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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Blunkett set to get tough on refugees
Illegal immigrants in Calais
The Channel Tunnel is targeted by illegal immigrants
Home Secretary David Blunkett says he is close to making decisions on immigration policy reform which may see work permits for asylum seekers.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Blunkett also outlined some of the issues he will be discussing with his French counterpart, Daniel Vaillant, in crisis talks next week.

Britain and France are struggling to control cross-Channel illegal immigration.

Dozens attempt the crossing each night and British police will reportedly be invited to help control access to the Channel Tunnel at Calais.

I cannot dispute that the UK is particularly attractive to asylum seekers

David Blunkett
Quoted in Journal de Dimanche
Mr Blunkett said he was "very nearly ready" to review Britain's asylum policy but called for more time.

He told the Observer he wants to change the work permit system to ensure the UK can deal with sensible economic migration.

He said that would work alongside revised asylum policies which "match our desire to provide a safe haven to those who face persecution and death across the world".

But he also promised "rigorous and hard-headed policies that send the right signals to those who do not".

The government's voucher scheme for asylum seekers has come under renewed attack from the leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union Bill Morris.

Mr Morris told GMTV he had "every confidence" the government would dispense with the voucher system.

"It is failing in its objective, it is too costly ... so that policy should be made redundant."

He also called for a debate on Europe-wide managed migration.

Border police

Mr Blunkett told The Observer he was planning to unveil a package of security measures at the meeting with Mr Vaillant and would push for collaboration with other countries on wider border controls.

He is thought to favour fingerprinting asylum seekers as they enter Britain, to help build a European database which would be installed at key ports and airports.

The task of inspecting lorries as they enter the Eurotunnel terminal currently falls to the company's private security force and French border police.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett is due to unveil new security measures
The French Government reportedly wants to extend searches to within the terminal compound and allow British police to get involved.

But it would not say whether it would offer police the power to detain or arrest suspected illegal immigrants, said The Sunday Times.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the idea would be considered, but only as part of a wider package of security measures.

Formal agreement

If Mr Blunkett accepts the offer, it will not be the first time UK officials have crossed the channel to help tackle the problem.

Britain and France signed an agreement in May which allows UK immigration officials to patrol French stations for illegal immigrants trying to board Eurostar trains.

In return French officers will be able to work at Eurostar's Ashford and Waterloo terminals.

Asylum seekers risk their lives to try to get to the UK
Eurotunnel has appointed a retired British Army officer, General Sir Roger Wheeler, to review its security procedures in France.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Executive has created a new post of asylum minister to handle devolved issues such as housing and welfare.

The welfare of asylum seekers was highlighted after one was killed in Glasgow's Sighthill area.

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said Britain was still a "uniquely soft touch" for asylum seekers.

She told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton programme: "Probably the biggest magnet is that when you get to this country, whether your claim stands up or not, you are most unlikely to be removed."

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"One proposal from the French is to allow British police to help control access to the Tunnel"
John Noulton, Public Affairs, Eurotunnel
"We think political action is needed"
See also:

08 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems urge EU asylum overhaul
04 Sep 01 | UK
Aiming for England
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Asylum decision shocks politicians
09 Sep 01 | Scotland
Executive appoints asylum minister
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