British Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JUSTIN TALLIS
British Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JUSTIN TALLIS

LONDON — Britain will not join any common European Union (EU) asylum system, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday as leaders sought solutions to the continent’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

"The UK will not join a common asylum process in Europe — we have an absolutely rock-solid opt out," Mr Cameron tweeted.

He made the remarks following reports that Brussels could propose centralising claims for asylum as part of an overhaul of its refugee policy due to be announced next week.

EU leaders met in Brussels on Monday to try strike a deal with Turkey to cope with the crisis that saw 1.2-million asylum seekers land in the EU last year, but a decision was delayed until a scheduled summit on March 17-18 next week.

Under the current system asylum seekers must lodge claims in the first EU country they arrive in, meaning that countries close to crossing points such as Italy and Greece receive a disproportionate number of claims.

The influx of people fleeing war in Syria and upheaval across the Middle East, Asia and Africa has threatened the 28-member bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone as several countries closed their borders.

Britain is not part of Schengen, and Mr Cameron wrote that this "special status means we keep our own strong borders".

Previous attempts to distribute refugees among EU member states stalled due to disagreements, and any plan could prove particularly politically difficult in Britain as it prepares for a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU in June.

While most polls suggest support for remaining within the bloc is ahead, the gap between the two campaigns has narrowed, and immigration and Britain’s ability to control its borders are red hot issues in the debate.

AFP