Home secretary David Blunkett last week admitted that he had
scrapped the target of removing 30,000 asylum seekers a year
because it was “massively overly ambitious”.
He told a meeting of the home affairs select committee that he had
made a mistake in setting out plans to deport 2,500 asylum seekers
per month, and promised that a new target would now be set.
“We should not set targets that are not achievable,” he said. “I
made a mistake.”
At the meeting plans for accommodation centres came under fire from
committee members. The centres are intended to house a total of
3,000 asylum seekers awaiting verdicts on their applications.
Members asked why all four sites chosen were in rural areas.
Immigration minister Beverley Hughes denied that the government had
deliberately selected the sites for their remoteness.
“It has never been my intention to have accommodation centres in
rural areas only,” Hughes insisted. “We are only in the pilot stage
and have been having discussions with the Refugee Council about how
we might experiment with smaller centres.”
However, she added that two points that were non-negotiable were
that disadvantaged areas would not be used for centres, and that
each centre would need to be a reasonable size so that a more
comprehensive range of services could be provided.
“Too often asylum seekers have been placed in the most
disadvantaged areas in the country, adding pressure to
overstretched local services,” she said. “I don’t see that the most
disadvantaged areas in the country should take more asylum seekers
and the added pressure.”
Hughes also admitted that two of the four 750-bed centres would not
be completed by the April 2003 deadline due to local
Cherwell and Rushcliffe Councils have refused planning permission
for centres to be built in Oxfordshire and Nottingham respectively.
Dates for planned public inquiries into the disputes have not yet
been set and will take around six months to complete.
Campaigners have criticised the idea of accommodation centres on
the grounds that placing them in remote areas would be isolating,
and educating children in the centres would prevent their