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Last Updated: Friday, 30 April, 2004, 01:14 GMT 02:14 UK
EU asylum seekers lose support
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

EU flags
Asylum seekers from new EU countries no longer get support
The Home Office is ending support for 2,500 asylum seekers this weekend and has told them to leave their homes because they are from new EU states.

The High Court has urged a guarantee of temporary support to prevent a deluge of legal challenges.

Refugee agencies are already predicting chaos for councils, homelessness and a potential race relations backlash.

The Home Office says it will hear late claims for help, but says it has given enough notice.

Most asylum seekers are housed by a national system which disperses them around the country while their cases are assessed.

Under the new rules, some 2,500 asylum seekers and their dependents from new European Union members are no longer eligible for support. They can still pursue their asylum claim - but the official presumption is that their countries are now safe.

From 1 May they have the same rights as other members of the EU - but until now they have been banned from seeking work and supporting themselves.

Home Office letter

In letters sent out on 5 April, the Home Office told asylum seekers from the accession states they must vacate their homes by 1 May.

It is totally unrealistic to expect asylum seekers to find work and housing overnight, not to mention trying to do this on a bank holiday
Refugee Council
The group most affected by the decision are Roma, a large number with families, who have fled the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland alleging persecution.

Kent County Council, one of the areas affected, has proposed transitional arrangements which the government rejected.

Dozens of agencies and local councils are discussing how to prevent problems caused by the withdrawal of support. The Local Government Association has written to the Home Office appealing for a change in benefit rules.

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the Home Office was about to create a crisis out of nothing.

The agency warns that unless the Home Office gives those affected longer to put their affairs in order, there may be a race relations backlash if people are forced on to the streets.

"There is a crisis brewing which is wholly avoidable," she said. "It is totally unrealistic to expect asylum seekers to find work and housing overnight, not to mention trying to do this on a bank holiday."

"Many families including those with young children will find themselves homeless.

"Would it really hurt to let these families stay in their homes for a few more weeks while the adults find a job?"

High Court hearing

In the High Court on Thursday, Mr Justice Collins warned there could be an "intolerable burden" of publicly-funded legal challenges if government did not guarantee accommodation.

Chaos predicted: Agencies warn of rough sleeping
The court later heard that officials would consider appeals for support on human rights grounds ahead of test cases next week - but there would be no guarantee of continued accommodation.

Asylum groups are now urging the 2,571 affected applicants to make submissions to prevent a loss of benefits.

But Richard Dunstan of the Citizens Advice Bureaux dismissed the court assurances as a "last minute fudge" which would not prevent evictions.

The organisaton had already written to Home Secretary David Blunkett calling for an amnesty and transitional arrangements to save the taxpayer a homelessness bill.

"These [assurances] are not adequate at all," said Mr Dunstan. "Only those who may contact with local authorities or others will be aware they can make representations. But many will fall through the gap.

"The information we have received from areas such as Liberpool, Manchester and Birmingham is that landlords will evict. They have a business to run and you can understand that."

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "The situation is that as of 1 May any support they were receiving, quite rightly, will end as they will cease to be eligible."

"They will have three choices. The first is to go home or leave for another EU country. The second is to register as workers under the scheme for new member states. The third is that if they remain in the UK they must be self-supporting. Those are the options."

The spokesman denied the change in policy would create chaos and leave families on the streets.

"We have done everything that has been expected of us," he said. "Local authorities have powers to provide temporary accommodation for families in extreme circumstances.

"There may be cases where we have to provide support to prevent breaches of the Human Rights Act - but these will be minimal."

The BBC's June Kelly
"Families have simply not been given enough time to find work, according to campaigners"

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