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'Aus made a terrible mistake over Haneef'

British MP Keith Vaz says the Australian Govt should apologise to the Indian doc.
By Manish Chand | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 31, 2007 04:01 PM IST

The Australian government has made a "terrible mistake" and ought to apologise for detaining Mohammad Haneef, an Indian doctor, for nearly a month without any evidence to support his alleged link to the foiled British bombings, says Keith Vaz, an Indian-origin British Labour MP.

"The Australian government has made a terrible mistake and ought to apologise to Haneef as opposition and civil rights groups in Australia have been demanding," Vaz said in an interview during a brief visit in New Delhi.

"It's a significant case not only for India and Australia but also for all countries with sizeable Asian populations. What it shows is how easy it is to commit a mistake while addressing terrorism-related concerns," said Vaz, who became the youngest MP of Indian origin two decades ago from Leicester East, home to 16,000 British Asian voters.

"In Britain, the government is debating whether to extend the detention of Sabeel beyond 28 days. Parliament will debate it when it convenes later this year," said Vaz.

Sabeel Ahmed, a 26-year-old Indian doctor in Britain, has been accused of not disclosing information that could have helped the British police to arrest his brother Kafeel Ahmed, who allegedly drove an explosive-laden vehicle into the Glasgow terminal June 30.

Mohammed Haneef, Sabeel's cousin, was charged in Australia with "recklessly" supporting the suspect terrorists behind the failed Glasgow and London bombings on the basis of his SIM card he left with Sabeel before leaving Britain.

"The lesson to be learnt from the Haneef case is that we all have to be extremely careful in avoiding pitfalls of racial profiling while ensuring that the threats to terrorism are tackled head-on," said Vaz.

Saying that Indian doctors working in Britain - crucial to the National Health Service - were "extremely concerned" about their future, Vaz added that such apprehensions needed to be assuaged because Britain is a fair and just society.

Vaz added another first to his political career a few days ago when he was elected chairman of the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons - the first ethnic minority MP to chair this influential parliamentary committee.

The 50-year-old Vaz, whose family comes from Goa, is upbeat about his new job.

"The Home Affairs Committee will try to strike a balance between the rights and responsibilities of British Asians and the clear desire on the part of Britons to preserve the security of the country," he said.

"What we now need is evidence to quantify the number of Asians who have been detained, questioned and found to be engaged in questionable activities in Britain. The idea is to be fair and just," he stressed.

"The concerns about security are genuine. People expect our airports to be checked thoroughly. But we have to be very careful about any attempt at racial profiling. Otherwise, it will damage relations between the two countries."

Relations between India and Britain are robust and security concerns should not be allowed to hinder the flow of Indians to Britain, the British Labour MP said.

"We should do nothing in the British high commission here that inadvertently discriminates against genuine people who wish to come to Britain in this climate of concerns about terrorism," he said.

"We should take special care to ensure that Indian students keep coming to Britain without facing any problems. The immigration system should be open, genuine, honest and fair."

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