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UK: Asylum statistics - government should put people before targets

As new asylum statistics were published today Amnesty International called for the government to put people before targets and focus on the human rights issues behind asylum.

The human rights organisation noted that the UK government has recently introduced measures making it far more difficult for people from a range of countries to claim asylum in the UK - including a reduction of appeal rights for a host of countries and the imposition of visa requirements for Zimbabweans.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'People should come before targets. The government's current obsession with asylum 'number-crunching' risks obscuring the fact that the real issue is not whether or not we can 'get the numbers down' but whether we can offer protection to the world's tortured and persecuted.

'Setting artificial targets was always misguided and suggested that the government was more concerned with headlines than with dealing responsibly with those fleeing persecution.

'The government has introduced measures making life more difficult for asylum-seekers and then talked about getting asylum 'under control.' The real issue is not 'abuse' of the asylum system, but abuses committed against vulnerable people around the world.'

Amnesty International, which will publish its annual report on human rights abuses in over 150 countries on 28 May, also cautioned against seeing the new asylum figures as any indicator of the state of human rights violations around the world. It emphasised that persecution and conflict are still driving the search for asylum.

Kate Allen said:

'These figures should come with a health warning. It would be ill-advised to see a drop in the numbers claiming asylum in the UK over a limited period as evidence of a decrease in the extent of human rights abuse in the world.

'The killings, torture and intimidation seen almost daily in places like Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are unlikely to disappear overnight and we must keep our door open to the victims of human rights abuse.'

Meanwhile, the human rights organisation sought clarification over the government's apparent attempt to shift responsibility for the protection of refugees to other nations in light of recent reports that it is pressing for the establishment of 'transit processing centres' outside of the European Union.

Coming shortly after Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly questioned the UK's international treaty obligations on torture and refugee rights, the non-EU processing proposals have added to the human rights organisation's concern that the UK government is prepared to allow a steady erosion of basic protections for asylum-seekers in the UK and the wider EU.

Amnesty International also warned that a recent programme of forced returns to Afghanistan was dangerously premature. The human rights organisation's latest research in Afghanistan points to serious concerns about the plight of refugees who have been forced back as well as those who have chosen to return voluntarily.

Relevant information

UK/EU: New report giving 'real reasons' for asylum welcomed' - press release, 13 May 2003: /news_details.asp?NewsID=14530

Afghanistan/Refugees: Forthcoming EU returns programme criticised - press release, 6 May 2003: /news_details.asp?NewsID=14512 /p>

UK: Asylum - Figures show Iraqis need protection and systems needs support, not undermining - press release, 28 February 2003: /content.asp?CategoryID=195 /p>

UK: Asylum - Dismay at ill-founded remarks on refugee protection and detention - press release, 28 January 2003: /news_details.asp?NewsID=14317 /p>

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