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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
UK's immigrant appeal faces scrutiny
Eurotunnel staff set up more razor wire
Security at the Channel Tunnel has been tightened
After being accused of unwittingly luring illegal immigrants to the UK with generous welfare payments, the government agrees to look at so-called "magnets".

Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed on Tuesday he is to hold talks with his French counterpart over the problem of illegal cross-Channel immigration.

Earlier Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe pressed for a removal of the "magnets" that drew immigrants already in safe countries to Britain.

When even the President of the French Red Cross calls Britain a soft touch, it is clear that urgent action needs to be taken

Ann Widdecombe
Later Immigration Minister Jeff Rooker said one broader issue to be looked at was the difference between the UK's policies and those in other European.

'Getting a grip'

Mr Blunkett said he would meet interior minister Daniel Vaillant next Wednesday to "try to get a grip" on the situation.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he would urge a "common sense" approach over plans to build a second refugee camp for immigrants trying to reach Britain.

He said it was not in the interests of the French "to have these people piling up in the camps or on the streets".

Jeff Rooker, Immigration Minister
Rooker says differences between policies in the UK and elsewhere must be examined

He said it was "not in our interest to have them prepared to commit suicide trying to come through the tunnel or get aboard freight carriers".

The Red Cross camp at Sangatte near Calais became the centre of a row after it emerged that hundreds of migrants staying there try to get to the UK through the nearby Channel Tunnel every night.

The row intensified after reports that the French were planning to tackle overcrowding there by establishing another major camp inland at Bailleul.

The Home Office said at the weekend that a second camp would not be "helpful" and on Tuesday it appeared the France had bowed to British pressure by putting off a decision on a second centre.

Mr Blunkett said he would be increasing checks at British entry points, but said the build-up of refugees in Calais was mainly a French problem.

System 'collapsed'

Tory leadership contender Ken Clarke also waded into the row saying that Britain's immigration system has "totally collapsed" because of ministerial incompetence.

The former home secretary said the system needed to be completely rebuilt, but the government did not know what to do.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
Simon Hughes called for a logical approach
His remarks were echoed by Miss Widdecombe who said the Sangatte camp is a symptom of the total collapse of the British asylum system.

"What I want to see if David Blunkett get a grip on this end, on our asylum system, on concentrating on getting rid of the magnets that draw people to Britain," she told BBC News.

Ms Widdecombe continues to call for new asylum applicants to be housed in secure reception centres while their claims are processed.

Tory leadership contender Iain Duncan Smith said: "Labour's shambolic mismanagement of the asylum system is plumbing new depths every day.

"They need to be honest with the British public about the problems that face our country.

"The system is open to widespread abuse, and we are being targeted by criminal racketeers intent on benefiting from a trade in human misery."

Critical report

But that proposal were attacked by a report from the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, which was published on Tuesday.

The study said the UK's one reception centre, at Oakington in Cambridgeshire had been a complete failure but it criticised the government for "losing control" of the asylum system.

Mr Blunkett said the current controversy over asylum seekers was in part a by-product of the success of policies introduced by his predecessor Jack Straw.

He said Mr Straw did "an enormous amount to toughen up" on illegal immigration into the UK.

He said immigrants are now targeting the Channel Tunnel because of clampdowns elsewhere.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the best outcome from Mr Blunkett's meeting would be an agreement on dealing with asylum seekers on the French coast accepted by all concerned.

"Logic dictates that it would be far better to process applications for Britain, as well as for France, in France," he said.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The Home Secretary threw down the gauntlet to the French"
The BBC's Mike Williams
"There were a few police patrols around the camp last night"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Scotland
Asylum 'prison' campaign hots up
26 Mar 01 | UK
Stowaway fines 'unfair'
04 Sep 01 | UK
Aiming for England
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