- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

LONDON The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, unnerved by the political rise of hard-line anti-immigration parties at home and across Europe, is considering stiff measures to protect itself politically by cracking down on asylum seekers.

A policy document leaked to the Guardian newspaper this week advocated such measures as mobilizing Royal Navy warships to intercept refugee traffickers in the Mediterranean Sea and the use of Royal Air Force transport planes to carry out mass deportations.

The confidential "action plan," designed to achieve a "radical reduction" in the influx of asylum seekers, was prepared for the prime minister by the Home Office roughly equivalent to the U.S. Justice Department and circulated to senior ministers this week.

Reports say Mr. Blair is handling the issue personally. The prime minister was quoted as saying after strong showings by right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands this spring that center-left parties had to tackle head-on the issues that mattered to people, such as immigration and crime.

The prime minister's office stressed on Tuesday that the document was simply "an options paper."

"This is an illustration of the thinking that is going on within government, but if you look at the individual ingredients of it, not every one of them will become government policy," said a spokesman who briefed reporters on the condition he not be identified.

The leaked document lists several ways that Britain could reduce its attractiveness to migrants from around the world, more closely monitor those already in Britain and ensure the swift removal of those who are denied refugee status.

To achieve these aims, the full resources of the Royal Navy and the RAF may be deployed alongside immigration officers and the police, the document says.

Ministers are also to consider making British aid to developing countries such as Somalia, Sri Lanka and Turkey conditional to their readiness to take back rejected asylum seekers. Sanctions could be imposed on uncooperative countries.

Other proposals include placing immigration officers at Paris and Amsterdam airports to screen travelers before they reach Britain, drawing up a "white list" of "safe countries" from which no refugee status would be granted, and identifying new sites for centers in which to detain those about to be deported.

The magnitude of the plan underlines the government's concern at the rise of anti-immigration parties in France and the Netherlands and the advance of the far-right British National Party in recent local elections.

The anti-immigration BNP recently won two council seats in Burnley, a northern English town troubled by race riots.

"It is a political response, not just to the European far right, but to the British National Party's victories in Burnley and the fact that it received more than 20 percent support in a number of places across the country," said political commentator Peter Kellner.

Mr. Blair, ironically, was harshly critical of French far-right presidential candidate Jean Marie Le Pen, who shocked Europe by forcing his way into a runoff in last month's election.

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