Friday, May 09, 2003
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By Hasan Suroor
The report, published barely a week after the rabidly racist British National Party (BNP) won an unprecedented 16 seats in local elections, also warned of "social unrest'' if the current flow of asylum-seekers was not checked. Pointing out that the number of people seeking asylum in Britain had nearly trebled in the past 20 years, the report said: "Clearly this is unacceptable. If allowed to continue unchecked, it could overwhelm the capacity of the receiving countries to cope, leading inevitably to social unrest. It could also, and there are signs this may already be happening, lead to a growing political backlash which will, in turn, lead to the election of extremist parties with extremist solutions.''
Asylum has become a major political issue in Britain and right-wing parties, including the Tories, have used it to whip up an anti-immigrant hysteria which has got worse after `9/11' with intelligence agencies suggesting that terrorists are exploiting Britain's relaxed asylum regime to seek a safe haven here. The Government has responded with a series of tough measures, including forced detention of asylum-seekers till their cases are decided, but the problem remains.The shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin, called the report a "damning indictment'' of the Government's handling of the issue and said the entire asylum system was in "in chaos''. The report, which was backed by Labour MPs on the committee, criticised the Government for not being able to give "even a rough estimate'' of how many asylum-seekers who continued to stay in Britain after their applications were rejected. Critics alleged that a large number of failed asylum-seekers simply `melted' into the crowd, and there was no way to track them down. There have been suggestions that identity cards, on the lines of those in European countries, should be introduced to check illegal immigration.
The report coincided with the release of the latest census figures revealing a wide gap between the social and economic status of immigrants and white Britons. Even second and third-generation immigrants, particularly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, lag far behind the white population in terms of employment, education, health and other social indicators. This belies the widespread impression that the non-whites, born and brought up in Britain, are on a faster track than their parents and grandparents who came here as aliens.
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