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Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 19:14 GMT
Alarm over 'starving' asylum seekers
Asylum seekers
The Refugee Council says some facilities are "under siege"
Asylum seekers in the UK are going "days or weeks" without food because of lengthy delays in issuing vouchers, say campaigners.

Vouchers are issued to asylum seekers instead of cash benefits.

I was at one of our offices the other day and I would describe it as being under siege

Nick Hardwick
Refugee Council
But Nick Hardwick of the Refugee Council believes there is a "crisis" in the system which is affecting families across the UK.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "All over the country there are groups of asylum seekers who are going days or weeks without food because the vouchers administration has broken down."

He said one impoverished mother in Liverpool had been forced to make nappies for her baby out of newspaper.

"People are scrounging food for small children because the vouchers aren't arriving."

He said that when Refugee Council staff tried to improve matters, they found it "impossible" to get through to the Home Office.

"The Home Office has got to have local delivery so when someone's vouchers don't go through there is somewhere for people to go.

"I was at one of our offices the other day and I would describe it as being under siege," he said.

"Asylum seekers have nowhere else to go and were desperate because they were not eating."

Home Office review

Home Office minister Barbara Roche said the National Asylum Support Service was looking at ways of improving local facilities.

She admitted there had been problems but added: "When you think of the thousands of people we are assisting the scheme is going well."

But Mr Hardwick said: "I'm not sure they [Home Office officials] have properly understood the scale of the crisis and the immediacy of it."

An emergency food bank is being set up in Nottingham for asylum seekers.

The BBC has been told that up to 40 refugees who have been in the UK since Christmas have yet to receive food vouchers.

The Home Office said it should have been notified.

Mike Scott, of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, said the Home Office had been called repeatedly.

Home Office Minister Barbara Roche
"When you think of the thousands of people we're assisting, the scheme is going well"
Nick Hardwick, Refugee Council
"I'm not sure they have properly understood the scale of the crisis and the immediacy of it"
See also:

31 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Heseltine stirs asylum row
27 Jun 00 | Europe
Illegal immigrants: UK overview
01 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Refugee dispersal plans attacked
11 May 00 | UK Politics
'Army camps' plan for asylum seekers
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