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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
UK denies Sangatte-style camp plans
Sangatte refugees
Sangatte caused tension between Britain and France

The UK has rejected suggestions it is planning to send asylum seekers to Sangatte-style camps outside the EU while their applications are processed.

Asylum Minister Beverley Hughes told MPs that Britain was working with its European partners towards setting up protection zones in war-torn areas.

Her comments came after the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) expressed serious concerns about British proposals to process asylum seekers' applications at centres outside the EU.

But Ms Hughes told MPs: "We have made steady progress in Europe with our proposals for zones of protection.

"In particular we welcome the contributions from the UNHCR and the European Commission that have recently published a positive contribution about our proposals.

She added: "We have certainly got no current plans at all to process asylum seekers on the borders of the EU as some of the newspapers have been reporting and certainly no prospect of any camps - Sangatte-style or otherwise.

"We want to take forward ideas for regional protection processing which has the support of the UNHCR."

The UNHCR had earlier said the plan to build a series of holding camps could create multiple Sangattes - the controversial French refugee centre which was shut down earlier this year.

Documents seen by the BBC show the agency fears the centres could infringe people's human rights and act as magnets for asylum seekers and people smugglers.

But a UNHCR spokesman said the documents were "somewhat out of date", with the agency pushing for new processing centres inside the EU.

Island camps

The UN documents say that Britain is looking at establishing protection zones, including off-territory processing for asylum seekers.

The zones could be set up in countries ranging from Turkey to Morocco, Croatia, the Ukraine and northern Somalia.

TRANSIT CAMPS
Sangatte near Calais
Two UK proposals
UN Counter-proposals
European deal expected

Britain wants to do this in partnership with other European countries and Australia is also mentioned as a possible ally.

It is thought that security could be provided by building such camps on islands.

The UNHCR would be needed to help establish the sites.

But an internal UNHCR document says that sending refugees to such places could breach their human rights and create problems like those seen at Sangatte.

The UNHCR document warns that having the camps so close to the EU would amount to a significant "pull factor" for refugees.

It also warns of security concerns, particularly for staff working there.

'No record'

On Sunday the Home Office denied that an 'offshore' holding camp for asylum seekers applying to live in Britain had been built in Croatia.

Reports suggested that people arriving in the UK would be sent there while their applications were being processed.

The move was part of attempts to reduce the number of immigrants to the UK, according to the Observer newspaper.

But a Home Office spokeswoman said the government had "no record of this centre and have made no decision to proceed with any such scheme in Croatia".

She added: "We're still at the stage of exploring with partners and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees how ideas for protection to help refugees closer to countries of origin can be put into practice. There are no concrete proposals yet."

Deterrent

On Monday, UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said the agency had drawn up "parallel proposals" to the British idea of centres outside the EU.

"What we have proposed is essentially that you target the non-refugee end of the asylum seekers so it is people who are most likely not to be genuine refugees," he told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Countries which produce almost no refugees, their nationals might be sent to some kind of centralised processing centre.

"What it would do is in some ways act as a deterrence to people who are clearly not refugees from entering the system."

Ensuring the centres were inside the EU would mean they came under European laws and standards, argued Mr Colville.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Rupert Colville, UN spokesman
"It's for people who are most likely not to be refugees"



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