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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Benefits clampdown sparks asylum fears
asylum seekers
Hundreds of asylum seekers are to be turned out onto the streets and may end up working illegally or resorting to crime, according to a senior immigration worker.

Under the latest Immigration Act, those seeking protection in Britain who fail to apply for asylum as soon as practicable on arriving are refused benefits, including the emergency shelter offered by government-funded agencies.

Tony Fuller, from Dover's main asylum seeker induction centre, said the Home Office has ordered that those awaiting decisions on benefits be sent to London because of problems experienced when large numbers of asylum seekers built up in the town in the 1990s.

"We've been instructed to put them on buses, get all their luggage and send them off up to Croydon, awaiting the decision but in anticipation of a negative decision," Mr Fuller told BBC Radio 4's File On 4 programme.

'Exploited by criminals'

"They then go and attend their screening in Croydon by the Home Office where they get a negative decision and are just sent out into the streets with all their bags.

Those refused benefits may be allowed to remain in the country to pursue their asylum claims but without income support or permission to work.

"Not only do these people have no food or support but they're not allowed to work. They will starve," Mr Fuller added.

He predicted this policy would seriously hamper the government's objective of keeping close tabs on all asylum seekers.

"Quite clearly they must be driven into the black economy, quite clearly some of them must be exploited by criminal elements in order simply to survive.

I think it's irresponsible to suggest that asylum seekers, whatever their status, are more likely than others to get into illegality and crime
Beverley Hughes
Immigration Minister
"If the security service needs to interview a person, the Home Office has no idea where these people are."

Staff at Migrant Helpline, which runs the Dover induction centre, told File On 4 the system for dispersing and providing shelter for asylum seekers was working well until the new immigration act was passed at the end of last year.

Mr Fuller claimed many genuine asylum seekers were being left destitute on spurious grounds.

"We have several hundred here in Dover and there are many more hundreds in Croydon, as indeed with other agencies, who are all awaiting decisions on benefits," said Mr Fuller.

'Most can return home'

"Most of the decisions are negative. They're driven into the underground for the sole reason that they did not apply for asylum at the earliest possible moment."

But Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes defended the government's tough new line on benefits.

Speaking to File On 4, she said; "It would be wrong to carry on paying benefits when their claims have failed and most of them could return home.

"I think it's irresponsible to suggest that asylum seekers, whatever their status, are more likely than others to get into illegality and crime.

"The imperatives are that we have a system not open to abuse and in which the public can have confidence."

File On 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday, 1 July at 2000 BST and Sunday, 6 July at 1700 BST.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
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