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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 18:37 GMT
What next for hijack passengers?
Plane passengers on bus
Eighty nine of the passengers are still in the UK
The Stansted Airport hijack - which came at a time when official figures showed a 53% rise in the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain - caused a political uproar.

BBC Eurasia analyst Pam O'Toole investigates what happened to the passengers after the Stansted hijack

Around half of the 170 passengers from the hijacked Ariana jet did eventually return to Afghanistan, including several whose asylum applications were rejected by the British government.

But, two years later, 89 of them are still in the UK.

They include 18 passengers whose asylum applications were accepted; 36 who have been denied asylum but are fighting that decision through the courts; the hijackers themselves; and the hijackers' families, whose asylum applications have yet to be processed.

It is not yet clear what impact recent events in Afghanistan may have on these ongoing asylum applications.

Solicitors representing many of the hijacked passengers originally told the British authorities that they were fleeing persecution by the Taleban.

While the Taleban were in power, Britain, along with other Western countries, had an unspoken policy of not returning failed asylum seekers to Afghanistan.

Asylum review

So even people who were denied official refugee status were usually allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds.

The Taleban have now disappeared.

But with the Afghan peace process still in its infancy, the general policy of not returning people to Afghanistan seems to stand - at least for the time being.

Former UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said at the time that he would take personal charge of the case and suggested he would like to see these Afghans returned home as soon as possible.

The British government now says it is monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and will continue to review its asylum policies in the light of events.

But it says it stands by its previous statements that if the Stansted Afghans' legal appeals fail, it intends to enforce their removal, if circumstances allow.

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