Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Afghan war 'controls immigration'

Phil Woolas
Mr Woolas said greater Taliban influence would increase migration

Removing troops from Afghanistan would "significantly increase" the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK, the immigration minister has said.

Phil Woolas told MPs one "benefit" of the Army's presence in the country was "to help us control immigration".

The comments come on the day that five UK troops were killed in Helmand.

The Conservatives said Mr Woolas's remarks had been "pretty crass", while the Liberal Democrats called them "tasteless and disrespectful".

The UK's stated primary aim for being in Afghanistan is to tackle the Taliban and help protect the UK from terrorism.

'Policy mess'

Mr Woolas told the Commons home affairs committee: "If this country and others were to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban were able to take control of Afghanistan, our evidence is that the number of asylum seekers coming to the EU would significantly increase.

"An argument that is not aired strongly enough in my view is the benefit of the presence of our armed forces and other countries' is to help us control immigration."

For the Conservatives, shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "On a day when so many of our soldiers have lost their lives, for a minister [Mr Woolas] to say that the war in Afghanistan helps make it easier to control immigration is pretty crass.

"We all know that Labour's immigration policy is in a mess. This kind of comment really proves that ministers at the Home Office have little idea of how to control our borders."

'Clear objectives'

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Phil Woolas's point is tasteless and disrespectful on a day when five of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan have lost their lives.

"He just underlines that the government does not have clear objectives in this conflict and we need urgently to be told the strategy for success."

Former Labour minister Kim Howells has called for the "great majority" of British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The intelligence and security committee chairman said efforts should focus on securing the UK's borders against terrorist attack, rather than concentrating on preventative measures abroad.

But Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said the Afghan mission was "inextricably tied" to UK security.



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