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Monday, 3 January, 2000, 22:47 GMT
Asylum-seekers 'to hit record levels'

Thousands are waiting for a decision on refugee status

A record number of asylum-seekers entered the UK in 1999, government figures are expected to show.

More than 60,000 applied for asylum last year, surpassing the previous record of 46,000 set in 1998.

The backlog of applications waiting to be processed is almost certain to top 100,000 for the first time. By the end of November, there were already 98,000 asylum-seekers waiting to find if they would be granted refugee status.

Some have been waiting for up to six years for a decision.

Nearly 10,000 of the cases which have been outstanding the longest have been settled under a special "backlog clearance" procedure which takes into account how long people have been waiting to make decisions more speedily.

Benefits scrapped

Ministers are hoping that the introduction of the new Asylum and Immigration Act, which will come into full effect in April, will help deter the majority of bogus applicants by scrapping their entitlement to social security benefits.

The government has pledged that the decision-making system will be speeded up to enable all applications to be processed six months.

In return, applicants will no longer be able to claim benefits, instead receiving benefits in kind and vouchers plus 10 a week cash to live on.

The highest monthly figure of the year - and the highest monthly total on record - was in September when 7,355 applications were made.

Dispersal system

The Kosovo crisis boosted the numbers, with thousands of asylum seekers continuing to arrive from the Balkans even since the end of hostilities.

Dover's local authority, and its inhabitants, became so frustrated at having a higher proportion of refugees and asylum seekers, that a new system of "dispersal" was drawn up.

Those requiring accommodation are dispersed to areas with housing to spare, initially likely to be in the north-west and north-east of England.

The interim arrangements will stay in place until April.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  UK
Seeking asylum: A broader outlook
15 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
Labour avoids asylum rebellion
16 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
Head to head: Immigration and Asylum Bill
15 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
Immigration Bill condemned
17 Aug 99 |  UK
Immigrant influx 'must stop'

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