STRAW SEEKS TO TURN REFUGEE LAW ON ITS HEAD

In a widely trailed speech to a high-level European Union asylum conference in Lisbon, Mr Straw is expected to call for the rewriting of the Convention to require asylum seekers to apply for shelter from outside of the EU. The expected statement comes in the same week that Amnesty International released its Annual Report, detailing human rights abuses in over 140 countries in 1999.

Jack Straw's expected statement comes despite the Government's reaffirmation of the importance of the Refugee Convention in October 1999 at the Tampere European Council of Ministers and the practical difficulties in re-negotiating such a widely supported piece of international law.

Amnesty International Director Kate Allen said:

'Jack Straw wants to turn the Refugee Convention on its head by making it into a charter for governments to bar asylum seekers , rather than for asylum seekers to seek refuge.

'The Government seems to care more about being seen to be ‘tough' than protecting refugees and assisting the mainly very poor countries which shelter most of them.'

The four major flaws in Straw's expected proposals are that:

· Those fleeing persecution will have to remain in their home country or a neighbouring state while seeking asylum, increasing their risk of being detained, tortured or killed.

· The poorest countries in the world will have to continue to provide shelter for everyone fleeing persecution by neighbouring states, while the wealthiest nations will pick and choose the few refugees they accept.

· Western governments would restrict the nationalities from which they would accept asylum claims, rather than basing their decisions exclusively on the individual merits of each case.

· While Jack Straw is right to say refugees are often unable to gain legal entry to the UK, he fails to point out that the government has created this situation by requiring visas for those fleeing persecution and by punishing carriers – thus forcing asylum seekers into the hands of illegal traffickers.

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