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Friday, 27 December, 2002, 15:47 GMT
UK 'not burdened by refugees'
Sangatte refugee camp
Many refugees crossed to the UK from France
Claims that Britain has more than its fair share of asylum seekers have been attacked by the Refugee Council, which says developing countries take most of the burden.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said on Friday that more refugees were targeting the UK because of its international reputation.

He urged the British Government to work with other European countries and strike a multi-lateral approach to solving the problem.

He seems to be stirring the pot of resentment in Europe, which really we don't want

Prof Nigel Harris, UCL

But the Refugee Council said it was the developing world which bore the brunt of the asylum seekers.

The UK takes less than two per cent of the world's refugees, said the council's director of communications, Fazil Kawani.

Developing countries - such as Iran and Pakistan taking 4m Afghan refugees between them - have far more of a refugee burden, he said.

But he agreed with Mr Lubbers that tough policies and a Europe-wide solution to the asylum problem were the ways forward.

'Stirring resentment'

Mr Lubbers' remarks were also criticised by an immigration expert who accused him of "stirring the pot of resentment" over asylum seekers.

Professor Nigel Harris, of University College London (UCL) and author of The Immigration Myth Exposed, said admitting refugees should not be described as a burden.

"It's our obligation and many of the people coming into the country are highly talented," he said.

"He seems to be stirring the pot of resentment in Europe, which really we don't want," he added.

Speaking earlier on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Lubbers said it was much more important to find solutions for refugees so that they did not have to come all the way to the UK.

"The UK is a substantial country, big in development assistance but up until now we have not found ways to spend money in a way that less would come to UK and more would find a solution in the regions of origin," he said.

Mr Lubbers said that if a dollar per citizen, worldwide, was spent on the work of UNHCR then the organisation would be better placed to find solutions for refugees in their home countries.

The solution here is to share responsibility to share the burden

Ruud Lubbers,
UNHCR
"If you could go for one person per thousand citizens there would be no refugee problem in the world at all," he said.

Using that formula, the UK has well over the 60,000 refugees that would be expected of a country with a population of around 60 million people.

Mr Lubbers said an agreement with the European Union and its population of 350 million would help ease the problem.

"Let's share the burden so that we have less in the UK and more spread over the EU," he said.

Sangatte deal

The British Government's Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill recently passed its final parliamentary hurdles.

Asylum seeker in Calais
Refugees take risks to get to the UK
According to the government's own figures, the UK has the "third largest foreign population and labour force in the European Union", around 2.2m people.

Figures from Migration Watch UK, predict more than two million people will arrive in the UK every 10 years for the foreseeable future.

Home Secretary David Blunkett recently agreed to allow 1,200 immigrants to enter the UK from the Sangatte refugee camp, under a deal to close the centre at the end of the month.

Mr Lubbers said the UK was heavily burdened and should therefore have an interest in international co-operation for burden-sharing.

"The solution here is to share responsibility to share the burden and not go on one country by country," he said

But Dr Alice Block, an expert on asylum seekers from Goldsmiths College in London said research published by the Home Office this month and a study last year found migrants were making "a positive and net contribution to the British economy".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"What's needed is a new global deal"
Ruud Lubbers, UNHCR
"The solution is to share responsibility and not place a burden on one country"

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13 Dec 02 | Europe
12 Dec 02 | England
29 Nov 02 | Politics
19 Jun 02 | Europe
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