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Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Clare Short MP says asylum system is 'disgraceful'

Nick Watson
By Nick Watson
Producer, West Midlands Politics Show

Clare Short MP

Ms Short was particularly scathing about arrangements which mean asylum applications must now be made in person.

Midlands MP Clare Short says the UK system for dealing with asylum seekers is "disgraceful".

Speaking in a commons adjournment debate she said the current set-up seemed "designed to refuse as many cases as possible".

She added that it plunges applicants into a system that "Kafka would be proud of".

Responding Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the UK had a "very good record" on asylum.

During the debate Ms Short outlined her case to Mr Woolas calling for a re-organisation of the international asylum system.

Under current arrangements people cannot apply for asylum in the UK without arriving here.


This means that many asylum seekers have to pay people-smugglers just to get into the country, said the former International Development Secretary.

"The possibility of applying for asylum is therefore controlled by criminal networks," she said.

"It is the conclusion of almost everyone who works in this field that this cruelty is deliberately inflicted to encourage asylum seekers to leave the UK and to discourage others from arriving."

Once in the UK things are little better as asylum seekers are not allowed to work and the benefits they receive are tiny.

Currently a single asylum seeker over 25 who is destitute receives £35.13 a week - around £5 a day to live off.

Ms Short outlined the case of a man from Gaza who had come to her constituency surgery in Birmingham for help after around three years in the UK.

Clare Short
Short: "Frequently ashamed" by UK's asylum system

The man was trying to contact his family in Gaza to check if they had survived the recent conflict.

He had also recently been "badly beaten up" in Stoke-on-Trent and had a medical report saying he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The man was relying on another asylum seeker to help find food and shelter.

"I frequently feel ashamed that this is how we are running our asylum system in Britain in 2009," said the Independent Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood.

Birmingham is top of the list of cities to which asylum seekers are dispersed in the UK.

Recent Home Officers figures showing 1,295 people were sent to the city.

The West Midlands is also in the top three regions for dispersal with 3,910 arrivals.

Asylum figures dipped between July and September this year to 5,055 - a fall of 24% compared with the same period in 2008.

During that period the top three countries asylum seekers arrived from were Afghanistan , Iran and Zimbabwe.

Ms Short was particularly scathing about arrangements which have been in place since October 2009 which mean asylum applications must now be made in person.

Kafkaesque system

People who first applied before 2007 are now expected to travel to Liverpool or to a regional centre if they applied after that.

"It is impossible to explain these changes without concluding that the ending of postal applications is simply designed to make it more difficult to make an application."

The system often resulted in people being left homeless and destitute. "Kafka would be proud of those arrangements," said Ms Short.

Mr Woolas defended the current system saying that the UK had a good record on asylum.

"We are very proud of the United Kingdom's work through the United Nations," he said.

"We have a very good record compared with those of other advances countries; that is frequently recognised by the United Nations."

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