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Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK


Immigrant influx 'must stop'

11 people were injured in clashes at a funfair

A Home Office minister has said that the flow of asylum seekers into the UK must be stopped.

Lord Bassam said the UK Government was working with other European countries to try to stem the number of illegal immigrants - believed to be eastern Europeans - after outbreaks of violence in Dover.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher: "Kent county council warned of tinder box atmosphere"
However, shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said ministers' actions had been inadequate.

Eleven people were injured in a series of incidents on Friday and Saturday between immigrants and residents in the Kent port.

Eight people required hospital treatment for stab wounds. Three people were arrested, and bailed pending further inquiries.

Lord Bassam said he believed Dover's problems were caused by asylum seekers being "dumped" there without adequate support.

Describing the current situation as "intolerable", he said: "We need to prevent the large numbers of asylum seekers coming here that have in the past."

Kent County Council says most of the asylum seekers in Dover are Afghans and Kurds.

Vouchers plan

The government's Immigration and Asylum Bill, currently making its way through parliament, contains measures aimed at accelerating the dispersal of immigrants and processing their claims for sanctuary.

It includes measures to split refugees into smaller groups and spread them across the country. Cash handouts will be replaced with vouchers for food and essential items.

Ann Widdecombe: "The government did nothing"
But Ms Widdecombe told BBC Two's Newsnight programme the government's "intolerable" response had not been fast enough to prevent violence at Dover.

She said: "The leader of Kent County Council wrote to [Home Secretary] Jack Straw weeks ago and said 'iIn Kent we have a tinder box'.

"That should have sounded alarm bells everywhere. It didn't. The government did nothing."

[ image: The police have stepped up their presence in the area]
The police have stepped up their presence in the area
Lord Bassam said the Home Office had been working closely with officials abroad, particularly in France, to "try to see the problem off before it arrives on these shores".

BBC Radio 4's World at One programme asked him whether hundreds of asylum seekers should be staying in Dover, and if they were in the "wrong place".

Lord Bassam: "We must be firm but fair"
He said: "We do accept that entirely, and that's why we have got the legislation going through, so that we can take powers to ensure that we get clusters of asylum seekers more properly dispersed across the country."

The county's police have now introduced a "highly visible" presence at the funfair in Pencester Gardens, due to close on Monday, where the violence began.

[ image: It is hoped the Asylum and Immigration Bill will help matters]
It is hoped the Asylum and Immigration Bill will help matters
Superintendent Chris Eyre, in charge of the investigation into the unrest, said police had been surprised by the "nature and severity" of the violence.

It had "very rapidly escalated" into scenes never before witnessed in Dover, he said.

Up to 5,000 refugees are estimated to be in Kent and about 1,000 in Dover, which has a total population of 25,000.

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