Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Is Asylum a Right or a Privilege?

The Times - 17th February 2000

Sir

The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees was a response to the terrible atrocities of the Nazi period and was designed to ensure that those genuinely seeking sanctuary from political oppression should not be turned away.

Signed long before the advent of cheap air travel, it was never intended as a vehicle for large-scale economic migration, and thought should be given to amending the convention so that genuine asylum-seekers (letters, February 11, 12 and 15) are offered asylum in the first instance within their own geographical region, with aid provided by the wealthier countries. Failure to access the generous welfare systems or job markets of Europe and North America would deter most of those not genuinely in fear of their lives, for whom the convention was originally designed.

Over 70,000 people claimed asylum in the UK alone last year and, although most asylum applications are adjudged to be bogus, few are returned home. This continuing migration puts pressure on scarce resources, especially in our inner cities, and particularly in London. As an increasing number of our own ageing population are required to wait for life-saving treatments or refused access to hospital beds it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the current arrangements.

The time has come perhaps to change the legal status of asylum to that of a privilege of sanctuary rather than a right, which would ultimately be offered, consistent with our international obligations, at the discretion of the Home Secretary without recourse to lengthy judicial challenge.

The UK can be proud of its history of offering asylum to those genuinely in need, and there is no reason to believe that such changes would in any way jeopardise that tradition.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Charles Tannock MEP (Con)
Brussels