Britain and France join forces on immigration

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Indy Politics

Plans for a joint drive by Britain and France against illegal immigration could backfire by forcing "soft targets" to return to dangerous countries, refugee groups have warned.

The initiative will be announced by Gordon Brown and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrives in Britain for a two-day state visit tomorrow.

The leaders will also set out plans to co-operate over the crisis threatening world money markets, nuclear power and defence.

Mr Sarkozy, who will be accompanied by his new wife, Carla Bruni, will be welcomed by the Prince of Wales. The couple will stay at Windsor Castle.

The immigration package is likely to be agreed by the leaders on Thursday. It includes proposals to arrange joint charter flights to return failed asylum-seekers to their home countries. Mr Sarkozy wants international co-operation over immigration to be a theme of France's European Union presidency from July and will set the tone this week. The leaders will also promise to increase numbers of officials checking lorries at Channel ports and fresh action against people-smuggling gangs.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "Our leaders would do better to focus on joint initiatives to make countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan safe for people to return to – rather than forcing them to go back when it is clearly not safe."

Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, urged Mr Sarkozy to be sceptical of Britain's approach to deporting asylum-seekers, which often resulted in "soft targets" being singled out for removal.

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