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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 12:02 GMT
Is it realistic to halve asylum applications?
Tony Blair wants asylum applications reduced by half by this September - although the Home Office says this is an "objective", not a target.
Mr Blair clearly expects new measures including benefits changes, fingerprinting and detention of suspected terrorists to have a dramatic impact on the number of asylum applications.
Postal claims will no longer be accepted and people will have to hold visas before entering Britain.
Home Secretary David Blunkett faced criticism from the Refugee Council this week for adding seven nations to the list of countries from which asylum applications are usually rejected.
Disproportionate media attention on the subject is forcing leaders to make claims which can't be delivered, say refugee groups.
Is there a perception there are more asylum seekers in the UK than is really true? Where does that perception arise from? Is halving the numbers a realistic target? Is it right? Is it achievable?
Thank you for your e-mails. This debate is now closed. A selection of your comments is published below.
Refugees should stay in the first country they reach where they are safe from persecution. It's funny how thousands of them manage to get to Britain without going through any of Europe. The problem needs to be stopped now - or Britain and its public services will be continually choked until it's too late.
So, it's a central plank of government policy to massage the immigration figures by reclassifying half of the immigrants as "suspected terrorists"? Satisfying the racists and keeping the rest of the public scared enough to support a war on Iraq. What a brilliant politician Mr Blair is.
Of course asylum applications can be halved. Nothing will actually happen, but the government will just devise a new way of massaging the statistics.
The numbers of asylum seekers are not out of the ordinary, nor are the tabloid scare stories true or even relevant - this is old-fashioned racism by another name.
Ajay Arora, London, UK
Blair as usual deludes himself that just because he says something it will come to pass. I presume next he'll be down on the beach to command the tide not to come in!
Having visited Macedonia in the summer of 2002, I can vouch for the fact that many young Macedonian men in the Tetovo region that was in the news not too long ago, are genuinely persecuted and attacked by the majority Albanian population. Britain played a part in creating the instability in that region, and is now completely ignoring the problem. Shocking.
What a government...Bomb people out their own countries and refuse them any help whatsoever.
These economic migrants are coming here as they are given housing, food, clothing. Then, when they are refused asylum for whatever reason, instead of being deported, they disappear into the country and continue to place a burden on this country's resources.
Once asylum has been rejected, they should be either deported straight away, with no recourse to appeal, or detained so the proper authorities can take a closer second look at their case.
It is no wonder that racially motivated attacks are on the increase, when our politicians continually imply that we are being overrun by asylum seekers, and when they also keep implying a link between asylum seekers and terrorists.
If asylum applications are on the increase, then surely the correct response is to increase man-power in the various agencies whose task it is to vet them? We should not be moving the goalposts just to make it artificially easier to kick people out.
I do wish people would not refer to the thousands of people who flocked to this country as asylum seekers, which is an emotive term. Any person who crosses one or more free democratic countries to get here cannot be referred to as an asylum seeker, they are an economic migrant. We have great difficulty caring for our own in hospitals, education etc. We cannot accept more demands on these services.
This is nothing to do with racism or xenophobia, such an argument is ridiculous and offensive. The argument against asylum seekers is purely an economic one, both for the receiving country and the country left behind.
How on earth are the countries these people are leaving supposed to develop and raise there own standard of living without these people?
This is the same Tony Blair who made the Dome such a success, who handled foot-and-mouth so expertly and whose government has done such a fine job of improving public services such as schools and hospitals. The more things chance the more they stay the same.
William Sutton, British Columbia
If you destabilise other countries through 'free trade' that is only a one-way street, arms sales that escalate ethnic and political tensions, wars masquerading as pre-emptive security measures, and a media that advertises our culture as the zenith of unbridled consumption, what do you expect?
Of course people will wish to escape the horror of their homeland. The way to reduce such migration is a more equitable global society.
Not only is it realistic, it is absolutely essential to reduce the amount of asylum seekers, or otherwise people will turn to the far right politicians.
Andy Bywater, UK
If we and the US continue to support oppressive and unrepresentative governments, it is difficult to see how the number of people seeking asylum will ever diminish. Why can't we support popular and decent governments in the third world???
It's just more non-deliverables from Blair. He can't manage the health service, the economy, taxes or crime, and a long list of other issues. So now we have confirmation that he can't handle illegal immigration. Can we really believe any figures he gives in September, assuming of course that he hasn't conveniently forgotten?
Every refugee is entitled to decent housing, schooling, medicine and opportunities - we do not even provide this for our indigenous population yet.
I would prefer us to pull out of the various conventions we are signed up to and set a smaller quota annually which we would undertake to fully support and integrate.
So Britain has an aging population, a declining birth rate, and our government is off cherry-picking professionals from across the globe in an effort to boost the economy. A recently released government studies show that increased immigration leads to a healthier economy.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers - the overwhelming majority of whom successfully meet the criteria for asylum - are becoming the national whipping boys on the grounds that Britain can't support so many immigrants?
I'd have thought that people who have the guts, brains, and determination to smuggle themselves across Europe and cling to the undercarriages of trains for hours to reach the land of hope and glory would be precisely the kind of people Britons should be welcoming with open arms.
Chay Allen, London, UK
Its a shame that the Prime Minister is playing with the lives and safety of thousands of people, just to increase his popularity and to gain extra points from the T Tories.
The asylum situation in this country is now totally out of control, Labour has left the back door open to terrorists entering and carrying out attacks within the country, therefore drastic action must be taken now to ensure our security even if this unfairly treats genuine asylum seekers.
The UK must reduce the number NOW, our social and health services cannot support the public with such a strain.
The UK is only a mid-runner when it comes to the list of Western countries taking refugees, and in comparison to the likes of relatively poor countries such as Iran (which has many millions of refugees and migrants) it's almost laughable. When will the tabloids and lowest common denomination of scapegoating end?? Immigrants have put more into this country than taken from it; the same is true across Europe!
Tony Blair is acting far too late. Deporting asylum seekers who were rejected should have been a priority, instead they have been lost in the system.
Andrew H, Liverpool, UK
Note that the majority of present asylum seekers come from lraq and Afghanistan. How many of these are a result of intervention by Western powers? And how many more can we expect as a result of a war? Interference in the Balkans resulted in an army of refugees.
The myth that we are being over-run by avaricious barbarians intent on bleeding us dry through our oh-so-generous social security system is largely a product of unimaginative tabloid newspaper editors pandering to the xenophobia of the British. We should be mature enough to drop the them-and-us, island mentality.
We are not being over-run, far from it in fact. If a nation such as Norway has the decency to take in more refugees and asylum seekers than us, despite having a population less than 20% of ours, we should cease whingeing about it in letters to The Daily Mail.
Good luck to the government, I hope they do achieve their targets, then Britain can go back to being a safe haven for genuine asylum seekers who need our protection. Remember they are the ones who are truly disadvantaged by the current state of affairs.
We can and must drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers entering Britain. Never in my life has tension in Britain been as high as it is right now and never have I felt so worried about the future stability of this country. At present levels, illegal immigration will bring this country to its knees within a very few years. Everyone I know is deeply concerned about this.
Agha Ata, USA
I simply can't understand Blair. On the one hand, he wants to turn away refugees. And on the other he wants to wage war on Iraq, creating more refugees!
It's not realistic to cut applications. There is very little the government can do to stop people applying. They need to cut acceptances or speed up the time to process and immediately deport them and not allow them to leave of their own accord.
If we all lived in the country we chose to live in I expect the Caribbean islands would be sinking by now... it is right to house those being persecuted until there is no longer any risk of persecution, but the system shouldn't be a one-way system and perhaps these "easy riders" should be given a harder ride.
07 Feb 03 | Politics
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