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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 12:48 GMT
EU urged to act on illegal immigration
A baby  is among illegal immigrants in a lorry at Calais bound for Dover
Asylum is likely to be an election issue in the UK
Home Secretary Jack Straw has called for a major crackdown on the trafficking of illegal immigrants.

Mr Straw told a meeting of EU home affairs ministers that they needed to work together to tackle the problem.

It makes sense to find better ways of co-operating

Jack Straw
He put forward a range of proposals to tackle the problem including setting up network of intelligence units across Europe and sending EU immigration police abroad.

The issue of economic migrants abusing the asylum system is high on the political agenda of many EU countries after member states received record applications last year.

EU-wide policy

Thursday's meeting, which is being held in Stockholm, aims to draw up an EU-wide policy on how best to deal with the strains faced by the asylum system.

Europe has been moving slowly towards standardising asylum and immigration policies for more than a year.

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw wants to change the 1951 convention on human rights
Mr Straw told the meeting that EU co-operation would help to tackle illegal trafficking.

He said: "The only people who have anything to fear from closer EU co-operation are the criminals who currently exploit the differences between us."

Balkan tide

Many of the illegal immigrants entering the EU are believed to originate in the Balkans.

Mr Straw said efforts were being made to stop people from that corner of Europe.

"It is Britain which has been in the lead in trying to deal with the 60 per cent of migrants, often unfounded asylum seekers, coming into Europe who enter through the funnel of the Western Balkans," he said.

But he accepted that EU member states had to pledge more cash to police border controls.

Mr Straw also wants individual countries to send police officers to the Balkans to strengthen local border controls.

"There are over 120 separate police services in Europe. It makes sense to find better ways of co-operating," he said.

UN criticism

Earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Premier Guiliano Amato pledged to work more closely together to tackle illegal immigration.

Ruud Lubbers
Ruud Lubbers wants Britain to 'cool' its asylum language
But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who met the home secretary on Wednesday, said the UK should cool down "the climate of accusation" surrounding refugee issues.

But he added that he agreed with a number of issues raised by Mr Straw, including the need to combat people trafficking and to do more to help refugees in their home regions.

However he was sceptical about Britain's proposal to nominate "safe countries" from which refugee applications would be either discounted or pushed through accelerated procedures.

Mr Lubbers insisted governments should concentrate on improving and harmonising refugee systems within the European Union and helping Central and Eastern European countries to build asylum procedures.

Mr Lubbers strongly criticised Britain for using language which suggested that almost all asylum seekers were frauds.

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04 Feb 01 | Europe
Crackdown on human traffickers
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