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 Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Factfile: The asylum process
When an asylum seeker arrives in the UK they are dealt with under the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act.

The act was intended to make the UK less attractive to "bogus" asylum seekers and designed to speed up the processing of applications. BBC News Online looks at the key questions.

What is an asylum seeker?
An asylum seeker is someone who has crossed an international border and is looking for a country that can offer protection. In the UK, an asylum seeker is officially a person who has lodged an asylum claim with the Home Office and is waiting for a decision on their claim.

While they are awaiting the outcome the asylum seeker has the right not to be returned to a country where they would be in danger. The asylum seeker becomes a refugee only when their application for asylum has been accepted by the Home Office.

How much money do asylum seekers get?
New applicants at port in England and Wales, plus all new applicants in Scotland receive vouchers as benefits. They are no longer entitled to significant amounts of cash.

Previously, asylum seekers who announced their intentions at port of entry were entitled to cash benefits while those who waited to claim asylum after they had entered the country were paid in vouchers.

Maximum weekly voucher entitlement
Single person 18-24: 18.95
Single person 25 and over: 26.54
Lone parent: 26.54
Couple: 47.37
Child up to 16: 16.60
16 or 17-year-old: 21.75
As well as vouchers, all asylum seekers now receive 10 cash per week.

The total value - vouchers and cash - they can receive is 70% of the amount someone on income support receives.

Some agencies, including Oxfam and the Refugee Council, have condemned the voucher scheme as demeaning and unfair because refugees are not entitled to change if the value of the vouchers exceeds the value of what they are buying.

Who pays for the vouchers?
For "port of entry" asylum seekers, the Home Office pays for the vouchers. Previously it was the Department of Health and Social Security.

Vouchers for "in country" applicants are now also paid for by the Home Office.

Previously, local authorities paid initially, but could claim the money back from the Home Office.

Can asylum seekers work?
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for their first six months in the UK. If a decision has not been made by then they can apply for the right to work and earn money.

If they find employment they lose their voucher benefits. Employers who take on asylum seekers who have not been granted a right to work risk prosecution.

Where do they live?
While applicants are waiting to find out if they have been granted asylum they can be housed either in hostels, local authority housing or detention centres. The National Asylum Seeker Support Service (NASS), part of the Home Office, finds places for them.

They can also now choose to receive help with subsistence alone, and stay with friends or relatives.

Those considered at risk of absconding are more likely to be housed in a detention centre, although there are no clear rules governing this process.

When considering the housing issue immigration officials may also take into account the applicant's credibility, whether they are thought to have lied, produced false documents, or changed their behaviour to increase their chances of getting asylum.

Any asylum seeker whose case is thought simple enough to be resolved in seven days - whether genuine or not - will be automatically detained at a detention centre.

A former RAF barracks at Oakington in Cambridgeshire has been set up for these cases and will be able to process the claims of 13,000 asylum seekers every year.

Why are asylum seekers being sent to different parts of the country?
The vast majority of asylum seekers are housed in south-east England in areas like London.

But under the Home Office's dispersal initiative, managed by NASS, applicants can be sent to other parts of the country on a "no-choice" basis.

The move was designed to relieve the burden on London and local authorities in south-east England.

The dispersal initiative originally applied only to applicants who claim asylum at port of entry - but has been widened to include all new asylum seekers.

By March 2001 NASS said they had dispersed more than 21,000 applicants around the country.

Those who oppose the dispersal system say that asylum seekers will not be able to rely on the sorts of support services - medical, legal, educational and cultural - which have built up in London.

How long does an asylum application take?
The Home Office has set itself a target of two months to make an initial decision on 60% of new cases, and four months to process 65% of appeals.

But a backlog of cases has meant those in the queue have sometimes had to wait for much longer.

However in April 2001 the government announced that the backlog of applications awaiting a first decision was at 36,390, the "lowest level for 10 years".

What happens if an asylum claim is rejected?
Previously, if the Home Office refused asylum, there was a right of appeal to an adjudicator, and after that to a tribunal. If the decision still went against the seeker, they could have applied for a judicial review, which may have led to a further appeal against deportation.

However in October 2000 a "one-stop" appeal process was brought in. Asylum seekers are now only entitled to one appeal and the whole appeal process should take less than six months.

If the appeal is unsuccessful the asylum seeker can then be taken to a detention centre and deported.

At the end of March 2001 the government said it was aiming to recruit more immigration officers to effect the return of 30,000 failed asylum seekers.

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03 Apr 00 | Politics
06 Dec 99 | UK
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