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Immigration storm hits Britain

Immigration storm hits Britain

Reuters
The Indian Express
April 20, 2000
Title: Immigration storm hits Britain
Author: Reuters
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 20, 2000

Britain sailed into a new storm over immigration on Tuesday with a call by the Opposition Conservatives to hold asylum seekers under lock and key.

The get-tough policy is the latest sign that Britain is running scared over immigration, with a rapid rise in the number of refugees angering voters.Conservatives accuse the Labour government of going soft on asylum, while refugee groups say both parties are reneging on Britain's long history as a friend to those fleeing persecution.

``This is not about racism,'' said Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram in defending his new policy. ``What we are trying to suggest is a system that is going to be firm and fair.''

Under the scheme, refugees would be sent to some five secure ``reception centres'' probably old Army bases until their claims are processed. That would take about six weeks, after which those refused entry would be deported immediately. The new policy, to be laid out by party leader William Hagueon on Tuesday evening, would mean a major shift in the current system, whereby refugees are dispersed into the community.

Ancram said there were currently more than 100,000 pending asylum cases, most of them bogus, and that processing applications cost the British tax-payer 600 million pounds last year alone.

Asylum is now set to be a key issue in next month's local elections. Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair says he wants to help genuine refugees; his government is busy cracking down on them.

The tough measures include plans to scatter immigrants across the country, often far from friends and family, pay refugees a living allowance in vouchers rather than cash and fine truck drivers for carrying stowaways onto the island.

Campaigners for refugee rights say Britain is turning into a fortress of xenophobia. The Refugee Council said locking up refugees could provoke attacks of the sort seen in Germany. Barbara Roche, the minister responsible for immigration, dismissed the Hague scheme as rhetoric and talked up Labour's ``robust but fair'' alternative. ``They are stirring it up. This government is sorting it out,'' she said.

Of about 32,000 decisions on asylum taken in 1999, Britain allowed 20,000 people to stay: 7,000 were granted asylum and some 13,000 were granted ``exceptional leave'' to remain.
 



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