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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK


Violence warning over asylum seekers

Asylum seekers protested at new get-tough immigration proposals

Coastal towns in south-east England are becoming "tinder boxes" which could explode into violence - because they have been swamped by asylum seekers, a council leader has warned.

Sandy Bruce-Lockhart: "We thought it right to spell the situation out"
Kent County Council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart voiced his concerns in a letter to the new immigration minister, Barbara Roche. The authority is expected to spend £11m supporting an estimated 5,000 asylum seekers this year.

He wrote that he was particularly concerned about coastal towns of Folkestone, Dover and Margate which are being expected to accommodate many of the increasing numbers.

In his letter, he said: "The continued over-concentration in these districts is having a tangibly adverse effect on community relations.

Locals 'resentful'

"The area has virtually no prior history of multi-cultural diversity, local people feel increasingly 'swamped' and resentful - and this is leading to increased confrontation and incidents, some of which are violent and probably racially motivated.

"We have also had incidents between different groups of asylum seekers.

"It is no exaggeration to say that in parts of Dover it is a tinder box atmosphere and we are increasingly fearful that it could culminate in a fatal confrontation or arson attack."

'Costly procedures'

Mr Bruce-Lockhart added: "The asylum seekers are here in Kent for several years simply because they are waiting for the immigration and appeal process to grind through its lengthy, costly and bureaucratic procedures.

[ image: Jack Straw: Proposed streamlined asylum appeals]
Jack Straw: Proposed streamlined asylum appeals
"The situation in Kent is becoming untenable and I would ask you to take action as a matter of urgency."

Earlier this year Home Secretary Jack Straw announced plans to bring in much stricter regulations for asylum seekers after it was revealed that the country's immigration and asylum system was bogged down with a backlog of nearly 75,000 applicants.

The proposals, contained in a Bill which is going through Parliament, would also mean Britain's immigration appeal tribunal would be streamlined and its powers strengthened so that immigration controls could be more effective.

The proposals were followed by a protest in London with demonstrators claiming they would lead to racism against asylum seekers.

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