to say that friends in Scotland might have her to stay for the grouse season.

Julie's ordeal began at the passport desk.

She was asked for mobile numbers of friends and relations, presumably to check her credentials. She was not, however, allowed to ring her cousins in Suffolk, who had sent a car to collect her.

Her bags, which had been taken off the carousel and dumped in a corner, were opened by a man with rubber gloves. Later she was confronted by a woman, also wearing rubber gloves. Julie thought she was going to be strip-searched, but mercifully she was spared that indignity. The immigration people telephoned two of her UK contacts, neither of whom was told what was going on, but Julie herself was not given the chance to ring anyone, not even a lawyer. The conduct of the immigration officers seemed deliberately calculated to demean and frighten her.

Then she was summoned to an interview room. 'Hello, I'm Julie, ' she said, holding out her hand to her inquisitor, a woman. 'I didn't catch your name. …

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