Hindu Vivek Kendra
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UK minister defends special schools' plan for immigrants

UK minister defends special schools' plan for immigrants

Author: Reuters
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 26, 2002

The immigration debate sweeping Europe hit Britain on Thursday when a top Minister defended plans to segregate immigrants children so do not "swamp" the nation's schools.

Straight-talking Home Secretary David Blunkett refused to back down after a barrage of criticism from race relations groups, politicians and public. "I am afraid I don't apologise... Yes, I did mean to say it" he said.

Blunkett's controversial comment came on Wednesday as he explained why a proposed new immigration law would have children of new refugees attend special schools at pilot accommodation centers rather than "swamping local schools ".

"Using the word 'swamping' was a mistake," car mechanic Shak Chaudry said as he took his two children to a London school. "We are absolutely against separation because it creates racism," he added in a view echoed by other parents interviewed by Reuters.

Immigration is a touchy issue anyway m Britain, but sensibilities have been heightened since far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen won a stunning success in the first round of President elections m neighbouring France this week to qualify for a runoff with President Jacques Chirac.

His strong showing has raised fears of a boost in support for the similarly extremist and anti-immigrant British National Party at next week's local government elections.

For many Britons, Blunkett's vocabulary also echoed a notorious comment by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1978, after a riot in the central city of Wolverhampton, that people were "really afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture."

Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labour Party this week presented its new Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill that includes a proposal to create accommodation centres for refugee families instead of placing them in communities.

Under the proposal, children of asylum seekers would receive on-site education rather than attend mainstream schools. That idea is opposed by many, but it was Blunkett's use of the word "swamping" that caused particular outrage.

"It creates a false notion. I don't the use of emotive language helps us to develop a society where we all have a sense of belonging," said Gurbux Singh, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

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