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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 14:30 GMT
UK discussing UN asylum obligations
Asylum seeker
The 1951 Geneva Convention was signed after two wars
The UK has opened discussions with the United Nations about its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention which protects refugees, David Blunkett has said.

The home secretary said he wants a revision of the Convention to reflect the new global situation.

No state is immune from the threat of terrorism, and international terrorist networks have no respect for borders

David Blunkett
Under the 1951 agreement, signed in the aftermath of two world wars, countries are obliged to protect refugees on their territory and grant them at least the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals.

Mr Blunkett met his French counterpart at an Anglo-French summit at Le Touquet on Tuesday where further co-operation to help tackle illegal immigration was agreed.

The agreement includes:

  • The signing of a legal agreement for full UK immigration controls in Calais, and to be extended to other French ports as needed

  • Deploying new technology to spot illegal immigrants by their heartbeat or body heat in Dunkirk and Cherbourg by May, and to other ports as needed

  • Proposals to work together to increase the number of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants removed from the UK and France.

  • Common ways to tackle the threat of terrorism were also discussed.

    Mr Blunkett said: "No state is immune from the threat of terrorism, and international terrorist networks have no respect for borders.

    "We have been in the forefront of promoting international co-operation to counter the threat they pose. UK law enforcement agencies are in constant contact with their colleagues in France.

    21st Century approach

    Last month Mr Blair said he may have to re-examine the UK's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if his government's policies to sort out the creaking asylum system failed.

    The Conservatives have said the UK should consider pulling out of the international conventions.

    But Mr Blunkett said pulling out of the ECHR was a move "none of us would want to contemplate lightly" because of the "acrimony" and "disdain" the UK would be held in by the international community.

    He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In Le Touquet today we will be discussing further controls to stop people getting in - [this] is the issue, not having to pull out of international conventions.
    David Blunkett
    Pulling out of conventions is not the issue, says Blunkett

    "There are two conventions, one is the 1951 Convention in relation to refugees," said Mr Blunkett.

    "We have already opened discussions with the UN on that because I have said all along, and Jack Straw (his predecessor) has said before me, that it was necessary to take a look at that.

    "The European Convention on Human Rights is something that I think we will have to come back to."

    Tory ideas

    Mr Blunkett said he raised the issue of the European Convention of Human Rights at Europe's Justice and Home Affairs Council in September 2001.

    "We need to discuss how best to approach, in the 21st Century, obligations on human rights and global movements.

    "They are very, very big issues - they are not issues that we can deal with in the next six weeks.

    "I think the option of pulling out (of the ECHR) is one which none of us would want to contemplate lightly, not least because of the acrimony, because of the distain that we would be held in, in the international community."

    'No opt out'?

    Mr Blunkett also conceded that he had "no objection" to Tory plans announced last week to lock up asylum seekers for security checks at detention centres, which could be housed on ships, before they are admitted to UK towns or cities.

    But he suggested that the proposals would be too costly and take too long.

    David Pannick, a QC who has represented Mr Blunkett in human rights cases, has suggested it would be impossible to opt out from the convention.

    In a legal opinion for civil rights group Liberty, Mr Pannick said it was "strongly arguable" a state could not use withdrawal from the convention to secure an "opt out".

    "Therefore the proposal floated by the Prime Minister would be invalid and unlawful," added Mr Pannick.


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    05 Feb 03 | Politics
    19 Feb 03 | Politics
    28 Jan 03 | Politics
    28 Jan 03 | Politics
    09 Feb 01 | Europe
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