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Britain to Impose Strict Quotas on Asylum-Seekers - 2003-02-07

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he wants to reduce by half the number of people seeking asylum in Britain.

Britain currently takes in, on average, about 220 asylum-seekers every day, or 80,000 annually. Mr. Blair says that's too many, and he wants to cut the figure in half by September.

Mr. Blair said the asylum issue is not unique to Britain, but he called it an acute problem. In a British television interview, Mr. Blair lashed out at his political opponents, who say his asylum policy has been too soft.

"It is difficult to deal with," he said. "And the last times we have tried dealing with it, some of those who are most vociferous now in telling us we've got to detain everyone, are the people who, even when we tried to detain suspected terrorists, were telling us this was a breach of their civil liberties."

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, told the program he thinks Britain should impose strict quotas on asylum-seekers, and tighten it's borders.

"What they have to do, which is the only way they'll stop it in the end, is to have quotas, and say they will only accept certain quotas," Mr. Duncan Smith said. "That means major changes in the United Nations. And if they don't do that, it will just continue to be in chaos, and it will continue to be the problem we have at the moment. The government's in a mess. Promises won't do."

British public opinion toward asylum-seekers appears to be hardening because of the revelation that some terrorist suspects arrested recently had been failed asylum-seekers.

Acknowledging the shift, Mr. Blair says, he expects his tougher line on asylum will be a popular decision.

On Thursday, the government added seven countries to its list of nations considered safe enough that asylum applicants from those countries will almost certainly be turned down.

The countries are Albania, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Serbia-Montenegro, formerly known as Yugoslavia.