Europe Gives Asylum Seekers Tough Love ; Britain Debates Tightening Laws to Guard against Terrorists and Freeloaders

By Happold, Tom | The Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2001 | Go to article overview

Europe Gives Asylum Seekers Tough Love ; Britain Debates Tightening Laws to Guard against Terrorists and Freeloaders


Happold, Tom, The Christian Science Monitor


In a cramped apartment in Nottingham, 100 miles north of London, Omar Hussein lives with five other asylum seekers and wonders what the future holds.

If a proposed new law passes, Mr. Hussein and his roommates could be segregated in special housing centers and required to carry special ID cards.

Mr. Hussein, who says that he fled Iraq after agents of Saddam Hussein (no relation) executed his father, is among more than 80,000 people who claimed asylum in Britain last year. But here, as elsewhere in Europe, the welcome mat is wearing thin.

Since Sept. 11, European concerns have risen that asylum laws are allowing terrorists free movement. Another catalyst for change is a common public perception that many asylum claims are false - and that newcomers simply want to freeload off the British economy.

The paradox is that the efforts to prune asylum transplants come as Europe tries to expand its labor forces with skilled immigrants.

In the fourth major shake-up of Britain's asylum system in less than a decade, a set of tightened proposals is expected to win parliamentary approval next year.

The changes, says British Home Secretary David Blunkett, make it possible for all asylum seekers to "be tracked as well as supported," and make deportation easier if their applications for asylum are rejected.

Britain now has a policy of dispersing petitioners around the country - to spread the cost of housing them and minimize the sometimes disruptive impact they have on their new communities. But under the new government proposals, asylum seekers could soon be required to live in special accommodation centers or camps if they want to receive financial support. They would also have to carry, for the first time, "smart" identification cards with their fingerprints and photos.

Nick Hardwick of the Refugee Council, a London-based charity, warns against "institutionalizing asylum seekers by placing them in accommodation centers" and "exacerbating the problem they already face in accessing basic services by introducing so-called smart cards."

The regulations, observers say, are part of a Europe-wide trend toward reducing the number of successful applications and deterring applicants.

"The walls of fortress Europe are getting higher and higher," says Mr. Hardwick, "despite the fact that human rights abuses across the world continue to soar."

But Britain's shadow home secretary, the Conservative Party's Oliver Letwin, bemoans the "absurd" situation in which "citizens of other countries, who are believed by our security services to pose a threat to our safety, are able to enter Britain and remain in Britain. …

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