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