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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 09:13 GMT
Tougher asylum measures enforced
Police search asylum seekers found on a lorry bound for Dover
Ministers hope to cut illegal immigration
People applying for asylum well after they have arrived in the UK will no longer be eligible for state support, under measures which come into force on Wednesday.

The changes - part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act - have been criticised by refugee welfare groups who say thousands of asylum seekers will be left homeless and penniless.

This is going to force people on to the streets in the depths of a British winter

Shami Chakrabarti
Civil rights lawyer
The new rules will affect asylum seekers who do not put in their claims on arrival at ports and airports but apply later on, some time after they have entered the UK.

They will no longer be entitled to support for living costs or help with housing, although exceptions will be made for families with children, pregnant women and those with special needs.

The Home Office says the measure will stop economic migrants from using the asylum system to delay their removal.

Destitution plea

But refugee support organisations have been unanimous in their criticism, describing the rules as "draconian".

A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the changes would result in hardship and destitution.

Protests against the new measures will take place later on Wednesday and a legal challenge is likely.

Shami Chakrabarti, a lawyer for civil rights group Liberty urged a rethink by ministers.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is going to force people on to the streets in the depths of a British winter."

Court challenge

Ms Chakrabarti said hundreds of people every day could be affected as there were various credible reasons why people might claim asylum later.

"Even if an asylum claim is incredible, this is just not acceptable in a civilised society," she added.

Liberty and other groups are planning a High Court challenge to the measures.

The Refugee Council also condemned the measures as "appalling", predicting they would only add more chaos to the asylum system.

There have been suggestions by some figures that even with tougher measures on asylum seeking, the UK will continue to be seen as a "soft touch".

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, recently said more refugees were targeting the UK because of its international reputation.

'Reasonable' action

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes defended the measures, saying they were designed to tackle real abuses of the asylum system.

Ms Hughes said action would not be taken against people who could show why they could not reasonable have filed their asylum claim earlier.

"The asylum system is for people fleeing persecution," she told Today.

"It is not unreasonable to expect that people fleeing persecution will want to claim asylum as soon as possible."

The measures were aimed at deterring economic migrants from claiming asylum.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Danny Shaw
"Around two thirds of those applying for asylum do so after they've arrived in Britain"
  Home Office minister Beverly Hughes
"The measures are designed to tackle abuse"
  David Garrett, Refugee Action Advisory Service
"This a terrible piece of legislation"

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