EC aims to clamp down on refugees from Third World

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The Independent Online
REFUGEES from Africa and Asia could find it all but impossible to find sanctuary in Europe, a leaked draft of European Community ministers' immigration proposals reveals.

Documents from the Ad Hoc Group on Immigration, which consists of politicians and civil servants from the Home Office and European interior ministries, suggests that harsh measures are being planned to keep Third World refugees out of the EC.

The draft, dated 1 July, considers the creation of an EC-wide definition of 'manifestly unfounded applications for asylum' which would be used by all member countries when deciding whether to accept or reject a claim for refugee status. It reaffirms existing policy that refugees must stay in the first safe country they reach and adds that 'intercontinental movements (of asylum- seekers) are seldom necessary for protection reasons'.

At present the 'safe-country rule' guarantees that the vast majority of Third World refugees live in border camps near their own countries. However, a minority are able to claim asylum in the EC if they can fly or sail directly to a European port or airport.

The draft says that in future these 'intercontinental' refugees will be generally ineligible for asylum. It adds that a refugee must prove that he or she could not seek redress for human rights violations in their own courts if an asylum claim were to be accepted by an EC state. This would mean, for example, that Kurds in Turkey would have to exhaust all 'effective legal remedies' before applying for asylum.

The Home Office, which is in charge of EC refugee policy during Britain's presidency of the Community, did not deny the leak was an accurate representation of the draft proposals. The documents were obtained by BBC Radio 4's Opinion programme which will broadcast further details today.

Charles Wardle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office, declined to comment on confidential discussions, but said a programme was under discussion to ensure genuine refugees in Europe were protected while common action was taken to deal with the 'present high levels of misuse of the asylum system'.

In a report issued earlier this week, the Minority Rights Group says Europe is raising national barriers to immigration and that there is a risk that the Community will assist this. 'Over the last decade the restrictions and barriers to the entry of asylum-seekers have tightened in all Western European states,' the report says. 'European harmonisation should not be used as a reason for further restrictions on refugees or asylum-seekers.'

The report argues that 'many of the details of the harmonisation process have been carried out in secrecy and are implemented in an underhand manner'. Immigration policy is not an area of European co-operation where Britain proposes to institute greater openness. A report from the Ad Hoc Group last December admitted that 'the impression remains that there is insufficient transparency in this area'.