Blunkett to penalise asylum-seekers who commit crimes

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Indy Politics

David Blunkett infuriated anti-racism campaigners yesterday by arguing that asylum- seekers who commit crimes such as muggings should not be able to claim British citizenship.

His comments, which came on the same day that he claimed the children of asylum-seekers were "swamping" some British schools, provoked anger from black groups who said he was unwittingly encouraging support for the BNP.

In the second reading debate of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, the Home Secretary said: "I don't think it is acceptable, as happened in my city, for an old lady of 78 to be mugged for £60 and for the three people who mugged her to continue to claim they require asylum in this country,".

But Simon Woolley, a director of Operation Black Vote, said: "It's a shame that the Home Secretary keeps making these gaffes. We must hope that he doesn't believe them. Nevertheless, the far right will use his words for their bigoted and racist campaigns."

Mr Blunkett said that the UK should be a "haven" for people fleeing persecution but said that the Government would be tough on those who abuse British hospitality. Anyone who commited crimes which carry a sentence of more than two years in prison should forfeit their rights, he added.

The Home Secretary said that the Bill would streamline the appeals process and improve the current system which was "virtually unworkable" and "riddled with delays, prevarication and in some cases deliberate disruption of the appeals process".

Mr Blunkett said it was wrong to scaremonger about asylum-seekers because this would play into the hands of far-right groups such as the BNP. But he said the Government had a duty to tackle issues such as crime and asylum.

"I believe that scurrilously raising fears and developing insecurity and developing prejudice plays into their hands," he said. "But seeing a problem and dealing with it takes away the meat and drink of those who would capture the agenda for their own dangerous purposes."

The Tories said yesterday that the swell in support for Jean-Marie Le Pen showed the need for mainstream parties to tackle issues such as nationality, immigration and asylum.

Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary, said that "in tackling them ... we have the means to reduce the appeal of those who wish to use these issues for nefarious purposes".

Mr Letwin welcomed measures in the Bill, including the streamlining of the appeal process for asylum-seekers, but he said that the accommodation centres proposed by the Government would probably take three years to build and only deal with 6,000 of the 60,000 people seeking asylum each year.

He said there should be "one stop shops" which could process 30,000 claims a year.

The Liberal Democrats, abstained last night. The party wants to see "major changes".