So last night we all (well, for small values of "all" - you know who you are) got ourselves dressed up smart and went to bang on the doors of Parliament. And yes, as Dan Hardie claimed, the cops outside it are indeed polite - you're not going to get much praise for the Met here, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by none other than Chris Bryant MP; he's a parliamentary private secretary, i.e. nearly a junior minister, so this was an impressive act. Hitherto he's been best known for being conspicuously Blairite and being a user of Gaydar.co.uk; not any longer if I have anything to do with it.
As well as the member for the Rhondda, diehard Tory paratrooper Julian Brazer dropped in, as did his more Cameronian party colleague Ed Vaizey. And, crucially, Lynne Featherstone, Liberal MP for Hornsey, was the anchor of the whole thing. They came to hear Mark Brockway, a TA Royal Engineer who hired many of the first Iraqi employees in 2003 and who has since become the only point of contact for dozens of people trying to flee Iraq. They came to hear Andrew Alderson, a TA civil affairs officer and Lloyds banker who ran the South-East zone's economic affairs from 2003-2004, who spoke of how British officials told him nothing was happening in Basra as the family of one of his former staff, people who had been trusted with hundreds of millions of dollars, had to smuggle one of their relatives out of the hospital for fear of reprisals.
They came to hear that the Government, after a 10-week "review", still hasn't got a list of the people concerned and can't say who is responsible for the issue. They heard how staff at the British Embassy in Amman turned away former employees on the grounds that Jordan was by definition safe, while another ex-employee was abducted in broad daylight from the queue outside the UNHCR offices in the same city. They heard that despite spending 10 weeks writing an incalculably illegible statement, the Government has yet to offer any instructions on how to apply or what to do if you feel yourself to be in danger.
Better yet, they heard how civil servants informed one ex-employee that should his application for asylum be rejected, he would never be able to travel to the UK under any circumstances. This is either deeply incompetent, or a lie; they seem to have confused refusal of an application for entry with deportation, which suggests that if this was not deliberate, the people (and who are they?) dealing with the issue know nothing about immigration law.
That, indeed; time and again, it came up that the post-Michael Howard system of deterrence aimed at asylum seekers is the problem. You can't apply if you have reached the UK; you can't apply in a third country if this is deemed safe. And obviously, you can't apply in Iraq, because so doing requires a perilous journey to Baghdad and entry into the Green Zone. Of course, it's been trouble enough to stop the Government sending people back to Iraq, on the pretext that Kurdistan is safe; it's a pity, then, that the Kurds are now imposing a requirement of sponsorship on immigrants from elsewhere in Iraq. (They're not the only ones, either.)
Last night's key message is this: whatever the detail of the policy, what matters is the tactics. The Government statement actually leaves quite a lot of leeway; the reference to meeting the UNHCR criteria looks rather different given that the UNHCR considers that all Iraqi displaced persons meet them, and the possibility of a grant of exceptional leave to remain (which could include anyone) has been invoked.
But the vital issue, in the real meaning of "vital", is the practical logistics. We have to send out to Iraq a small group of officials, taken from the Army interpreters cell, the Immigration Service, and presumably MI5, to take names and addresses and assess cases. We have to provide a means of registering, at Basra Air Station, in the UK diplomatic missions, and on the Web (this was a surprisingly frequent request). And we have to draw up a schedule for people to leave on the regular airbridge flights.