At the Managing Migration seminar organised by the Foreign Policy Centre today, David Blunkett made the following announcements:
* UK has suspended the removal of rejected asylum seekers to Zimbabwe until after the Presidential elections. In the meantime, the HO will monitor the situation closely and continue to process asylum claims.
* Regarding the Nationality and Immigration White Paper due out in February, he confirmed that vouchers will be scrapped in the autumn in favour smart cards and cash support for asylum seekers.
* He also confirmed the UK's commitment to working with the UNHCR to provide alternative ways of refugees to reach safety in the UK (resettlement programme).
* Finally, there was an announcement on tougher sentences for human smugglers (max penalty up from 10 to 14 years) and a clamp down on illegal migrants working in the UK.
Some other intersting comments were made, for example, following a question on whether they were considering making access to the labour market easier for asylum seekers, Blunkett said they were not doing that, referring to "pressures from Europe" and arguing that it would act as a pull factor. The introduction programmes to be introduced for asylum seekers, however, would include English language courses, labour market information and a possibility for volunteering - all aimed at facilitating the route into paid employment, once a positive decision has been granted.
He also mentioned that they were exploring how to adapt the Canadian style "buddy-scheme" system to a British context. The "buddy-scheme" is basically a mentoring system where they try to match refugees with skills and work experience in a particular field with relevant employers.
Finally, he got a question on the "nasty-video" that the HO has produced to portray the UK in as bad light as possible for potential asylum seekers.
This is now apparently being circulated in Europe (Sangatte in France was mentioned) to deter people. Needless to say he declined to answer, but it did raise an interesting dilemma as the UK at the same time is trying to attract highly skilled migrants to work here.
The Foreign Policy Centre will write up a report from the meeting, and more information is available on their website at http://www.fpc.org.uk/