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Davis: Controlled immigration and a firm but fair asylum system

Speech to Conservative Campaign Headquarters

"Britain's asylum system is a chaotic shambles.

Most people who claim asylum in the UK are not genuine refugees.

Only two in 10 applicants are actually granted asylum, while less than another two in 10 are granted "Humanitarian Protection".

And, despite all Mr Blair's promises, only just over one in five failed asylum seekers are removed.

A quarter of a million failed asylum seekers are now living in Britain.

When Mr Blair was elected the number of asylum seekers was falling - down from 43,965 in 1995 to 29,640 in 1996.

But since then the number of people claiming asylum here has increased dramatically.


Because Labour scrapped the key reforms made by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary.

Out went the list of designated countries from which virtually no asylum claims would be accepted.

Out went the policy of denying benefits to people who failed to claim asylum as soon as they entered the UK.

And out went the agreement with the French Government which allowed Britain to return asylum seekers who had arrived from France within 24 hours.

Labour have now been forced to admit the error of their ways - restoring the so-called "White List".

But despite the recent fall in numbers, asylum applications to Britain are still very high.

In 2003 Britain took about 13 per cent of all claims made in the industrialised world - 60,000 out of 460,000.

Even in the first three quarters of 2004, Britain received more asylum applications than almost any industrialised country - including Germany and the United States.

And as Michael has said, let no one argue that the current chaos is in any way humane.

It is not humane to make desperate people prey to unscrupulous and illegal trafficking gangs.

So it is time for a totally new approach to asylum - an approach which will ensure that Britain fulfils her moral obligation to refugees, while also controlling immigration.

As Michael said there are no easy answers to this challenge.

But Conservatives know what needs to be done; and we have the political will to do it.

Our reform programme will have four phases.

First, we will pull out of the 1951 Convention.

The Convention is a product of the Cold War and is now thoroughly outdated.

As Mr Blair has said:

"The 1951 Convention … was drawn up for a vastly different world, in which people did not routinely travel huge distances across multiple borders".

The Convention prevents a British government from taking immediate action to deport asylum seekers whose claims are obviously not genuine - as do parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, the relevant parts of which we will enter reservations against.

Second, a Conservative Government will introduce legislation giving the Home Secretary the discretion to sanction the immediate removal of unfounded cases.

These would include people who arrive from a safe third country, designated as such by the British Government; people who claim asylum only when discovered by the authorities; people who have certified on their visa application form (as will be required in future) that they will not claim asylum once in Britain; people who are shown to have destroyed their documents or fail, without good reason, to co-operate in their re-documentation; people who the Home Secretary considers to be a potential threat to public order or a person likely to incite racial hatred; people who are not being persecuted by a State; or people who have committed a serious offence abroad or in Britain after arrival, including involvement in terrorism (including hijacking), drugs or prostitution.

These checks will act as a serious deterrent to people who destroy their documents on arrival and who are not genuine refugees.

Third, as the number of people claiming asylum falls, we will begin to detain in our existing asylum centres claimants who have no documents - at least until their identity is known.

How can we have confidence in our national security if people are free to live and move around in Britain without any security checks, simply by virtue of their claim for asylum?

We can't. So the system must change.

Again, this will significantly reduce the number of people falsely claiming asylum.

Fourth, we will break the link between claiming asylum and coming to Britain.

Our goal is clear: a British Government would no longer consider asylum applications in the UK.

Instead, Britain will take genuine refugees in the care of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

If people do try to claim asylum here, they will be taken to centres close to their region of origin, where their claims will be considered.

We will begin negotiations with overseas governments to establish these centres immediately after the election.

Region of origin centres will not accept any applications locally.

We are not alone in thinking this. Mr Blair proposed "transit zones" in March 2003 to process asylum claimants before they arrived in the European Union.

The EU recently called for a feasibility study to be conducted on such a proposal and discussions have now been held between the EU and Libya.

As was made clear in our Timetable for Action, proposals to control immigration will be introduced in the next Conservative Government's first Queen's Speech.

Controlling immigration is a priority for the Conservatives.

A Conservative Government will set an annual limit to immigration as soon as the necessary legislation has been passed.

An annual limit will provide transparency and accountability.

It will ensure that each year there is a debate about the scale of immigration to the UK.

There will be quotas for the three main categories of immigration: asylum, work permits and family reunion.

A Conservative Government will reform each category so as to achieve a substantial reduction in the numbers settling here.

Our phased approach will, we believe, create a more humane and much fairer system than Britain's current haphazard and chaotic operation.

It will ensure that Britain fulfils her moral obligation to refugees, taking her fair share of the world's refugees.

It will undermine the international trade in people smuggling.

It will deter claimants who are not genuine refugees. They will no longer be able to come to Britain and claim asylum, secure in the knowledge that even if they are rejected they are unlikely to be removed.

By deterring applications which are false, we will be able to deal with genuine refugees far more quickly.

If we can successfully eliminate false claimants it may be possible to take a somewhat larger number of genuine refugees than the 8,000 - including their dependants - accepted last year - out of the total 40,000 who applied.

Mr Blair has failed Britain on immigration and asylum.

Most people think that under his Government Britain is heading in the wrong direction.

At the next election people will face a clear choice: unlimited immigration under Mr Blair or limited, controlled immigration with the Conservatives."

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