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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10

UK: Blunkett and Controversy

Home Secretary David Blunkett asked experts to draw up a "Britishness" test for applicants for British citizenship on "UK society and civic structures." The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum bill, expected to be approved in October 2002, will require citizenship applicants who have been in Britain for at least three years to demonstrate proficiency in English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic.

Blunkett, in an opinion article, said that British Asians can overcome the "schizophrenia which bedevils generational relationships" in Asian immigrant communities in the UK by speaking English, as well as mother tongues, at home. He said that some immigrants arrive in the UK and "find themselves catapulted into effectively different centuries. They are making a journey in the space of a few weeks or months, which it has taken us hundreds of years to make." http://www.observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,792223,00.html)

Blunkett said his concern about language in the home was reinforced by a finding in the Home Office's citizenship survey of 2001 that 30 percent of British Asian households do not use English at home. Former Europe minister Keith Vaz said that Blunkett's remarks were among the "silliest" ever made by a home secretary, while union leader (Transport and General Workers general secretary) Bill Morris said that Blunkett's policies were making a bad situation worst. Morris said that the government should "resist the temptation to use the current climate to dress up harsher penalties for asylum seekers as anti-terrorism measures, undermining further the already pitiful position of asylum seekers in this country."

Asylum. The pending Nationality, Immigration and Asylum bill 2002 would send the children of asylum seekers to schools located in asylum accommodation centers rather than to local schools. Many local teachers oppose the segregation of asylum children, saying that the presence of asylum children has a positive effect on local schools because they work hard and behave well, and enable local children to learn about other cultures.

The Blair government is offering $900 a person or $3,800 a family to Afghans who return home voluntarily. Britain, which provides housing and support for asylum seekers, no longer gives Afghanis leave to remain in the UK. Profiles of Afghani asylum seekers who continue to arrive suggest that most pay $5,000 to $7,000 to smugglers to take them across Iran and Turkey.

On September 20, 2002, journalists were allowed to film 48 Czechs, including 21 children, being deported from Britain by plane; the Home Office wanted to show that its removal policies were working. The Home Office hopes that the video, to be shown on Czech television, will discourage migrants from the Czech Republic from seeking asylum in Britain.

The Home Office is expected to once again propose that the EU develop European-wide temporary protection programs for genuine refugees, so that they do not need to travel to Britain illegally in the backs of lorries or underneath cross-channel trains. Under the proposal, some of the foreigners recognized as in need of protection, for instance, in Greece or Italy would be allowed to travel to Britain. The UK, in turn, would be tougher on foreigners who file "unfounded" asylum claims.

The British argument is that the 1951 Geneva refugee convention is ill-equipped to cope with modern people-trafficking and is breaking down under abuse by economic migrants. Under the British plan, UNHCR would decide, in a region producing refugees, who needs TPS outside the area. Each European country would then accept its quota of those in need of TPS, and be quicker to remove foreigners who arrive outside UNHCR channels and request asylum.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said that 90 percent of the foreigners who applied for asylum in 2001, and whose applications were rejected, remained in the UK. He said: "asylum seekers are arriving at a rate of about 100,000 a year and being removed at a rate of 10,000 a year." In 2001, some 126,200 decisions were made on asylum applications, and 41,940 foreigners were granted asylum, given "exceptional leave" to remain in the country permanently or were granted asylum on appeal. Some 84,260 applications were rejected, and 9,285 foreigners left the UK.

The Home Office said that rejected asylum seekers who stay in the UK for 14 years, or have children who have been in the UK seven years, are not removed.

Three security guards at London's Heathrow Airport allowed foreigners with false or no documents to board Air Canada flights to Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver; the foreigners applied for asylum on arrival. The guards were paid about $1,200 for each migrant allowed on a plane; most were Indians, some of whom paid up to $47,000 to be smuggled to Canada.

Preliminary results from Census 2001 suggest that the UK has 60 million residents, with immigration of 180,000 a year the major factor in population growth. The population is projected to increase to 65 million by 2025. The census shows a housing crunch-220,000 new households formed a year, but only 160,000 new housing units a year being built.

In September 2002, the Home Office published the Control of Immigration Statistics 2001 report http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk). In 2001, some 108,825 work permit holders and their dependants were admitted, up 19 percent over 2000; some 339,000 students were admitted in 2001, up eight percent, and there were 106,820 grants of settlement, down 15 percent. Some 49,135 persons were removed from the UK, or departed voluntarily, including 9,285 asylum seekers (there were 71,365 asylum applicants in 2001, excluding dependents).

Ireland. Ireland issued 6,200 work permits to non-EU foreigners in 1999, 36,500 in 2001, and 27,700 in the first eight months of 2002, so that more than 36,000 are expected to be issued in 2002. Employers are expected to seek Irish and EU workers first, but most reportedly make only a pro forma search. Once admitted, foreign workers are tied to one employer, and are not to be lent to other employers, but some farmers allegedly lend their non-EU foreign workers to other farmers.

Ireland's training and employment agency, FAS, said in October 2002 that youth unemployment was rising because employers preferred foreign workers: "employers are undoubtedly benefiting from the work permit scheme ... there would seem to be a need to move to a new system based on nationally identified, occupation- or skill-linked, immigration needs or procedures." The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment administers the foreign worker program, and responded that it had no plans to change the admissions system.

Arthur Beesley, "FAS calls for work permits to fill skills gap only," Irish Times, October 2, 2002. Beth Gardiner, "Afghans reluctant to head home," Associated Press, September 25, 2002. Tony Thompson, "Asylum seekers are being smuggled onto Heathrow planes by corrupt security officers," The Observer, September 22, 2002. "'No sympathy' in Britain for young refugees," Agence France Presse, September 18, 2002. Al Webb, "UK asylum policy said 'far too ambitious," UPI, September 18, 2002. David Leppard, "90% of asylum rejects do not leave Britain," Sunday Times, September 15, 2002. "Vaz attacks Blunkett in language row," The Guardian, September 16, 2002. Melissa Kite, "Immigrants told to speak English," The Times, September 16, 2002. David Pallister, "Anger at new advice to Asians," The Guardian, September 16, 2002. Anthony Browne, "Asylum-seekers make Britain first choice," The Times, September 13, 2002.