Fresh row over immigration

LONDON DEC 4. As a fresh row erupted over the continuing high level of immigration into Britain, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, accused the far Right of trying to create a `scare' by evoking apocalyptic visions of immigrants swamping the country.

Mr. Blunkett, though himself seen as a hardliner on the issue, reacted strongly when during a heated exchange in the Commons the Tories seized on the recent rise in asylum applications to warn of a `disaster' if the Government did not get its act together — and fast.

His remarks that the Tories' attitude smacked of the scare tactics of the "far Right'' were denounced as `arrogant' and `offensive' by Tory MPs who insisted that the Government's immigration and asylum policy was in a shambles.

The clash followed the publication of new official figures showing a sharp increase in asylum applications, and Mr. Blunkett's announcement that Britain had agreed to accept upto 1,200 inmates of the Sangatte refugee camp in France when it closes down at the end of this month.

The decision was attacked by critics who said it would add to the pressures on an already `creaking' immigration system.

``Why should 1,200 people be suddenly, at the wave of a Home Office wand, transformed from asylum seekers into work seekers granted permits ahead of others'' asked one Opposition MP.

The shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, the most moderate of Tory leaders, said unlawful immigration had reached `record' levels and warned that if asylum applications continued to increase at the current rate "the present crisis will turn into a disaster''.

Another moderate Tory leader, Francis Maude, said though there was a case for "selective and controlled economic migration'' and for giving asylum to people genuinely fleeing persecution in their own countries, tough measures were needed to discourage bogus applicants.

Race and immigration groups, however, attacked attempts to `demonise' immigrants and warned against a "return to Powellism'' — a reference to Enoch Powell, the Tory leader who led a bitter racist campaign in the late sixties against unchecked immigration.

They said that far from being a burden, immigrants contributed to the British society with much of the service sector almost entirely dependent on them.

"Let us have a 48-hour strike of immigrants and their offspring and see what happens to this ungrateful nation without cleaners, doctors, lawyers, waiters, nannies, actors, ushers, curry cooks, bouncers, drivers, teachers.....,'' said Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a leading commentator on race issues.

Despite Tory criticism, the Blair Government is widely seen to have a tough line on asylum and Mr Blunkett himself has been accused of following a right-wing agenda on the issue.

Recommended for you