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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Six Forum: Ask the Refugee Council about asylum
The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is pledging to toughen up the UK's asylum and immigration policies.
The measures include English language tuition for asylum seekers, tighter border controls, and a crackdown on bogus marriages.
They were outlined by Mr Blunkett ahead of a second reading debate in the House of Commons of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.
Mr Blunkett says that a failed asylum system and the friction caused by it within communities acted as a "firelighter" for the BNP and others.
Is a shake-up needed in Britain's asylum and immigration laws? What do you feel needs to be be done?
We put your questions about Britain's asylum and immigration policies to Refugee Council chief executive Nick Hardwick in a live forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.
Let's look at one example, in the Health Service, where we know that one of the problems with the Health Service is simply getting the staff to work on the wards and provide the help that patients need. We need migrants to do those kinds of jobs.
But there is also a moral issue here. We have an obligation to refugees partly because all the great faiths encourage us to provide assistance to strangers in distress. And because after the Second World War when hundreds of thousands of Jews were turned away from countries to their deaths on continental Europe, the international community said we will never make that mistake again. We will make sure that people who are being persecuted will be able to find safety and I think it's too soon yet to forget those lessons. We need to remember what the asylum system is about - it's about protecting people who are in fear of their lives because they're being persecuted because of their religion or their political persuasion or because they're espousing the sorts of values we think are really important.
But if you talk about the scenes we've all been seeing at Sangatte - then those are a disgrace and that's not how the system is supposed to work and the French authorities need to deal with those people on their side of the border. But often people do want to come here for very good reasons - because they've got family or friends here or because they already speak English and we need a system that actually treats people like human beings and enables people to make those sorts of connections.
Most refugees do what they've always done - if they walk on foot from one very poor country to another. The numbers who come to the UK are normally because of the links they already have with this country or because they think the UK is a fair and free country that's tolerant and diverse and where they'll be welcomed and I think we should be proud of the welcome that we do give to a tiny proportion of the world's refugees.
I accept we need a fair and credible decision-making process. I think that most people would support a system that quickly and fairly identified those people who needed protection so they can be welcomed and helped to rebuild their lives here. But if people are found not to need that protection and there's no other compelling reason why they should stay, then I agree they should go back home and we need a system that delivers that. I think that's what in the interest of refugees - it's not that you just have to help those individual refugees - you have to have a system that commands public confidence and manifestly for a lot people we don't have that at the moment.
If everyone agrees that if refugees are going to be here, they should integrate into the mainstream society and the best place for that to happen is at the school gates and on the school playground. I think it is a real mistake to take refugee children out of the mainstream education system and if you are going to provide education for them separately that would be far more expensive. It would be much better to help schools with a bit of assistance they need so that refugee children can be educated alongside other children enriching the whole school community.
Kate Francis, South Africa: I am British, having been born and educated there for part of my life. I have been in South Africa for approximately 15 years and married a South African almost three years ago. With the proposed changes in mind - how are we going to be expected to prove our marriage is not a sham or a convenience? And even if we do prove that how would we survive as a couple if my husband is not allowed to work?
John Smith, UK (writing under a pseudonym - married to a Polish woman still in Poland): What assurances can people like me expect from the Government that it is purely interested in dealing only with the bogus-marriage problem and will not persecute those genuine, happy-married people whose only crime is that they fell in love with a foreigner?
As for the question about marriages, I think these people make a very good point - how do you prove your marriage is genuine, what's the test? No rows over a year period? This is a very complicated area - with those people who have got those sorts of individual problems, they do need to get good quality advice on that. They need either to go to a Citizens Advice Bureau or get good quality legal advice and make sure that the people who are advising them know what they're talking about. I wouldn't want to get too much into the detail without knowing more about the individual circumstances.
We need to have a properly managed, credible transparent asylum system but we also need people in senior political positions making a case about why Britain has an obligation to refugees and why migration generally enriches this country economically and culturally and we need that case made.
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