Ann Widdecombe

The Shadow Home Secretary responds to yesterday's attack by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the Tories' record on race and proposals for detention camps for asylum-seekers
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The Independent Online

I am not unaccustomed to being on the wrong end of political or personal abuse, and usually it has no effect on me. But I do confess to a sense of gross insult and some hurt at being described as a racist. I am not, and nor is the Conservative party, "playing the race card". What we are proposing will return the asylum system to the purpose for which it was designed - to help those fleeing persecution and give them a quick and settled haven.

Britain has a proud record of looking after those in real need but it is an incontrovertible fact that our asylum system is being badly abused. The figures speak for themselves: up to 80 per cent of asylum seekers are refused the right to settle in Britain each year. The backlog of claims now stands at more than 100,000 and in this gigantic morass the genuine refugee flounders and can sink. It is not surprising that so much abuse of our system occurs, when the message which goes out is that if you come to Britain you will be free to disappear, that it will take months or even years to sort out your claim and, even if it fails, you will not be removed.

We must tackle the problem at source by deterring patently unfounded claims. The message which should go out is that if you come to Britain with a bogus claim you will be placed in reception centres, processed quickly and removed as soon as the claim fails, leaving no prospect of being able to disappear, to work illegally or resort to begging. Those who will gain most from this are the genuine refugees who will find not a long queue but a fast process followed by a warm welcome.

Finally the reception centres will be able to provide what local councils struggle to provide: warm accommodation, food, legal advice, language facilities, education and play. What on earth is wrong with that?