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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July 2003, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
The asylum game
Asylum: A Panorama special
The asylum game was broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday, 23 July, 2003 at 21:00 BST.

For six months a Panorama reporter has been on a journey through Britain's asylum system.

Her task was to find out why so many people seek asylum in the UK and why the system cannot cope.

In January Panorama's reporter turned up at a Channel port police station, seeking asylum. Posing as Mihaela Cornea, a Moldovan national fleeing a violent boyfriend, she told her story.

It was flawed and the authorities appeared not to believe it but they gave her papers to stay for six months and she was released. Within hours they had lost track of her.

Once free, Mihaela faced a dilemma encountered by many asylum seekers: her asylum application would take months to process but she was not allowed to work. Refused benefits and accommodation, she had little alternative but to enter the world of illegal employment.


Within days she obtained the false documents she needed to work and hooked up with criminal gangs - themselves asylum seekers - who ply a lucrative trade in forging documents for others.

Mihaela discovers this is not a fluke encounter. She meets crooks who are able to make a fortune out of a system groaning under pressure and wide open to abuse. The genuine asylum seekers she meets are also victims of the system, kept in limbo for months waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.

Britain's asylum system is based on the principle of providing a safe haven to victims of persecution but it is in chaos because it cannot speedily distinguish between the refugee and the economic migrant.

When her six month permission to stay runs out, Mihaela puts the asylum system to one final test. Earlier this year, Home Secretary David Blunkett introduced fingerprinting of all asylum seekers to root out fraud and multiple applications.

Our reporter was fingerprinted at the time of her first application. Now, her first asylum request turned down, she adopts a different name, and makes another application. Panorama will reveal if Mr Blunkett's new detection system is up to the job.

Production team:
Reporters: Claudia Murg and John Ware
Producer: Terry Tyldesley
Deputy Editors: Andy Bell, Sam Collyns
Editor: Mike Robinson

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