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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK


Asylum laws: Before and after

An asylum seekers biding his time, waiting in the UK

Asylum seeking is an emotive issue, with the rights of genuine refugees and those with untrue stories arousing strong political views.

By international convention, refuge should be given to people fleeing persecution in their own country.

But deciding which cases are genuine has proved to be a time-consuming and complicated issue. Those whose applications do not succeed are asked to leave the country or are deported.

The first hurdle asylum seekers face in trying to get into the UK is physically getting here.

To allow them to travel from their home country, many refugees forge documents, and if they claim asylum when they arrive, should be allowed in.

Airlines to the UK face fines, however, if people they bring in are found to have forged papers, although this should not apply to such people who claim asylum.

At the port or airport, asylum seekers should tell the immigration officer when they arrive they are claiming asylum.

[ image: Source: Home Office]
Source: Home Office
If they do this, they will be entitled to benefits until their application is determined.

But some people enter the country, perhaps as holidaymakers, and then claim asylum at a later date.

In this case, they will not be entitled to benefits. Their welfare becomes the responsibility of the local authorities, which have to find them accommodation and provide vouchers for food.

Having met the applicant, Home Office officials consider their case.

The law states the application should be granted if refusing it would mean the asylum seeker had to go to "a country in which the applicant's life or freedom would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group".

[ image:  ]
The official can also take the applicant's credibility into account, considering whether they have lied, produced false documents, or changed their behaviour to increase their chances of getting asylum.

Most asylum seekers stay in London boroughs, or in south-east towns. In some places, however, the backlog for a first interview has grown so long, applicants are faced with a four-year delay.

If the Home Office refuses asylum, there is a right of appeal to an adjudicator, and after that to a tribunal. If the decision still goes against the seeker, they may be able to seek a judicial review, which may lead to a further appeal against deportation.

Straw's proposals

The government's controversial attempts to revise the law, still going through Parliament, have a number of elements designed to shake up the procedure.

Home Secretary Jack Straw says his approach would make the law "fairer, faster and firmer". But it has been opposed by some Labour MPs and refugee rights campaigners.

It is estimated that the changes would make £150m savings from the £500m annual cost of the asylum process.

The backlog of applications has reached 70,000 cases
[ image: Mr Straw's proposals expected to become law by 2000]
Mr Straw's proposals expected to become law by 2000
Key points of Mr Straw's Bill are:

  • Cases should by next year be dealt with in six months; initially there should be a decision in two months, and appeals should be heard in four months.

  • Immigration officers should be given the power of search and arrest at properties where they think illegal entrants are living.

  • Asylum seekers would not be allowed to work for the first six months. Employers risk a fine for employing them.

  • Voucher and cash entitlement to be reduced to the equivalent of 70% of benefit level.

  • A different voucher scheme to be introduced, allowing £10 a week per person to be paid in cash. Vouchers exchangeable at a range of shops.

  • Asylum seekers who apply for judicial review of a refused application lose rights to benefits.

  • More immigration liaison officers to be posted in foreign airports to prevent asylum seekers boarding flights to the UK without the correct papers.

  • A new civil penalty for lorry drivers and others who bring illegal entrants into the UK, extending the current law which applies to airlines.

  • A national body to be set up to house asylum seekers by buying accommodation from local authorities, housing associations and private landlords. Would also spread seekers around the country, avoiding the concentration in the south-east.

  • Failed asylum seekers whose applications have involved blatant deceit liable for prosecution.

The legislation is still going through Parliament, and is expected to become law some time next summer.

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