HOME SECRETARY David Blunkett has announced two additions to the Asylum Bill currently going through parliament, which are a major attack on the rights of refugees seeking asylum in Britain.
The first is removing the right of appeal while in the UK to any asylum seeker with a claim that is “clearly unfounded”. Blunkett says that this will mean a decision could be made on a claim “within a matter of one or two days”.
A claim cannot be investigated within this time-scale. The decision would not be based on an investigation, but simply on whether the country of origin is on a “safe” list. According to the Refugee Council, if this bill had been law last year, it would have prevented over 1,400 Sri Lankan refugees from having the right to remain in Britain, as they had their initial rejection overturned on appeal.
The appeals process is hard enough for most asylum seekers to use while here, conducting it from outside the UK would be virtually impossible.
The second addition is to enable the deportation of any asylum seeker to “a safe country”, without the right to appeal against their removal while in the UK. The introduction of a “safe list” is a return to the vicious attacks on asylum rights made under the last Tory government.
When Michael Howard brought in his “white list” of “safe” countries in 1996, New Labour leaders called it a “nasty little bill”, an “effective demolition of the existing asylum process” and “an abdication by the government of its responsibilities under international law”. New Labour repealed the act after coming to power, only to bring back the essence of it now.
The latest statistics show an increase in asylum applicants of 8% in the first quarter, but this is not highly significant when balanced against an 11% fall last year.
Blunkett is carrying out these attacks partly to try to avoid an argument over the increase, and over new figures showing increased spending on asylum applicants.
Over £1 billion was spent on asylum seekers’ support in the financial year 2001/2, against a Home Office budget of just £403m which even Blunkett was forced to describe as inadequate.
Blunkett is also trying to gain support from Tory and far-right voters by echoing the policies of these parties.
He has made comments which play up fears that the number of asylum seekers is out of control, and even praised the assassinated leader of the far-right in the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn, for some of his “more rational” policies on immigration.
Tory Home Affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin understated the case when he said: “inch by inch, the government is moving towards our position”.
Blunkett faces many obstacles in using his proposed additional powers. For instance there are no third countries at present that would accept asylum seekers rejected by Britain.
Also, there could be disagreements from the Law Lords as there have been in the past on what is a “clearly unfounded” claim and what is a “safe country”. In a court case in December 2000, even France and Germany were ruled as being unsafe for refugees because of their narrower definition of the term “refugee”.
In fact many immigration experts have declared the proposals unworkable and assumed they must be for propaganda purposes only.
However, despite the difficulties of implementation, these measures pose a serious threat to the basic rights of refugees and must be strongly opposed.