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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Europe toughens asylum policies
Beggers
European countries are cracking down on asylum seekers
By European Affairs analyst William Horsley

Harsher asylum policies are becoming a trend throughout Europe.

In the United Kingdom, the debate has grown more intense because of a sharp increase in the numbers of people entering the UK illegally, and then applying for asylum.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has criticised both the Labour government and the Conservative opposition for their harsh tone towards so-called bogus asylum-seekers - that is, those with no justified claim.

With local elections due next month, both parties are proposing new measures to stem the numbers applying for asylum in Britain - which now stands at around 60,000 a year.

Speedy deportations

The government plans to create a new fast-track procedure to deport those who break the law, including those found begging illegally in public.

The Conservatives now speak of bogus refugees "flooding the country."


Immigration officer
The UNHCR has criticised the UK's asylum policies

Refugee agencies are worried that inflammatory language used to refer to asylum-seekers - who number about 300,000 per year across Western Europe - may encourage racist violence against them, as happened in the wave of gang attacks on refugee hostels in Germany in the early 1990s.

They also fear that in the long run, European countries will discard the UN refugee convention, which guarantees asylum to all who have a well-grounded fear of persecution.

Indeed, that has already begun to happen.

The European Union now requires visas for travellers from more than 100 countries, and most asylum-seekers have to enter the EU illegally in order to be able to make a claim at all.

And wealthier European countries are demanding tougher immigration controls from those to the east which want to join the EU's area of free movement without borders.

Greece has begun strict sea patrols to try to clamp down on illegal immigrants.


Woman begging
There are tougher immigration policies all across Europe

And Poland has been told it must seal its eastern borders to the countries of the former Soviet Union - Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus - if it wants to be part of the EU's so-called zone of justice and security.

These things are already causing economic problems and political tensions.

Discrimination

Meanwhile, there is evidence that discrimination against gypsies and other minorities has worsened in recent years in places like Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Europe has not yet found a way of granting asylum in cases of real need, without allowing large numbers of people migrating in search of a better life.

The EU is trying to do this by building up an integrated approach towards countries with special difficulties - such as Albania, Morocco, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

But so far there is little sign of success in curbing the activities of the organised people-smugglers, who charge high fees to take people illegally into Western Europe, and so make profits from those who are most in need.

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | Scotland
Asylum-seekers' policy under fire
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
09 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum row warning over elections
04 Apr 00 | UK
Asylum seekers clampdown
06 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Government defends asylum delays
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