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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Hughes quits: Asylum reaction
An immigration officer searches a car
Asylum groups have been critical of the immigration service
Immigration and refugee pressure groups have given a mixed reaction to the resignation of immigration minister Beverley Hughes.

Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service and one of the government's chief critics, said he was personally sorry for Ms Hughes - but was not surprised.

"It was inevitable because ministers have lost control of the department," said the former MP.

"They've concentrated on frequent but flawed legislation and then blamed lawyers, immigration workers and asylum seekers rather than make their own department work.

"We have called for a long time for an independent body to make individual immigration decisions while respecting the right of government to set the policy.

"We have also urged for many years that there should be exit controls on people leaving the UK so we will know the identities of over-stayers."

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said, although her agency had sometimes disagreed with the minister, they had shared the same goal.

Maeve Sherlock: "Lessons need to be learnt"
"We recognise the contribution she has made in her role as Immigration minister to improving some of the Home Office systems," said Ms Sherlock.

"One of the lessons of this episode, and indeed of recent years, is that it is very difficult to have a sensible debate on immigration and asylum when the political temperature is at boiling point. There are no quick fixes.

"We are only going to get the right solutions if we have a public debate concentrating on the real problems of the system. This requires political leadership not just from government but from all parties."

'Gone for the wrong reasons'

Stephen Rylance of Refugee Action, one of the largest organisations dealing with asylum seekers, said the minister had gone for the wrong reasons.

Beverley Hughes
We have always said to the government that if you lead by pandering to the populist press and make laws at the behest of the popular press you cannot win
Habib Rahman, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
"There was much that Beverley Hughes did which we disagreed with, not least because she oversaw a period of asylum policies which, without precedent, were draconian and punitive," said Mr Rylance.

"But we are nevertheless quite disturbed that it appears certain sections of the press are pursuing a campaign on immigration - and seeking to dictate public policy to the extent of who should stay and who should go."

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, agreed Ms Hughes had been forced into a "tabloid-driven" resignation.

"She should have resigned for introducing very drastic measures like Section 55 of the 2002 Immigration and Asylum act, the result of which is that many, many asylum seekers are being made destitute," said Mr Rahman.

"We have always said to the government that if you lead by pandering to the populist press and make laws at the behest of the popular press you cannot win because the newspapers will always go much further to get you."

'Failure of government'

But Sir Andrew Green, head of Migration Watch UK and a fierce opponent of what he regards as lax immigration controls, said Ms Hughes had bowed to the inevitable.

Sir Andrew Green
Sir Andrew Green: "System in chaos"
"This is not a failure by Mrs Hughes, but a failure of Government policy," said Sir Andrew.

"They can't manage the inflow of people, they can't remove those that have no right to be here, so we are close to losing control of our borders.

"The asylum and immigration system is in chaos, and as that becomes more generally known then the lid has come off it. It had become very hard for the minister to defend what is going on.

"She has to accept that responsibility - and to her credit that is what she has done."

However, Danny Sriskandarajah, immigration specialist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said the minister's resignation did not mean the immigration system was out of control.

"While important failings of the system have been highlighted in recent weeks, this does not mean that we are being swamped by illegal immigrants.

"This should be seen as an opportunity to continue investing in a managed migration system that delivers economic benefits for the UK," he said.

'Minister unresponsive'

Sarah Cutler of Bail for Immigration Detainees, the human rights group which takes cases against the detention without trial of asylum seekers, said they had found the minister unresponsive to their concerns over the last two years.

"Our main contact with the minister had been through our work to prevent the detention of children and families," said Ms Cutler.

"We felt we made very little headway. Beverley Hughes made a commitment to reviewing the detention of children after a month but it was not good enough.

"The government, through Beverley Hughes, wanted to be seen to be cracking down on asylum seekers. What has happened has been very harsh."

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