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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 13:59 GMT
Analysis: What asylum ruling means

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

David Blunkett
David Blunkett: Furious at ruling
It has been little over a month since a key, yet controversial, element of the government's new asylum policy came into force.

But those rules which the government described as tough on bogus applicants are now in doubt after the High Court ruled in a test case that they breached human rights.

Home Secretary David Blunkett will take the case back to the courts.

But there are 175 more asylum seekers with similar injunctions and Mr Blunkett's opponents, inside and outside Parliament, are already saying he will have to think again.


The legislation behind the High Court's judgement is complicated but its effects on the asylum system have been profound.

Under the so-called Section 55 rules brought in on 8 January asylum seekers who did not apply immediately at port would be denied accommodation and support.

Applicants can only get support if:
They can prove they have applied
They can prove they are destitute
They prove they applied "as soon as reasonably practicable"
Children who can prove they are under 18
Rules unclear on pregnant women
Mr Blunkett said he wanted to prevent people who have been living illegally in Britain from trying their luck by making a late, bogus claim for asylum.

The rules prompted an outcry from refugee groups when they unexpectedly were added to legislation last October. They warned it would lead to hundreds of people sleeping rough, irrespective of whether or not their claims were genuine.

According to Home Office figures, two-thirds of asylum seekers apply once they are in the country - some 5,000 people in September 2002.

These people turn up on the doorsteps of local councils, charities, or other bodies.

In many cases they have had little say in how they entered the UK as their movements are dictated by organised criminals running people trafficking rackets.

The legislation says asylum seekers must apply "as soon as reasonably practicable" at the port of arrival. But few asylum seekers have evidence of how and when they arrived.

Rules in force

The first cases after the rules came into force was a man from Cameroon who, according to the Refugee Council and housing charity Shelter, entered the country on 7 January.

The 28-year-old, said to be suffering mental illness, slept in the car park of a Leeds police station for two days before making his application.

Parliament can surely not have intended that genuine refugees should be faced with the bleak alternatives of returning to persecution or of destitution - it is obvious that those least likely to leave the United Kingdom will be those who are genuinely fleeing persecution.
Mr Justice Collins
The authorities rejected his claim and he was left sleeping rough as the agencies had no means to house him.

Campaigners argued that forcing someone to sleep rough in the winter breached human rights legislation because it was inhumane and degrading.

While the case of the Leeds man is still pending, Mr Justice Collins has ruled on six test cases at the High Court.

He said the issue was whether or not the regulations took into account the circumstances of the individual.

Mr Justice Collins said: "The individual's reasons for not claiming must be considered and that means at least asking about the pressures on him, what he was told and what his beliefs were.

"Whether or not in the end they are granted asylum, many of those arriving are vulnerable and may well have suffered serious ill-treatment.

"Equally, the so-called economic migrants are frequently trying to escape conditions which no-one in this country would regard as tolerable."

1996 legislation

What has infuriated the refugee agencies so much is that this issue was previously fought over in 1996.

Asylum seekers have done nothing wrong in seeking safety yet they have been subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment, by this appalling piece of legislation
Sandy Buchan, Refugee Action
The then Conservative government introduced a similar regulation and the High Court threw it out within months.

During the passage of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill last year, Parliament's human rights committee warned the government it was in danger of violating key articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Furthermore a coalition of campaigners warned the government it was about to make the same mistake twice.

For his part, David Blunkett told MPs: "We need to be reasonable and to take into account the trauma that people experience. We need therefore to allow a reasonable period before we presume that people have come into the country for another reason..."

Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council said: "MPs and Peers were told that the Home Office would operate this policy reasonably.

"Yet we are witnessing ludicrous decisions in which people who have made their asylum claims within 24 hours of arrival being turned away with nothing and no right to appeal.

"Today's decision confirms our view that the implementation has been unreasonable and unjustifiable."

What is without doubt is David Blunkett does not share this view - and that the issue will be back in the courts very soon.

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