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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"This is the changing face of Britain"
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Immigration minister Barbara Roche
"The system supports and helps the genuine asylum seeker"
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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK
Asylum vouchers spark protests
Refugee child
Refugee groups say children will be hit by the changes
Asylum seekers in the UK will now receive vouchers to buy food and clothes, under controversial plans which have come into effect despite months of criticism.

The charity Oxfam has announced it will boycott the voucher scheme, and says major retailers should do the same.

The changes, which also include full implementation of a plan to disperse asylum seekers around the country, are being brought in under the Immigration and Asylum Act.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has rejected suggestions that the changes will reinforce prejudice against refugees, after weeks of growing controversy over begging involving asylum seekers.

We believe vouchers stigmatise and demean asylum seekers

Refugee Council
Oxfam has condemned the voucher scheme as "penny-pinching", as refugees will not be given change in cash if the value of the vouchers exceeds the value of what they are buying.

The charity's director David Bryer said: "Jack Straw must immediately remove this terrible 'no change' clause."

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the vouchers would "stigmatise and demean asylum seekers, and make one of society's most vulnerable groups even more exposed to potential hostility."

Rejected

The criticisms have been rejected by the Home Office.

"There is a variety of denominations of vouchers available, so it should be possible for them to find the right amount and not lose any money," said a spokeswoman.

Asylum seekers will get 10 cash a week, and vouchers worth between 18.95 and 26.54 depending on age. Couples get vouchers worth 47.37 plus the cash.
Barbara Roche
Barbara Roche: New system supports and helps genuine asylum seekers
The government insists the changes are firm but fair.

Immigration minister Barbara Roche said the moves would benefit genuine asylum seekers.

"The genuine refugee seeking asylum wants first of all safety and security, and that's what we are providing, and a level of support while their claim is being determined," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

She said the current system had caused problems because 80% of asylum seekers were centred in London and the southeast.

If you come to Britain with an unfounded claim, one, you will be detained; two, you will be dealt with quickly; and three, you will be removed

Ann Widdecombe
"It's important to have a proper policy of dispersal so you can spread the share around," she said.

Ms Roche said she hoped that when Oxfam had had the opportunity to see the scheme in action they would change their mind about refusing to accept the vouchers.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said a Conservative government would make much greater use of detention in an effort to control asylum seekers' numbers.

"We will send out one very simple message," she said on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

"That message will go like this: if you come to Britain with an unfounded claim, one, you will be detained; two, you will be dealt with quickly; and three, you will be removed."

Begging fears

The row of the voucher system surfaced in the House of Lords on Monday when Tory Lord Cope questioned whether the voucher system was sufficiently in place and robust to eliminate the need for begging by asylum seekers.

Home Office Minister Lord Bassam said he believed the support system would be effective.

"It must be our hope and our wish that this doesn't lead to begging.

"Home Office ministers are looking at that issue, and it may well be that we have to give some further consideration to it.

"No doubt our action will be firm and will be swift."

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15 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Immigration Bill condemned
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