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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Labour asylum policy under fire
An asylum seeker
Medical needs of vulnerable people at risk, says BMA
The government's asylum policies have come under fire from the British Medical Association.

The organisation has published a handbook that attacks the way asylum seekers are dispersed around the country and forced to buy goods with vouchers.

The policies have been central planks in Labour's efforts to forge a "firm but fair" system for refugees.

But the BMA says they have been cut off from support groups and doctors have been left struggling to cope with the needs of vulnerable people arriving in communities without warning.

The government has come under further pressure from 28 of its own backbenchers who signed a Commons motion attacking the voucher system as "stigmatising and degrading".

Romanian refugees
Asylum seekers are cut off from refugee communities

They called on ministers to abandon it "without delay" and return to the system of benefit support.

Both developments come shortly after Downing Street countered claims Labour had been using the race issue to stifle debate on its policy on asylum seekers.

On publication of its handbook the BMA said it "deplores the hardening of attitudes towards asylum seekers in this country".

Doctors struggling

The organisation goes on: "The BMA is opposed to the detention of asylum seekers and to the voucher scheme and is strongly critical of the way the dispersal of asylum seekers has been managed.

"Asylum seekers have been cut off from support and advice from existing refugee community groups and doctors have struggled to cope with the needs of vulnerable people arriving without warning, planning, or language support services."

Overall the handbook is aimed at helping doctors deal with human rights violations they encounter anywhere in the world.

Race row

It will almost certainly ensure the race row sparked by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook last week rumbles on.

On Monday Home Secretary Jack Straw attacked William Hague for being too "weak" to contain Conservative splits on race.

At the same time Downing Street played down the failure of some Labour MPs to sign the Commission for Racial Equality's anti-racism pledge by saying there had been no edict on the issue.

A fierce political row developed when the shadow chancellor Michael Portillo and several other Tory MPs refused to sign it.

Mr Hague, insisting his party was not in any way racist, has said: "Labour politicians try to censor any discussion (of asylum) by labelling all who raise the issue as racist.

"It is a shabby and contemptible ploy."


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22 Apr 01 | UK Politics
23 Apr 01 | UK Politics
21 Apr 01 | UK Politics
20 Apr 01 | UK
19 Apr 01 | UK Politics
22 Apr 01 | UK Politics
23 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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