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EDITIONS
Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 17:28 GMT
Asylum laws 'inhumane'
Asylum seeker family
Asylum seekers must apply at the port of entry
Strict new rules depriving many asylum seekers of state benefits have been attacked as "inhumane" in the High Court.

Lawyers in six test cases being heard on Monday are challenging the decision to assist only those refugees who immediately apply for asylum on entering the UK.

Kier Starmer QC said many people had been left "cold, hungry, scared and sick" and forced to sleep rough.

Asylum seekers in hostel

He said their human rights had been breached and their lack of food and shelter was affecting them physically and mentally.

They had been left unable to make proper asylum claims, Mr Starmer argued.

"It is inhumane to subject someone to that sort of destitution.

"There is no way they can prosecute their claims," he told Mr Justice Collins.

Urgency

The lawyers claim the new rules are being applied in a way that breaches the European Convention on Human Rights - or that the rules are incompatible with the convention.

Mr Justice Collins said he would give his judgment on 17 February.

Danger sign near the Channel Tunnel entrance
Eurotunnel's 4m asylum bil

The first court cases were called as a matter of urgency, as more than 150 others are already being started.

Mr Justice Kay, who gave permission for the challenge, said the courts had been surprised by the swift reaction to the rules.

Only those who present themselves at the port of arrival can be certain of accommodation and support under the changes, brought in under the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act.

Exceptions to the rules introduced on 8 January can be made for families with children, pregnant women and those with special needs.

The only option for those denied benefits is a judicial review.

'Fleeing regimes'

Mr Starmer said the test cases involved asylum claimants, who cannot be identified, but were "fleeing regimes around the world".

One of the main cases involves a 43-year-old woman from Rwanda, who failed to make her application on flying into the UK.

Another is a 27-year-old Iranian who was hidden in the back of a lorry.

The others are from Angola, Ethiopia, and Iraq.

Mr Starmer argued it was not right to penalise asylum seekers for not claiming at the port of entry, as many had stated they did not know they had to claim immediately on arriving in the country.

But the immigration authorities were saying "not knowing is not a good enough reason for not claiming" he said.

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

When the rules were introduced Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes said: "It is not unreasonable to expect that people fleeing persecution will want to claim asylum as soon as possible."

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The BBC's Danny Shaw
"All have been refused housing and welfare support"

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10 Feb 03 | Politics
10 Feb 03 | Politics
20 Feb 03 | Politics
08 Jan 03 | Politics
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