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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"Critics say it is a dangerous attack on the 1951 UN convention"
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Claude Moraes, MEP
"Some of this has merit"
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The BBC's Jon Silverman
"Refugee groups say we are moving towards a system where rich countries cherry pick those refugees they consider desirable"
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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 09:08 GMT
UK moves to block asylum seekers
Asylum seekers
Asylum policy could be an election issue
Home Secretary Jack Straw is set to call for an EU-wide agenda of action to stem the levels of asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

Mr Straw said there was obvious public concern in the UK about the levels of unfounded asylum seekers.

Genuine asylum seekers must still enjoy a fair and just hearing

Claude Moraes, MEP
In a speech later on Tuesday he is due to seek EU support for his plans, which include a proposal to prevent refugees from travelling across Europe before claiming asylum.

Ahead of his speech, Mr Straw told the BBC: "We have got to get EU-wide agreement and common asylum policies and principles."

Mr Straw also wants member states to support an overhaul of the 1951 UN Convention on Human Rights and to agree a clearer definition of genuine refugees and economic migrants.

The home secretary said: "There really is a serious issue here. The UN convention is 50 years old today. The principles are timeless but how those principles are put into practice has to change."

Safe countries

Under one plan being considered, refugees would be prevented from travelling to an EU country until their asylum application had been processed in the first "safe" country in which they arrived.

Such a system could mean asylum seekers like Afghan refugees applying for asylum in the EU from Pakistan where they would be dealt with by EU officials.

But refugee groups are likely to regard any such scheme as a way to the cut the cost to the taxpayer while keeping more asylum seekers out of Britain.

The plans are the latest attempts by ministers to be seen to be tackling the asylum issue.

Deportation plan

A newspaper report said Mr Straw was also considering a plan to turn away some asylum seekers arriving in Britain from France as a means of curbing illegal immigration.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to press for France's agreement when he meets President Jacques Chirac at an Anglo-French summit on Friday, according to Tuesday's Times.

It's vital we do not end up cherry-picking refugees with job and language skills we need, rather than those most in need of protection

Sarah Spencer, IPPR
Mr Straw also wants EU states to agree that individual countries will only accept asylum seekers at times of severe crisis when they will each take a quota.

He is expected to drum up support for the proposals when he attends an informal European summit in Stockholm, Sweden, later this week.

Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research's citizenship and governance programme Sarah Spencer warned that Mr Straw's initiative should balance being tough on smugglers but welcome genuine asylum seekers.

Blanket assumptions

"It's vital we do not end up cherry-picking refugees with job and language skills we need, rather than those most in need of protection," she said.

Labour MEP and former director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Claude Moraes, said: "The 1951 convention was designed for a different age and must be updated.

"But in doing so, genuine asylum seekers must still enjoy a fair and just hearing, while showing the way for a more comprehensive immigration policy to deal with people fleeing poverty or looking for a better life."

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See also:

31 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Heseltine stirs asylum row
27 Jun 00 | Europe
Illegal immigrants: UK overview
01 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Refugee dispersal plans attacked
11 May 00 | UK Politics
'Army camps' plan for asylum seekers
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