British Asylum Seekers need to Know English, Welsh or Gaelic

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Feb 8 18:22:01 UTC 2002

	New York Times, February 8, 2002

           Britain Proposes Changes in Asylum Process

           By WARREN HOGE, LONDON, Feb. 7

Britain proposed today that future immigrants would have to demonstrate
language skills and knowledge of British values to obtain citizenship.
Home Secretary David Blunkett issued a broad program to be submitted to
Parliament that seeks to speed up the asylum process, deport more rapidly
those who do not meet requirements for residence and speed new arrivals'
identification with their adopted country.

           Knowledge of English or Gaelic or Welsh would become
"mandatory" for those applying for British nationality as well as a
rudimentary grasp of "our laws, our values, our institutions," Mr.
Blunkett said.  The Home Office proposals follow by two months the
publication of a report saying that ethnic minorities in Britain were
leading separate lives from whites and had no sense of belonging to the
same nation.

           Mr. Blunkett argued that a credible asylum policy would rob
white supremacist groups of an issue to exploit. The plan, he said, would
"settle once and for all the fear that the asylum issue, as opposed to
overall policy on nationality and immigration, will constantly reappear as
a political football and as a weapon in the armory of the National Front."
Under Mr. Blunkett's plans, immigrants will be asked to take part in
citizenship ceremonies and take a civic responsibility pledge that he
likened to naturalization procedures in the United States. Applicants
would be required to complete language and citizenship courses so, he
said, that holding a British passport would not just mean a "piece of
paper arriving in a brown envelope alongside the gas bill."

           Another innovation, an arrangement to make it easier for people
who fill a gap in the work force to stay in Britain as long as their labor
is needed, takes its cue from the American green card system.  The
proposed oath reads: "I will respect the rights and freedoms of the United
Kingdom. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws
faithfully and fulfill my duties as and obligations as a British citizen."

           Today's proposal also calls for setting up new "overseas
gateways" where genuine asylum seekers can apply without having to make
dangerous journeys to enter Britain illegally.  British officials complain
that the country's relatively tolerant asylum policy makes it a soft touch
for illegal asylum seekers.

           The Conservatives' shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin,
generally supported the government's initiative but faulted it for not
cracking down on crowded refugee centers like the one at Sangatte near
Calais in France where would-be entrants to Britain try almost nightly to
enter the country illegally through the Channel tunnel. "Our big concern
is while he has addressed the domestic issues, he has failed to tackle the
international problems,"  Mr. Letwin said of Mr. Blunkett's plan.

           In that connection, today's proposal said a new immigration hot
line would be set up so that informants could tell the authorities about
people contemplating illegal entry into the country. The home secretary
also said Britain would increase the number of spaces where failed asylum
seekers could be detained before being sent home.

           Addressing an issue that has provoked cultural and generational
clashes in British cities with large Asian populations, Mr. Blunkett said
that in the case of arranged marriages, the unions ought to be between
people already in the country rather than with someone flown in from the
Indian subcontinent.

           The deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain,
Mahmoud al-Rashid, said most people were content to marry someone in
Britain, but he protested the government's policy. "To assume that the
cultures of people are so different that you cannot transfer from one
country to another country is wrong," he said.

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