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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
EU signals asylum action
Channel Tunnel depot fence
There will be no "fortress Europe", Tony Blair says
The rise of the far-right across Europe could prompt a series of moves to tackle illegal immigration into the EU.

The move was heralded at talks between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, the prime minister of Spain - holder of the EU presidency - in London on Monday.


We are not advocating a fortress Europe, but... there has got to be some order and some rules brought into the system

Tony Blair
Mr Aznar said the EU's external borders had to be tightened and people-traffickers targeted. Aid could be withheld from non-EU countries that did not co-operate.

Mr Blair called it "one of the most pressing issues of our time" - but insisted he was not advocating a "fortress Europe".

The two men want asylum to top the agenda at next month's European summit in Seville.

A European agreement on immigration was drawn up three years ago, but in a strongly-worded letter to Mr Aznar his UK counterpart has complained that the EU is falling behind in implementing it.

The recent success of far-right parties has pushed the issue back into the limelight.

The Spanish prime minister stressed that Europe had to be "unwavering" in its battle to eliminate mafias that deal in human cargo.

Organised crime

Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Blair said: "We were very much in agreement with the need to try to tackle what is one of the most pressing issues of our time, which is the issue of immigration and asylum."

He added that a major issue was "how we make sure that the external borders of Europe are made more secure against the illegal trafficking of people".


We must be unwavering in our battle to eliminate mafias that deal in human traffic

Jose Maria Aznar

"We are not advocating a fortress Europe, but what we are saying is that there has got to be some order and some rules brought into the system."

Mr Blair said human trafficking was often underpinned by organised crime, "by people operating in circumstances that are totally outside the boundaries of the law".

Mr Aznar said he had asked his interior minister to draw up a series of measures on asylum that could be discussed at the Seville summit.

He went on: "We have to make legal immigration a positive factor of integration for our societies and we must act much more decisively and efficiently in terms of controlling the EU's external borders.

"We must be unwavering in our battle to eliminate mafias that deal in human traffic."

'Urgent action needed'

In his letter to Mr Aznar, Mr Blair stressed that "illegal immigration and criminal trafficking in asylum seekers are preoccupying our citizens".

The UK prime minister said it was "politically imperative that Seville delivers a strong push, giving a remit for urgent action to strengthen the EU's borders".

However, refugee groups have expressed fears the proposals could cause problems for genuine asylum seekers.

Nick Hardwick, from the Refugee Council, asked how people fleeing persecution were supposed to get their claims legally heard.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Centrists and moderates are being forced to radically alter their political agendas"
Home Office minister Angela Eagle
"The important thing is to ensure we can police the outer borders of the EU"
Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin
"The urgent necessity is to get a bilateral agreement with France"

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