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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 20:49 GMT

UK Politics

Asylum-seekers 'could starve'

Ministers want to speed up asylum decisions

Refugee groups have warned asylum-seekers could starve under "outrageous" proposals to withdraw benefits from those who seek a judicial review of decisions against them.

The warning came on the same day that the Home Secretary Jack Straw lost a test case which may mean he has to cancel up to 50,000 deportation orders.

The Court of Appeal ruled that Mohammed Arif could not be deported as it was up to Mr Straw to prove the 36-year-old teacher would not be persecuted for his political beliefs if sent back to Azad Kashmir.

[ image: Jack Straw: Test case defeat]
Jack Straw: Test case defeat
Refugee campaigners now say they are alarmed about the implications of a draft document setting out proposals for benefit reform under the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

The proposals underline the government's determination to speed up decision making in the asylum and immigration process.

Under the draft plans there would be no support for asylum-seekers seeking a judicial review against a decision in their case. Instead applicants would have to look to their own communities or the voluntary sector for help.

Although voluntary organisations might be given extra government cash to support asylum-seekers, it would be up to those groups to decide who to help. Asylum-seekers would have no right to assistance.

'A denial of natural justice'

Campaigners say the changes would infringe asylum-seekers' legal rights and could lead to destitution among those fleeing persecution.

Rachel Rees, director of communications for the Refugee Council, said: "This is an outrage and will effectively mean a denial of natural justice.

"We will be lobbying hard during the passage of the Bill through Parliament so that asylum-seekers are not starved out of pursuing their legal rights through judicial review."

A spokesman for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants added that the proposal to withdraw benefits for those seeking judicial review was "completely outrageous".

He said: "Someone applying for judicial review has to apply for leave which means a judge has to agree that there's an issue of concern and to prejudice that outcome by starving the applicant is appalling."

The Home Office stressed the guide containing the proposals was only a preliminary draft and would be amended and updated during the Bill's passage through Parliament.

The Bill also lays out plans for a "one-stop" appeal system to stop invalid asylum applications dragging on for years.

Figures for 1997 show slightly less than 2,000 asylum-seekers took their cases to judicial review, a process which can take up to nine months.

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