Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Thursday, 30 June 2005 15:15 UK

Attitudes 'risk race relations'

Asylum seekers
The over-50s are the most racist and ill-informed on immigration

Advances in race relations over the last 20 years are being put in jeopardy by the public's attitude to asylum seekers, a report has claimed.

The term "asylum seeker" was being used for genuine refugees, immigrants and people from ethnic minorities, said the Institute for Public Policy Research.

This was contributing to "extremely negative" attitudes to people seeking asylum, the Left-wing think tank added.

"The most negative views are based on wildly inaccurate beliefs," it said.

There is a real opportunity in the aftermath of the election to have a proper debate on managed migration
Tony McNulty

The IPPR's report called for grassroots projects to help bridge the gap between asylum seekers and their communities.

Think-tank spokeswoman Miranda Lewis said: "Hostility towards asylum seekers is getting deeper and asylum is becoming the lens through which immigration and race are viewed.

"The most negative views are based on wildly inaccurate beliefs on impacts but are felt deeply by people who feel vulnerable about access to public resources."

She added: "To reverse this trend we cannot simply blame the tabloids, an illiberal white working class or the government.

"We need a new approach where local authorities play a stronger role in policy, implementation and communication."

'Hostile over-50s'

The majority of British people still believed the UK had a moral duty to protect refugees, the report found, but attitudes varied significantly according to background.

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For example, people in deprived areas often felt asylum seekers competed for housing, healthcare and jobs. Wealthier people were more tolerant.

And over-50s were the most hostile, most racist, least well informed and most likely to say British identity was being lost.

The report called on the government to provide English lessons for asylum seekers, allow them to work on community projects or voluntary work while their cases are being heard and improve the way information is shared with local people about asylum.

'Debate needed'

The new immigration minister Tony McNulty acknowledged in the past ministers may not have told the full story about asylum seekers.

"I fully accept there is needs to be space for debate [on immigration]," he said.

"Perversely, because of all the heat, light and thunder, which was misplaced in ignorance, there is a real opportunity in the aftermath of the election to have a proper debate on managed migration."

Mr McNulty said the debate over the government's five-year immigration plan included addressing serious concerns such as integration of newcomers.

He said he was personally "open-minded" about allowing asylum seekers to work in some form, something which is currently banned.

Campaigners say the asylum work ban prevents these people integrating and forming bonds with local people.

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