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Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 14:56 GMT
Asylum 'havens' considered by UK
Somalian refugees
Somalian refugees could get a safe haven
The idea of deporting UK asylum seekers to special safe havens in the regions they left behind is being considered by ministers.

The government is anxious to cut the number of asylum applications, which are expected to top 100,000 for last year when official figures are released later this month.

This is a complex issue and it is only right that we look at a range of options

Tony Blair's spokesman
Downing Street has confirmed a discussion paper on deporting most asylum seekers to United Nations "regional protection areas" has been put to a cabinet committee.

Number 10 insisted the document had no "formal status" and no decisions had been taken on the issue.

Six month stay

Tony Blair's spokesman said the paper was part of long-term thinking on managing migration.

"This is a complex issue and it is only right that we look at a range of options," he added.

The joint Cabinet Office and Home Office paper has already been discussed by the committee chaired by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

David Blunkett
Blunkett faces a growing number of asylum claims

Asylum applications would be processed in the safe havens, according to the Guardian, which has seen a copy of the proposals.

They would remain there for six months while stability was restored to their home country.

Those needing longer-term sanctuary could be shared between the UK and other European nations under a new population-based quota system, it suggests.

Possible locations for the safe havens suggested in the proposals are:

  • Turkey, Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan for Iraqi asylum seekers;
  • Northern Somalia for those from southern Somalia
  • Morocco for Algerians.

The document argues care must be taken to ensure the initiative is not seen as "dumping asylum seekers on the poorer nations", nor as "using money to enable us to wash our hands of the refugee problem".

Military action?

The measures could, however "rapidly reduce the number of economic immigrants using asylum applications as a migration route", it says.

They could also deter "potential terrorists", it suggests.

Another of the proposals is for more intervention in the countries producing the most asylum applications, says the Guardian.

Such measures could range from aid packages and sanctions to military action, says the leaked document.

"Any coercive intervention in other states is of course controversial", it admits.

But it argues military action could be a "last resort" in efforts to reduce "flows" of refugees.

Debate welcomed

The Guardian says the report will be presented to Tony Blair this week and to Ruud Lubbers, UN high commissioner for refugees, on his visit to London on Monday.

The UN high commission for refugees would have to be persuaded to set up the safe havens, perhaps with funding from key European Union states.

The Refugee Action group said many questions remained about the proposals.

But it was encouraged ministers were exploring a "practical global programme to help address the world's refugee crisis".

A group spokesman said: "The success of any 'safe havens' scheme will depend upon adherence to the highest standards of human rights, the absence of coercion and a commitment to helping developing countries to support refugees."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Simon Hughes welcomed the suggestion of a Europe-wide asylum policy.

But he added: "It is difficult to believe that the safety of refugees will be better guaranteed in cordoned off areas of Iraq or Somalia.

"The government must prove that it is not simply passing the buck and should clarify who will pay for these new proposals."

UN talks

Mr Blunkett on Tuesday said the UK has opened discussions with the UN about its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention which protects refugees.

The home secretary said he wanted the convention revised to reflect the new global situation.

Under the 1951 agreement, 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 also met his French counterpart at Tuesday's Anglo-French summit at Le Touquet where further co-operation to help tackle illegal immigration was agreed.

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See also:

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