NEWS

UK’s refugee plan worries Amnesty Int’l

THESSALONIKI (Reuters) – Amnesty International said yesterday that it had serious doubts about the legality of a British plan to establish detention centers for refugees outside the European Union to stem illegal immigration. On the eve of a two-day EU interior ministers meeting to discuss the British plan in the northern Greek city of Veria, the international rights group urged the bloc to be very critical of the proposals, given Britain’s role in the war in Iraq. «Amnesty International has serious doubts about the legality of transferring persons to other countries for processing under the terms that the UK proposals envisage,» it said in a statement. «It is also appropriate to point out that the incongruity of such a debate is sharpened by the fact that the present proposals were initiated by the one member state that is part of the military operations in Iraq.» The meeting comes as thousands of refugees are expected to flee Iraq over the US-led war against President Saddam Hussein, a conflict in which Britain is Washington’s staunchest ally. Under the proposals, refugees would wait in the centers while their application for asylum was examined. Those found to meet EU refugee criteria would be able to leave the centers and enter the bloc, while those who did not would be sent back home. The centers would be established along known transit routes in regions such as the Balkans and close to the countries from which many asylum-seekers originate, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The proposals are clearly aimed at calming public concern over illegal immigration in Britain and other EU states, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and France, where it is a prominent election issue. «We need to be able to show our citizens at home that European asylum policy is not simply a gateway for uncontrolled migration, but rather a firm and fair procedure for those who genuinely need refuge,» British Home Secretary David Blunkett said in a statement ahead of the EU meeting. Britain’s relatively generous benefits system, the absence of identification cards and the existence of well-established migrant communities make the country an attractive destination for many asylum-seekers. In 2002, Britain received the most applications of all EU member states, with over 100,000 claims, up 20 percent from 2001. Fellow EU-member Germany received 71,100 and France, 58,100.