UK wants new asylum law to permit tougher line on entry

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Asylum seekers will face the toughest restrictions on entry to the United Kingdom under a controversial government plan to rewrite the international law on refugees.

Asylum seekers will face the toughest restrictions on entry to the United Kingdom under a controversial government plan to rewrite the international law on refugees.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is to call for a fundamental review of the United Nations Convention on Refugees in an attempt to reduce the influx of economic migrants to the UK. The 1951 Geneva Convention, signed by more than 120 countries, is regarded as a sacred international text and forms the cornerstone of British policy on asylum and immigration.

Michael Howard, the former Tory home secretary, stopped short of calling for a new treaty because he feared an international outcry. But with 46,000 people a year claiming refugee status in Britain - a figure which has more than doubled in the past 10 years - Mr Straw is determined to act. The Independent has learned that the Home Secretary wants the treaty to be updated to deter both hijackers and any migrant who pays to enter the country illegally.

Among the toughest moves he plans are to refuse asylum automatically to anyone who enters Britain in long-distance lorries hired by smugglers. As a first step towards a total redrafting of the convention, Mr Straw will ask the European Union to agree a new interpretation of its guidelines to reflect modern times. The 1951 convention obliges Britain and other signatories to offer asylum to anyone with "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War, it has long been seen as an article of faith by refugee and civil liberties groups and any move to alter it is sure to trigger controversy.

But Mr Straw has made it clear that the recent Stansted hijacking has exposed severe shortcomings in the convention and wants it modernised to reflect an age of mass air travel. Anyone who takes part in a hijack will forfeit the right to asylum. "The simple fact is that the convention was drafted and agreed half a century ago in very different circumstances. We've got to tighten it," a senior Home Office source said. Mr Straw wants to tighten up the convention by clarifying the way it applies to those who arrive at a destination having first passed through a "third country".

* In a further effort to send a tough message to asylum seekers, Mr Straw yesterday refused 27 Afghans from the Stansted hijack leave to remain in Britain.

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