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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 17:56 GMT
Blunkett 'fuelled' asylum fears
Asylum seeker
Asylum seekers face prejudice, say campaigners

Campaign groups have accused the government of having fuelled fears over asylum seekers, as David Blunkett warned people might "take the law into their own hands" over the issue.

The home secretary told a magazine he was so concerned about people wrongly making a link between terrorists and asylum seekers he feared tension would lead to community relations breaking down.

Any seriously-minded terrorist is unlikely to choose a route where claiming asylum immediately puts you into contact with the authorities

Steve Symonds, of Asylum Aid

But some groups that work with asylum seekers blame politicians for having played a part in heightening tensions.

Others have welcomed Mr Blunkett's comments in the New Statesman as a step towards combating misconceptions.

Government policy focuses on removing asylum seekers, not giving them the protection they deserve, said Tauhid Pasha of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

"The government portrays asylum seekers as an unwanted group of people in the UK," the legal policy director told BBC News Online.

'Empty words'

He argued that the dispersal policy, whereby asylum seekers are sent to live in communities "ill-prepared" to receive them, was partly to blame for a backlash.

"Mr Blunkett's statement has no meaning unless he will accept a degree of responsibility for the current climate of anger against asylum seekers," he said.

"The government has to take at least partial responsibility for fuelling fears."

For Steve Symonds, of Asylum Aid, Mr Blunkett's comments represent a "late wake-up call for politicians".

While he welcomed this attempt to disentangle asylum and terrorism, he said: "If politicians had thought ahead, Mr Blunkett may not now be having to give this warning."

Margaret Lally
Asylum seekers are coming to this country to flee terrorism not to engage in terrorism

Margaret Laller, Refugee Council

His experience of working with asylum seekers on a daily basis is they just want to get on with their lives.

He said to make a link between asylum seekers and terrorists was "nonsense".

"Any seriously-minded terrorist is unlikely to choose a route where claiming asylum immediately puts you into contact with the authorities," he said.

"There are many other ways of entering the country which don't require fingerprinting or the risk of being detained."

The Refugee Council is more conciliatory.

It believes that Mr Blunkett was right to address people's fears and to refute any suggestion of a link between asylum seekers and terrorism.

Deputy chief executive Margaret Laller said: "It is important that people get the facts.

'Misinformation'

"Asylum seekers are coming to this country to flee terrorism not to engage in terrorism."

The row this week over Home Office plans for a reception centre for asylum seekers in Kent demonstrated the need to give people the correct information, she added.

The idea had been to prepare asylum seekers to be moved to other parts of the country.

"But because of misleading information there was a backlash," he said.

"The policy was good but it was poorly implemented."

A total of 88,000 asylum seekers came into the UK in 2001 while 90m people came through the UK's borders.

"Of those asylum seekers the vast majority settled happily and you hear no more about them," she said.


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20 Jan 03 | England
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