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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 00:14 GMT
Judge urges asylum rule suspension
Asylum seeker family
Asylum seekers must apply at the port of entry
A High Court judge has called on the government to restore the payment of state benefits to asylum seekers until he passes judgement in six test cases.

Mr Justice Collins urged Home Secretary David Blunkett to "adopt a liberal approach" as he reserved judgment after a two-day hearing in London.

Since the decision to only assist refugees who immediately apply for asylum on entering the UK came into force on 8 January, 175 injunctions have been granted to stop the government leaving them destitute.

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

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes

And, Mr Justice Collins said, if the Home Office failed to act more would "almost inevitably" follow.

Already the six test cases alone had cost taxpayers 200,000, he added.

The Home Office believes the measures - brought in under the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act - 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."

Danger sign near the Channel Tunnel entrance
Ministers hope to cut illegal immigration

But lawyers in the six test cases say 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, which protects against "inhumane and degrading" treatment.

Neil Garnham QC, defending the home secretary, told Mr Justice Collins the rules were tough - but just because a person was homeless and destitute, it did not mean their rights had been breached.

None of the six had suffered harm because, within days, members of the public - often from their own ethnic backgrounds - or charities had offered them accommodation, he added.

One man had been offered temporary accommodation by a woman he met after spending a night sleeping rough.

It is inhumane to subject someone to that sort of destitution

Kier Starmer QC

And two of the other asylum seekers had also been taken in by members of the public, who had found them crying in despair on the streets.

But Kier Starmer QC, appearing for five of the asylum seekers, told Mr Justice Collins many of them remained "cold, hungry, scared and sick".

One had been sheltering from the cold in a telephone box and a tunnel.

And a lack of food and shelter was threatening them all with physical and mental deterioration and interfering with their ability to pursue their asylum applications.

Asylum seekers in hostel
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work

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

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

And the Court of Appeal has been put on alert to deal with any subsequent appeal.

One of the six 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.


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10 Feb 03 | Politics
11 Feb 03 | Politics
11 Feb 03 | England
10 Feb 03 | Politics
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19 Feb 03 | Politics
08 Jan 03 | Politics
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