Blair Defends Plan to Deport 20 Foreigners
By ED JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer, The Guardian, Tuesday November 22, 2005
LONDON (AP) – Up to 20 foreigners were in custody in Britain awaiting deportation to countries that have a record of torturing or abusing detainees, the prime minister said Tuesday, but he defended his efforts to counter Islamic extremism.
Civil rights activists have condemned Tony Blair’s efforts to deport people to several north African and Middle Eastern countries with questionable human rights records.
But Blair insisted his government had a duty to protect Britain’s security, and needed new powers to counter the threat of international terrorism. On July 7, four suspected suicide bombers killed 52 people on London’s transport system.
« We have got to be able to make sure we return people if they are a threat to the security of this country, » Blair told a House of Commons committee.
The government is trying to sign agreements with several nations guaranteeing that foreign nationals returned there will not be mistreated. So-called memoranda of understanding have already been signed with Jordan and Libya and the government is seeking similar deals with eight other countries, including Algeria, Lebanon and Tunisia.
Civil rights activists and the U.N. special envoy on torture have warned, however, that such assurances have no weight in international law and would not sufficiently protect the deportees. Britain cannot deport people to countries where they may face torture or mistreatment because it is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.
« I don’t intend on returning anyone, incidentally, unless we can get assurances from that other government, » Blair added. « And by and large we believe … that governments who give us such an assurance will abide by that. »
Blair told the committee that the threat of international terrorism would be « with us for some time. » He said extremism found its roots in a « perversion of Islam » that was difficult to tackle.
« It is going to take a long time to eradicate in this country and elsewhere, » he added.
The prime minister, whose proposed anti-terror legislation has been watered down by lawmakers in the House of Commons, insisted new powers were needed to tackle « mass casualty terrorism. »
« The point about these terrorists is that they will kill as many people as they can kill, » he added.