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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Tightens Rules on Refugees

LONDON -- Britain unveiled tough immigration measures on Monday aimed at making the country less attractive to economic migrants who claim refugee status.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said the changes were designed to boost public confidence in the asylum system in Britain, seen as having some of the softest immigration laws in Europe.

Immigration has become a key political issue in Britain, with Prime Minister Tony Blair's government struggling to calm public concern about a perceived tide of foreigners trying to get in.

Ten countries aiming to join the European Union by 2004, including the Czech Republic and Poland, will be declared "safe" to stop people applying for asylum on the grounds that their lives are unsafe there, Blunkett said.

Immigrants making asylum claims inside Britain will be denied support unless they can explain how they entered the country and why they did not make a claim at a port or airport.

They will also have to show they are eligible for benefits, just as British citizens have to do.

Fewer asylum-seekers will be granted exceptional leave to remain in Britain if their claim for refugee status is rejected.

Immigration experts say there are up to 1 million illegal immigrants in Britain. Some 72,000 people applied for asylum in 2001, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq, figures show.

The government admitted earlier this year that its target of removing 30,000 failed asylum seekers each year was unlikely to be achieved.

Announcing the changes in an article in The Times newspaper, Blunkett said Britain had a "fundamental moral obligation" to offer sanctuary to those fleeing persecution.

But he said he had to act to plug loopholes that let in economic migrants to prevent far-right groups capitalizing on public discontent.

"I am determined to help to defeat those on the right who exploit fear and insecurity about immigration to spread racism and prejudice," he said.

"But I can only win this battle by establishing trust and confidence in our asylum system among the public. That is why I am changing the law to tackle those who falsely claim asylum when in reality they want to work here."

Right-wing extremists such as the National Front and the British National Party have sought to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment. The BNP won its first council seats in nine years in municipal polls this year.

Blunkett also announced new schemes in which migrants can enter the U.K. legally, including one starting next April for refugees who claim asylum while still abroad through a scheme operated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Two quota-based schemes will also be established to allow hotels, restaurants and food manufacturers to recruit seasonal workers from abroad, starting in early 2003.

Apart from the Czech Republic and Poland, EU hopefuls Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia, will also be declared "safe" countries. They aim to wrap up negotiations by the end of 2002 and become full EU members in 2004.