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Human Rights today condemned asylum proposals put forward by U.K. Home Secretary Jack
Straw. Straw's plan calls for a complete overhaul
of the 50-year-old international refugee regime.

"Straw's proposal is a major step backwards for refugee protection and contrary to international legal norms," said Rachael Reilly, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. "It is especially ironic that the U.K is moving to block asylum seekers as we mark the 50th anniversary of the international refugee regime. These were protections the U.K. once helped put in place."
In a speech on Tuesday, Straw elaborated on a proposal he made last June to reform the 1951 Refugee Convention -- the cornerstone of international refugee protection -- in order to make it more relevant to modern-day migration movements. Straw wants to reduce the number of asylum seekers traveling to Western European countries and curtail perceived abuse of the asylum system by so-called "economic migrants." While the proposal aims to control flows of refugees into Europe, it gives scant attention to tackling the conditions that force migrants and refugees to move in the first place, said Reilly.

Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about Straw's plan to set quotas of refugees that European countries would accept from specific trouble spots, while insisting that the rest find protection in the region from which they come. "Such a rigid rule could seriously compromise the security of refugees," said Reilly. "Many refugees are simply not able to find safety in neighboring countries in their region of origin."

Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized Straw's proposed list of so-called "safe countries" from which asylum applicants would not be considered, or would be given a "greatly accelerated" determination.

"The right to seek and enjoy asylum is an individual right. Governments cannot make a blanket decision to exclude refugees simply on the basis of their country of origin," said Reilly. "Such a proposal could result in returning refugees to countries where they could face persecution, torture, and even death-without serious consideration of their asylum claim."

Human Rights Watch urged other E.U. member states to distance themselves from the U.K. proposal and called on British politicians to refrain from exploiting the asylum issue in the run-up to the British General Election in May.

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