EU told to put lid on 'honey pot' Britain

Colin Brown,Jo Dillon
Friday 10 January 2014 02:56

Tony Blair will urge Britain's EU partners this week to adopt common welfare benefits for asylum seekers to stop Britain being seen as a "honey pot" for claimants from abroad.

And in a separate move, asylum seekers are to be denied access to NHS facilities under Home Office plans to overhaul the immigration system.

The Prime Minister believes the EU must adopt common benefit arrangements for asylum seekers to end the lure of Britain for illegal economic migrants.

Ministers fear the move could raise alarms about an attempt to harmonise social security payments across Europe. But a Whitehall source said: "It is trying to create a level playing field, but it is not about the harmonisation of welfare. Social security is not a harmonising matter."

The proposals are contained in the small print of the plan to persuade the EU to adopt a European-wide approach to the asylum problem, which Mr Blair has forced on to the agenda for this week's EU summit in Seville.

The Europe minister Peter Hain rejected claims by civil rights groups that proposals to be adopted at Seville would deny asylum seekers their human rights.

"We want a common procedure where everyone is treated fairly and firmly so that nobody can exploit an opening in one country, get through the net and migrate through the Channel Tunnel," he said.

"There has got to be a system where if you are a genuine refugee you are given sanctuary. It's terribly important we don't have a Fortress Europe stance but there has to be a common process for handling human trafficking of economic migrants by organised gangs."

Moves to deny asylum seekers NHS facilities will prompt further opposition to the controversial Immigration and Asylum Bill. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, believes that anyone trying to gain access to Britain should receive medical treatment and GP services in dedicated immigration centres. The Home Office is determined to ensure that public services do not become "overwhelmed" because of the need to treat an increasing number of asylum seekers.

Mr Blunkett has made it clear that the same principles underpinning his decision to provide education for asylum-seeking children in the centres – a measure that is strongly opposed on the Labour back benches and in pressure groups and trade unions – will also apply to health care.

Aides to Mr Blunkett said communities should not be adversely affected by the strain put on resources by asylum seekers. "It is better for the asylum-seeker families and local communities if education and health care are provided within the accommodation centre," one said.

Some MPs have already voiced concerns about the proposal, which they consider to be practically difficult and a further step towards segregating asylum seekers from the rest of British society.

Julie Morgan, the Labour MP for North Cardiff, close to one of the proposed centres, said she was worried about the latest clampdown. "There is no doubt asylum seekers have a lot of health needs, particularly the children. I can't imagine where they are going to get health professionals in to do it on site because we are struggling to get [them] here in any case," she said.

Neil Gerrard, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who led the opposition on plans to educate asylum-seeking children away from ordinary state schools, said the latest scheme was "yet another consequence of this daft idea of having these massive centres".

"It gets into this business of separation and the message that sends out that these people are a problem," he said.

The Home Office said the details of health care for asylum seekers had not been worked out yet. But the indications are that they are likely to include GP services and nursing services as well as dental care with a view to eventually "providing as much as possible on site".

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