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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The British press is singled out for intolerance and inflammatory coverage"
 real 56k

The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"Some believe the report is inaccurate"
 real 56k

UK Immigration Minister Barbara Roche
"The report contains a number of very serious factual inaccuracies"
 real 28k

Christopher Gill, Conservative MP
"I think the Council of Europe has a damned nerve"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
UK attacked over refugee 'racism'
Asylum seekers gather
The report found xenophobic attitudes against refugees
Britain has been accused of being racist and intolerant in its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

A report from the Council of Europe's racism commission says that a "xenophobic" attitude is evident in the media, political debate and government policy.


There's a certain resentment in the population [against asylum seekers]

Eva Smith-Asmussen
Tuesday's report also details continuing problems in Austria, Albania, Macedonia and Denmark.

But it found that intolerance of refugees and asylum seekers was "particularly acute" in the UK.

The report said this was "reflected in the xenophobic and intolerant coverage of these groups of persons in the media".

But it also criticised the "tone of the discourse resorted to by politicians in support of the adoption and enforcement of increasingly restrictive asylum and immigration laws".

'Misleading'

Home Office Minister Barbara Roche said the report contained a series of "very serious factual inaccuracies".

"For example it claims discriminating behaviour by immigration officials at borders yet of the 89m passenger arrivals in the UK last year there were only 40 complaints of racial discrimination against the service and one was upheld," she said.

Eva Smith-Asmussen, who was one of the research team behind the report and is herself Danish, insisted there were inherent problems in the UK such as racist chanting at football matches.

"There's a certain resentment in the population [against asylum seekers] and this is being boosted by certain media and certain politicians," she told the BBC.

Barbara Roche
Ms Roche questioned the accuracy of the report
However, she said that the aim of the report was to help and not criticise.

The Council of Europe praises Britain for making progress in tackling some forms of racism but warns that the UK's anti-racist laws are not always effective.

Earlier this year, Home Secretary Jack Straw called for an EU-wide agenda of action to stem the rising level of asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

Mr Straw outlined possible changes including forming a list of "safe" countries from which applications would be refused and forcing refugees to apply for asylum before they reach Britain.

Record asylum figures

In 2000 the number of people seeking asylum in the UK reached record levels, with a total of 76,040 individual applications.

The real number of people arriving in the country is likely to be much higher, as many have dependents and others enter illegally.

But Home Office figures show that the number of people claiming asylum in February was the lowest monthly total for almost two years.

The 5,520 applications were down 13% on January's figure - the lowest since May 1999 - with the backlog of outstanding claims almost at a seven-year low.

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See also:

25 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Labour MP tells of asylum 'shame'
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Asylum applications at 20-month low
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
EU seeks common asylum policy
06 Feb 01 | UK Politics
UK moves to block asylum seekers
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