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Queen Speech Tuesday, 24 November, 1998, 19:27 GMT
Asylum process faces reform
Campsfield, Oxfordshire
Many refugess are held in detention centres like this
Measures to stop economic refugees coming into the UK have been announced in the Queen's speech.

The Immigration and Asylum Bill aims to speed up processing of claims for political asylum and will bring into force proposals already outlined by Home Secretary Jack Straw in July when the backlog of asylum seekers stood at 52,000.

The Queen's Speech
The Queen said: "A Bill will be introduced to modernise the law on immigration and asylum, including reform of the appeals system and new support arrangements for asylum-seekers."

Jack Straw
Jack Straw wants a firmer, fairer and faster system
Key proposals include the end of cash benefits for asylum seekers who will instead be given vouchers for food, clothes and toiletries by a new Home Office agency.

The appeal system will also be reformed and immigration advisers will be checked to weed out the unscrupulous who exploit vulnerable refugees.

In a move intended to relieve the pressure on inner London, Kent and Sussex asylum-seekers will be dispersed to hostel and bed and breakfast accommodation around the country.

New penalties are also being introduced for deception offences, to deter fraudulent applications.

The proposals have been broadly welcomed. A spokesman for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: "It will bring major change to the whole system, and we anticipate that it will make entry more difficult for those whose claims are not credible.

"Tightening up controls on unscrupulous immigration advisers will be good for race relations."

Local authorities which presently house large numbers of asylum-seekers are also keen on the measures while councils in the Midlands and the North were understood to be wary of taking on the extra responsibility of looking after them.

Chris Lean, of Dover District Council, said: "They are a major burden for Dover and have been for the last two or three years. At present, we have around 400 asylum-seekers, which in a small town like Dover is a lot.

"Our annual bill for accommodating families is 70,000, but the bill to Kent council taxpayers as a whole runs into millions."

A total of 38,000 asylum applications are expected this year, at a cost to the taxpayer of 500m. Mr Straw's earlier White Paper, Fairer, Faster, Firmer, predicted that by 2001 this could rise to 50,000 costing 800m.

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23 Nov 98 | Queen Speech
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