UK in deal with Dar, Johannesburg on asylum seekers

The British government has said that it was negotiating with at least two African countries to facilitate the process of asylum claims and encourage the return home of failed asylum seekers in exchange for aid, news organizations reported.

In a BBC broadcast televised live worldwide on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British Parliament that his government was "in negotiations with the Tanzanian government as to how we can process claims for asylum nearer to the country of origin".

However, several opposition politicians and humanitarian organisations criticised the plan. The Tanzanian government acknowledged that negotiations had taken place, but it denied that any refugees would be brought to Tanzania in exchange for money.

Blair had told the House of Parliament that he could not "understand the objection to seeing whether it is possible, if there are people who are going to make asylum claims, and begin their asylum journey close to the country of origin, why it is not sensible to process some of those claims there?"

The Guardian newspaper in the UK, reported on Thursday that South Africa was the second country that the British government had approached regarding a possible deal.

The London-based newspaper reported that Tanzania would receive a UK £4-million (US $7.4 million) aid package for the deal with the British government. Although the figure has not been confirmed, sources told IRIN that the figure was high and the deal was more likely to involve "small-scale technical cooperation relating to refugee matters".

British officials visited Tanzania in 2003 to discuss the establishment of a processing centre for UK asylum seekers from the region.

Tanzania's deputy minister for home affairs, John Chiligati, told IRIN on Wednesday that the government had rejected the proposal as there were already "more than enough" refugees in the country, and the government did not see the "reason or the logic" of bringing them to Tanzania to process their asylum claims.

Observers, who asked not to be named, said that another arm of the deal that the British government was trying to secure would be the return home of asylum seekers claiming a different nationality from that of their own in an effort to gain entry into Britain. These would be Tanzanians claiming to be Somalis and South Africans claiming to be Zimbabweans.

Regarding Tanzanians claiming different nationalities to gain entrance into Britain, Chiligati said that Tanzanian officials were in the UK interviewing asylum seekers and "if some are proved to be Tanzanians, then they will return home".

During Wednesday's session in the British Parliament, an opposition politician, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, warned that such a move could lead to "an international trade in displaced people".

Meanwhile, Oxfam, an international relief and advocacy NGO, said it was worried about the prospects of the British government giving aid to Tanzania in exchange for taking failed asylum seekers as such a deal would contravene the International Development Act.

"Such a deal would set a deeply worrying precedent," Justin Forsyth, Oxfam's policy director, said. "Instead of such deals, we should focus on improving the asylum system in developed countries, and target our aid budget at reducing poverty in the developing world."