Blunkett asks UN to identify 'genuine' asylum-seekers

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Indy Politics

Five hundred refugees confirmed as genuine by the United Nations will start settling in Britain next month, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced yesterday.

The scheme - which will initially benefit west Africans fleeing civil war - is intended to undermine the lucrative trade in people trafficking.

In a wide-ranging conference speech, Mr Blunkett hinted at further action to curb gun crime and fiercely defended his plan to limit trial by jury. But, in the face of deep hostility from cabinet colleagues, he avoided any reference to compulsory identity cards.

He told the conference that the Government was pressing ahead with a resettlement programme run jointly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Individuals identified in their home regions by the UNHCR as being in genuine need of protection will be allowed to set up home in Britain. The first batch of 500 is expected to include Liberians who fled the country's civil war of 1989-90 to neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The aim is that by opening up legitimate routes to the West for the most deserving cases, the incentive for economic refugees to pay thousands of pounds to people traffickers who smuggle them to the West is removed.

Mr Blunkett told the conference: "From next month, we will begin the programme of UN-nominated victims of terror and death across the world to be able to come to our country."

He said Britain's work permit system was the largest in the world, allowing thousands to work legitimately and make an economic contribution. "I believe men and women of this country will welcome those from across the world if they know that what we are doing is trusted, they can be confident in its administration, they know that we are seeing off organised criminals," he said. "On that basis, we can demand of them that they join with us in seeing off the BNP and the racists who destroy our communities."

After the murder in Nottingham this week of Marian Bates, a jeweller's wife, he acknowledged that gun crime remained a serious problem that would have to be confronted if Labour won a third spell in government. "Two terms in office isn't enough to prepare Britain for the century ahead," he told the conference.

"The reality of the moment may well be the challenge of guns. But it will not be the reality of tomorrow if this Labour Government succeeds in getting a third term in office to carry forward our agenda."

Mr Blunkett said "the scourge of hard drugs", which destroyed lives and communities, was another of the biggest problems facing the nation.

He stood by the Government's determination to introduce judge-only trials in prosecutions thought to be vulnerable to jury-fixing. The plan is likely to be defeated in the Lords this month.