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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"For those who do get into Britain, the government has got tougher"
 real 56k

Barbara Roche, Immigration Minister
"We're trying to make sure that one part of the country doesn't have an unfair share"
 real 28k

The BBC's Barney Choudry
"There needs to be better use made of refugees"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 January, 2001, 00:11 GMT
Asylum claims hit record high
asylum seekers
Cases refused for "non-compliance" rose last year
The number of people claiming asylum in Britain hit an all-time high of more than 76,000 last year, according to the Home Office.

The figures suggest that tough new measures from Home Secretary Jack Straw to cut the figures have failed to reduce 1999's tally of 71,160.

The 76,040 applications made in 2000 could represent around 100,000 individuals, as many asylum seekers arrive with their families.

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said she would be tabling parliamentary questions about suggestions that the Home Office's figures were misleading.


We do take the housing and support of those people claiming asylum very seriously indeed

Barbara Roche
Immigration Minister
Almost 10,200 were granted asylum as refugees in 2000, nearly 2,400 more than in 1999.

However, a further 11,000 were given exceptional leave to remain and some 3,300 won appeals against being thrown out of the country.

Crucially, of the 76,850 refused asylum - including some from the huge backlog - more than 49,000 appealed and thousands of cases are still to be determined.

The Home Office says its backlog of all applications was reduced from more than 100,000 to 66,000 last year.

The main countries of origin were Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Somalia.


If the statistics are either being fiddled, or are so entirely flawed that they are not reliable, then there is a public interest in knowing that

Shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe
But Channel 4 News highlighted the cases of what it estimated could be up to 18,000 people who were officially listed as having been refused asylum last year but were, for various reasons, allowed to stay.

After initially having had their applications turned down, they persuaded the Home Office to reconsider the decision prior to the formal appeal hearing, the programme claimed.

Ms Widdecombe said: "I propose immediately to table questions . . . because if the statistics are either being fiddled, or are so entirely flawed that they are not reliable, then there is a public interest in knowing that."

But the Home Office dismissed the programme's claims.

"We reject absolutely the assertion that there is some sort of secret asylum statistics black hole," a spokesman said.

Dispersal 'strain'

Housing and feeding such numbers has long been putting a strain on local authorities, particularly those in London and the South East where most asylum seekers have traditionally chosen to settle.

But last April the Home Office introduced a national dispersal programme aimed at curbing the problem by re-housing those claiming asylum more evenly across the country.

Groups involved in helping asylum seekers who enter the UK are not convinced the dispersal system is a success, especially in Liverpool, which has received more asylum seekers under the scheme than any other in England.

Immigration Minister Barbara Roche
Barbara Roche: Dispersal is working
But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Immigration Minister Barbara Roche insisted government policy was working.

She said: "We do take the housing and support of those people claiming asylum very seriously indeed.

"I visited Liverpool myself recently and I was up in Newcastle last week, where the system is working very well indeed.

"Where we have got the co-operation of the local authority it works very well."

Red tape

But refugee organisations have also hit out at the bureaucracy of the asylum process.

The Refugee Council reports a "phenomenal" increase in the number of asylum seekers turned away without their cases being properly considered, because they did not complete the paperwork in time.

The number of cases refused for "non-compliance" shot up by 2,093% in the first 11 months of 2000.

Nearly a quarter of all Home Office decisions were refusals on the grounds that applicants did not fill in and return a complex 19-page form within 14 days, said the group which campaigns for refugees' rights.


If nearly 40% of applicants are rejected without their cases being looked at then the system itself is at fault

Nick Hardwick, Refugee Council

In September, October and November, the figure was 38% of all decisions.

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "If nearly 40% of applicants are rejected without their cases being looked at then the system itself is at fault.

"This is a gross injustice on asylum seekers on top of the human rights violations that many are fleeing."

A Home Office spokeswoman said that a faster system was in the interest of both the government and the asylum seekers.

"The number of refusals on non-compliance grounds must be looked at in the context of the large increase in the number of decisions," she added.

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