Blunkett threatens to put electronic tags on failed asylum-seekers

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Indy Politics

Failed asylum-seekers could soon be electronically tagged to prevent them from absconding, David Blunkett said yesterday.

Publishing details of his latest overhaul of the asylum system, the Home Secretary said they could be fitted with satellite tracking technology, which pinpoints their exact location, within a year. The Home Office also confirmed it had achieved Tony Blair's target of halving asylum claims over 12 months. But the gloss was taken off the announcement by a rise in applications during the summer, mainly among refugees from east Africa.

The tagging initiative is aimed at asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected and are awaiting deportation as well as those whose claims are unfounded.Mr Blunkett said: "It is an alternative to secure removal centres. If we can track people, both in terms of electronic tagging and, in future, satellite tracking, we can avoid having to use that." He added: "We can do it in relation to cars. We can certainly do it in relation to people."

Under the Asylum and Immigration Bill, the right of asylum-seekers to appeal against a decision to remove them is reduced. The existing two-stage appeal process is reduced to one and claimants will be prevented from taking their claims to the High Court.

Mr Blunkett said he would press ahead with plans to take into care the children of failed asylum-seekers who refused a free flight home, but stressed the provision would only apply to "a handful" of families. The measure is not contained in the Bill, limiting the scope of Labour backbenchers to rebel against the move, which has been denounced as "despicable" by Michael Howard, the Tory leader.

The Bill introduces jail sentences of up to two years for refugees who destroy their passports believing it will boost their chances of staying in Britain. Mr Blunkett, who said 70 per cent of airline passengers who claimed asylum-seekers disposed of their papers before arriving, is preparing to force airlines to copy passengers' travel documents before taking off.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, said that refugees would be restricted to five hours' free advice from solicitors and other approved advisers. The step is expected to cut £30m from the £174m legal aid budget for asylum and immigration cases.

The Home Office said yesterday it had met Mr Blair's promise to halve asylum-seeker numbers over a year. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We welcome the fact the number of asylum- seekers has apparently come down, but these figures should be treated with a large amount of scepticism." The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "People want a firm but fair asylum system, not one that uses children as a political tool and removes rights of appeal."

Kate Allen of Amnesty International said: "Britain has a responsibility to offer protection to refugees. It is tragic that this is being eroded for short-term political gain."