Blunkett plans to send asylum seekers to Albania

11.Mar.03,  first published by Sunday Telegraph: read the original article here.

All asylum seekers arriving in Britain will be sent to Albania, under new Government plans to curb the flow of economic migrants to this country.

Ministers plan to fly incoming refugees to Albania, the poorest nation in Europe, which will house them in specially built detention centres while their claims are processed.

Although the Home Office hopes to build the camps in conjunction with other European Union nations, ministers are determined to press ahead alone should they need to, in an effort to stem the tide of asylum seekers arriving in Britain.

Last month the Home Office revealed that a record 110,000 refugees had claimed asylum here in the past year. The Government's attempts to stem the influx were dealt a sharp blow last month when the High Court rejected new laws that would sharply curtail the availability of state benefits to asylum seekers.

Ministers now hope that the threat of being flown to Albania, the former hardline Stalinist state which has a per capita GDP of 764 and an unemployment rate of around 16 per cent, will have the desired effect.

"We want to deter asylum seekers from coming to Britain and we would like to set up a processing centre in Albania to help achieve that," said a Whitehall official.

If agreement is reached to pilot "designated centres" in Albania, other southern and eastern European countries will be approached. Plans are already being drawn up for processing camps in Croatia, which has struggled to restore its tourism business after the years of fighting that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

It, too, has a relatively low GDP and might welcome the chance to earn foreign exchange by hosting asylum seekers while their claims are assessed.

Proposals to pay eastern European countries to establish processing centres for asylum seekers will be put to European ministers at a meeting in Brussels on March 21.

"We would prefer this to be an EU-wide scheme to which everybody contributes, but we are prepared to go it alone should we need to," the official added.

Ministers believe that the scheme would be legal under Britain's international obligations, which do not require them to offer asylum seekers a home or social security but do prohibit "inhuman or degrading treatment" of refugees. Officials argue that as long as they are sending claimants to somewhere where they will not be persecuted and where they will be provided with food and clothing, Britain will be fulfilling its legal duties.

The deterrent effect of sending asylum claimants to Albania is made clear on the Foreign Office's travel advisory website. "You should bear in mind the widespread ownership of firearms," states the warning, adding: "Driving can be very hazardous. We strongly advise visitors who drive to avoid reacting to provocative behaviour by other road users."

Those hoping for access to the standards of healthcare available in Britain also face a bitter disappointment. "We do not recommend using the dental facilities," states the official guidance."Medical facilities are very poor."

The plan could also help to stem the tide of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants into Britain from Albania, which is now notorious for organised criminals dealing in drugs and people-smuggling. There were officially 1,065 asylum cases from Albania in 2001, but many more are thought to have gone undetected as Albanians often pretend to be from other eastern European countries when they arrive in Britain.

Last month, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, added Albania to a list of "safe" countries from which asylum applications will be "presumed to be unfounded", as part of the Government's attempts to get on top of the asylum crisis.

John Reid, the chairman of the Labour Party, last week told Labour MPs at a private briefing that asylum was the number one issue for the voters in the forthcoming local elections, according to the party's own polling. It came ahead of concern over petty crime, with concern about a war on Iraq low down the list, he said.

Tony Blair, under fire for the chaos in Britain's asylum system, has ordered the total number of asylum seekers to be halved by September. However, the Prime Minister was accused last night of failing to deliver on his Government's promises after it was revealed that nine Afghan terrorists who hijacked an airliner before claiming asylum were still in Britain - seven of them living on benefits.

Instead of being removed, as promised three years ago by Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, the hijackers have been resettled by the Home Office. Along with 26 relatives, including wives and children, they have been given rent-free houses in the London area.