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EDITIONS
Monday, 20 May, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Immigrants 'are political scapegoats'
David Blunkett with Asian community leaders in Birmingham
David Blunkett wants all immigrants to learn English
Race groups are blaming government immigration policy for some of the negative perceptions highlighted in a BBC News Online survey.

The survey showed that 47% of white people felt immigration had harmed British society.

Mike Rahman of the National Union of Refugee Organisations said he believed the government encouraged such negative images.

"Politicians feed on this because they need explanations as to why there's a shortage of housing and low standards in public services.

"The government needs to take responsibility for telling people the truth about the lack of services and not use refugees or immigrants as a scapegoat for their failed policies."


We need to deal with racism so it's good to see most people acknowledging it exists - it vindicates our position

Habib Rahman, JCWI

Home Secretary David Blunkett's recent remarks about asylum seekers' children "swamping" schools had been a very racist statement which had not helped the situation, Mr Rahman added.

Alasdair Mackenzie of Asylum Aid told BBC News Online any hope of improvement in the perception of immigrants lay with the government.

The right presentation of asylum seekers could totally change perceptions, Mr Mackenzie said.

"Kosovan refugees were welcomed with open arms by local communities because the government was taking a lead and saying 'these are people we should help' .

"But equally you get asylum seekers from other parts of the world where they don't know what's happening and there's a very hostile message coming across from the government."

Health workers

Don de Silva of the 1990 Trust said there was a need to make people in Britain more aware of the contribution of immigrants over the years.

"If there were no health workers from the black and ethnic minority communities the health sector would be in a very poor state," Mr de Silva said.

Three quarters of those questioned for BBC News Online's survey said they backed the government's plan to force all immigrants to learn English.


If there were no health workers from the black and ethnic minority communities the health sector would be in a very poor state

Don de Silva
1990 Trust
Habib Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said that was a worrying finding.

"No-one in their right minds would oppose people learning the main language of the country - it's in their own interest," Mr Rahman said.

But not everyone was able to learn, he added.

"If you ask people whether somebody who perhaps because of old age or a disability is not able to learn, whether they should then be deprived of their rights, I think the majority would say that would be completely wrong."

Positive developments

But Mr Rahman said he was encouraged that more than half of those questioned believed Britain was a racist society.

"We need to deal with racism so it's good to see most people acknowledging it exists - it vindicates our position," Mr Rahman said.

Don de Silva of the 1990 Trust also saw positive developments in the poll findings.

"It's good the survey has identified that more than half of those questioned have someone from a different ethnic minority background in their immediate circle of friends.

"That is a positive thing and there appears to be a much greater move towards understanding than there has been before."

But the finding that a third of black and Asian people felt racism had hindered their job prospects was a big worry, Mr de Silva added.

Immigration clampdown

The survey on race in the UK came as Prime Minister Tony Blair called for asylum and immigration to be put at the top of the agenda of a European Union summit in Seville next month.

Speaking after talks with the Spanish Prime Minister at Downing Street on Monday, Mr Blair said robust regulations were needed to secure European borders.

He wants to use the EU's financial clout to punish countries where asylum seekers are coming from.

"We're not advocating a 'fortress Europe,' but what we are saying is there's got to be some order and some rules brought into the system whereby people come into Europe," he said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that would study the survey findings but the government was committed to making the UK a "successful multi-racial society where equality of opportunity if a reality for all."

Home Office evidence suggested migrants contributed more to the UK economy than they took in benefits.

"The government is therefore taking steps to ensure that people with skills and talents the UK needs are able to come into the UK on a sensible and managed basis," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Middlesbrough is an area with a tradition of good community relations"
Kumar Murshid, National Assembly Against Racism
"The notion that immigrants haven't contributed much to this society is simply wrong"
Race UK
BBC News Online examines race in modern Britain
Home
BBC Race Survey
Concern over 'police discrimination'
Britain "a racist society"
Full survey results
Analysis
What the survey reveals
Findings on justice
Background
Who lives where
Race and immigration
Internet links
Forum
Race equality chief Gurbux Singh
Global forum
Talking Point
What makes you British?
Is Britain racist?
Are the police prejudiced?
From BBCi
Films from Video Nation
CBBC race special
See also:

20 May 02 | UK Politics
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
11 Dec 01 | UK Politics
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