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Panorama
The Asylum game timeline
Claudia Murg
Panorama's Claudia Murg 'arrives' in Harwich
December 2002

Undercover reporter Claudia Murg becomes Mihaela Cornea, newly arrived from Moldova in the back of a lorry, from Moldova, a country she has never been to. Her first task is to get forged papers and start look for solicitors and work. She chooses an immigration firm to represent her claim. They can't see her straight away but are happy to see her in January, but she should really be applying straight away as she is illegally on British territory.

January 8, 2003

Claudia goes back to the solicitor who sent her to the Home Office in Croydon; the same day that new tough rules are introduced regarding state support for in-country and port asylum applicants. She tells the solicitors that she wants state support and was afraid of being arrested for turning up at Croydon and that she will go to a port to claim asylum in order to qualify. She tells them she is going to pretend to the immigration authorities that she has just arrived.

January 20, 2003

Makes her first asylum application at Harwich port as a Moldovan citizen. She secretly records the asylum interview with Immigration. They let her stay in a B&B for the night and ask her to come back the next day for a decision on accommodation and benefits.

January 21, 2003

She is told she won't get state support or the right to work. Immigration advises Claudia to go to London because there are "more opportunities" there. She arrives to find the Citizens Advice Bureau closed and is left alone in London, with little money.

January 23, 2003

Claudia queues outside the Refugee Council but is told she is not entitled to benefits but can be part of a test case against the government to try to restore benefits. She declines.

January 30, 2003

Claudia Murg
Some nights Claudia had nowhere to go.
Claudia barges her way into Euro towers where she knows asylum seekers are housed whilst waiting to be dispersed. She meets many asylum seekers who have been in the country for some time. Some refused the accommodation given to them, lost the right to accommodation but then came back to accept any offer.

February 4, 2003

Claudia goes back to the solicitor to fill in the Home Office form with details of her claim. The legal executive handling my case is embellishing my story making my claim for asylum seem stronger. They advised me to look at the Home Office Country reports on the internet for more information about abuses in the country she claims to be from.

February 19, 2003

Claudia travels to Birmingham. On this day, David Blunkett gives his reaction to the Judges decision on restoring temporarily benefits to asylum seekers. She spends the night and morning with people who seem genuine refuges in a refugee hostel - each has an overwhelming and moving story.

February 21, 2003

She goes to the Asylum City in Wolverhampton to start making inquiries about cheap accommodation sub-let by asylum seekers. The programme knows that many asylum seekers rent out the place given for their own use by the state. Within hours she is offered three choices. A few days later he calls to put me in touch with an asylum seeker friend who has a flat in Birmingham.

February 7, 2003

Gets the keys for a Birmingham flat. The new "landlord" is quite an entrepreneur, buying selling cars, driving licences, obtaining credit cards in various names, renting our flats, fixing up jobs in factories, all whilst being an asylum seeker on state benefits. He's also well travelled in Europe and he describes how for $10,000 he was driven from his house in Romania to Britain.

February 13, 2003

The undercover reporter travels to Liverpool - she should go to the Home Office for her in-depth interview but decides not to turn up.

March 31, 2003

Claudia returns to Liverpool to explore job opportunities. Within days she is fixed up with a job in a pasta factory. There's a code of silence inside the factory but it quickly becomes clear there are many Russians and Iraqi people.

April 16, 2003

Claudia Murg
'Legal' work - fishing packing in Grimsby
The operation moves to Grimsby to find out how easy it is to make progress as an asylum seeker in a small place with high unemployment. Almost immediately, a member of the team gets offers of forged Home Office documents with our pictures and assumed names inserted but more importantly, a permission to work stamp on it

May 1, 2003

Claudia registers with three agencies for work, a fourth one tells her the Home Office paper is fake and she should take it back to where I got it from.

May 7, 2003

Her first 'legal' job comes through one of the agencies - working in a fish packing factory.

May 14, 2003

Back in London, the solicitor calls to say her application for asylum has been refused but that she can can appeal. In the bundle of papers there's also a Home Office letter saying that she will have to leave this country if she does not appeal but that they will notify me later of when to turn up at the airport.

June 2, 2003

Claudia now becomes Mariana Matei in order to claim asylum again. She heads to the police station in Dover, pretending to have just arrived (again) from Moldova in the back of the lorry. The police send her to a charity, Migrant Helpline who call the Immigration Service. She is asked a few questions, has her bag searched but no fingerprints are taken. The charity explains that she will have to go to Lunar House in Croydon the next day to apply for asylum.

June 3, 2003

The second asylum application is a laborious process. Claudia waits for two hours in Croydon whilst staring at the many warnings displayed on walls that "Multiple applicants will be arrested and prosecuted."

Eventually, she is interviewed and asked to wait. She is fingerprinted on a computer and then photographed. She expects the system to do what it claims: spot multiple applicants in minutes. It doesn't. Later that evening, after more waiting, Claudia is offered emergency accommodation in a hostel in Croydon and told to return the next day for an interview about eligibility for support. But by the time she arrives, the hostel is closed.

June 4, 2003

Lunar House
Lunar House in Croydon
The next day Claudia is interviewed for more than two hours after another long wait. The immigration officer has a 17 page questionnaire. On every page there is a warning about risk of prosecution if one provides false information. At the end of the interview she is suspicious of my account describing the journey to the UK, of the fact that I do speak some English and she asks me if I have been to the UK before. I ask her what's going to happen and she informs me that she will talk to the Chief Immigration officer about my case.

Claudia waits for a few more hours for an outcome but is told by another worker to come back again in a week to pick up my new asylum registration card. She tells me that the person doing them is on leave. She is told to use the emergency accommodation in the meantime.

June 11, 2003

Back to the Home Office, Asylum Screening Unit at Lunar House. She waits for nearly six hours and is seen by two different workers, who only asked her name, checked their computer records and then told her to wait. At the end of the day, Claudia was sent away and asked to come back the next morning.

June 12, 2003

After a morning of waiting at the Home Office, Claudia is called to the fingerprinting room for the second time since in 10 days. They ask her to provide fingerprints for the asylum registration card inserted in the fingerprinting device. She is asked to wait again.

Eventually, an Immigration Officer asks Claudia to accompany him downstairs to the detention suite and he informs her that her case will be fast tracked at Oakington Centre because Moldova is now on the 'safe' list of countries and that she should be there for about seven days. They did not mention that the automated fingerprint system had matched her two claims.

The officer said that afterwards she might be released to pursue an appeal. He hands her a set of forms and takes her to a room where other asylum seekers are waiting to be sent to Oakington.

However, Claudia can't continues with the pretence because of the deadline for the film and blows her cover, telling them that she is a reporter for the BBC and a British citizen.

She is arrested by a Chief Immigration Officer for "attempting to obtain leave to remain in the UK by deception" and taken at Croydon police station. An hour later the BBC appointed solicitor explains they can't arrest a British citizen for trying to obtain leave to remain in the UK by deception.

Panorama: The asylum game

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