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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Blunkett denies 'election ploy'
Refugees en route to the UK
Asylum campaigners welcomed the climb-down on the right to appeal
A plan to make failed asylum seekers work for their benefits is not just a cynical "election ploy", David Blunkett has insisted.

The home secretary angered opposition parties by unveiling the plan two days before local and European elections.

The Lib Dems accused Mr Blunkett of "pandering to the right" on asylum and trying to grab headlines.

But Mr Blunkett said the measures were sensible and MPs would be given a proper chance to debate them.


The proposals are in ministers' changes to the Asylum and Immigration Bill to be published on Wednesday.

They would apply to people who have been turned down for political asylum but who cannot immediately return to their country because it is deemed too dangerous.

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said the timing of the announcement was "absolutely extraordinary" and a "straightforward election ploy".

He said some of the measures were "welcome" but others struck him as "quite odd", while the idea of forcing failed asylum seekers to do community work was "almost certainly open to challenge in the courts".

"I am left with the rather unpleasant sensation that quite a few of these measures won't actually make very much difference but simply look good on paper.

"When it actually comes to the practice they will be quietly dropped," Mr Grieve told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, branded the proposals "pretty Draconian" and said their timing had been deliberate.

"Very rarely does this government do anything by mistake.

"They are polling very heavily on this issue, and I am afraid that over the last year they have pandered to the right on the issue of asylum," Mr Oaten told WATO.

'Sensible' measures

But Mr Blunkett insisted the timing of the announcement was down to procedural reasons.

"The timing is entirely down to the fact that we had to get this package of measures together and that it was possible to re-commit the committee stage to the House of Lords."

He added: "If the house of Lords passes these measures we will be able to debate them in the House of Commons."

He said the plans were "sensible, rational measures" that were essentially no different to the New Deal, designed to get the long-term unemployed off the dole.

And he rejected Lib Dem calls for asylum seekers to be allowed to take full-time paid work, saying such a move would undermine the existing immigration system.

"The minute asylum becomes an alternative work route," Mr Blunkett added, "people would be piling in demanding work from us".

Bogus marriages

It is expected about 500 people will be affected by the measures, although many of those may be returned to Iraq, following the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government.

Back payments of income support will also be scrapped for people whose claim for asylum is granted.

The measures also include a clampdown on bogus marriages, with non-EU nationals having to prove they are in the UK lawfully before getting wed.

And refugees will only be allowed to settle in dispersal areas - in other words where they are sent.

Currently, many asylum seekers are placed in towns and cities across the UK but gravitate back to London and South East of England.

Under this measure, they will lose their rights to housing if they move out of an allocated area.

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