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Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 19:18 GMT
Blunkett fears asylum backlash
Refugees arrive in Britain
UK society is like a 'coiled spring', says Blunkett
Home Secretary David Blunkett fears that controversy over asylum seekers could end up with people "taking the law into their own hands".

While he wanted people's concerns to be openly debated, he warned that the UK as a society is "like a coiled spring".

We display much more anger from within

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett was speaking just days after a row blew up over Home Office moves to use a hotel in Kent as an asylum reception centre.

Asked by the New Statesman magazine about the connection made by some people between terrorists and asylum seekers, the home secretary responded: "I'm worried about tension and frustration spilling over into the disintegration of community relations and social cohesion.

"I'm worried about people taking the law into their own hands."

But he stressed: "I want the debate in the open, I want people's fears to be genuinely reflected, I want to be able to ensure they know the facts and get the information on which they can make a judgment."

'Incompetence'

When quizzed about the apparently rising tide of violence in Britain, Mr Blunkett replied: "We are as a society like a coiled spring. We are undoubtedly prepared to display that anger in different ways.

Refugees take shelter in a Calais church
Most asylum seekers would be absolutely appalled to be associated with terrorism

Margaret Lally

"People in some cultures do a lot of shouting, but let it out. We display much more anger from within."

But Tory Home Office spokesman Dominic Grieve told the BBC: "It is quite clear that in the particular problem of terrorism, the evidence that had come out so far is that terrorists are using the asylum policy, or lack of it, as a means of getting into this country and establishing themselves."

"That is a serious and immediate issue that needs to be addressed on a security level."

Safety sought

Margaret Lally, of the Refugee Council, welcomed Mr Blunkett's opinion and said he was right to speak out and respond to people's fears.

"Clearly people have got genuine anxieties.

"It would be best to try to address those anxieties by giving them the facts," she said.

"Most asylum seekers would be absolutely appalled to be associated with terrorism.

"They have fled from terror - they are looking for safety here."

Earlier this week, Downing Street was forced to announce an urgent review of the thinking behind the use of a three-star hotel in Sittingbourne as a home for asylum seekers.

Mr Blunkett told MPs that he wanted a "step-change" in the way the National Asylum Support Service relates to local communities, after the furore that developed over the potential use of the Coniston Hotel.

He said the procedures and process used to buy the hotel were "unsatisfactory and incompetent" and underlined the need for a massive improvement in the way the service dealt with sensitive issues.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The government denies asylum policies are in chaos"
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"He has been saying similar things for a while"
Conservative Home Affairs spokesman Dominic Grieve
"I don't think people here are unreasonable"

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23 Jan 03 | Politics
20 Jan 03 | England
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