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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 16:59 GMT
New curbs target asylum abuse
Asylum seekers in centre
An asylum amnesty for families was announced last month
Failed asylum seekers will get only one chance to appeal under plans unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

New penalties are also planned for asylum seekers who destroy their travel papers before reaching the UK.

Families will have their benefits stopped if their asylum claim fails and they refuse the offer of a flight home.

If such support was withdraw, the government would have the power to take families' children into care.

The new Immigration and Asylum Bill will also enable asylum seekers to be returned to "safe" countries where they have already lodged claims.

Those who refuse to leave Britain on a free flight will have their benefits taken away and their children taken into care.

But the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, Keith Best, has voiced concerns that this will not work.

"The trouble with this government is if you base a policy on deterrent rather than commonsense you end up in a mess," he said.

"That's true of whether it is the criminal justice system, the penal policy or asylum, and this policy is yet again based upon deterrent."

'Building trust'

The speech promises legislation on plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett when he announced an amnesty for thousands of asylum families in October.

In the speech, the Queen said there would be a single tier for asylum decisions "to reduce the scope for delay caused by groundless appeals, and to put in place a range of measures to tackle abuse of the system and fraudulent claims".

Home Office officials argue tough measures on abuse of the system is needed to win the public confidence needed for legal migrants to be welcomed to the UK.

Tony Blair signalled a fresh crackdown on asylum seekers abusing the UK system in his party conference speech earlier this year.

Dealing with abuse of the system is vital to build public confidence
Home Office spokesman

The government had already trailed the bill's plans to take failed asylum seekers' children into government care if their benefits are withdrawn.

Campaigners have warned that may breach the Human Rights Act.

Under the proposal, parents will be told to take paid-for "voluntary" flights home or lose their benefits and their children.

Child fears

Rona Blackwood, assistant programme director for refugees at Save the Children, denounced the plans, saying they would isolate refugee children.

"Making parents destitute and putting these children into care will place enormous strain on already overstretched social services, and conflicts with the Children's Act," she said.

She also expressed concern over suggestions to penalise asylum seekers who do not arrive with travel papers.

"Most children seeking asylum, and particularly those who have been trafficked, do not have any control over how they arrive in the UK, what documents they arrive with and through which route," she said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that measure was to prevent children becoming "destitute" - but would not be used if families had alternative sources of funds.

She said that given such a choice, most families would choose to take up the flight offer.

The reduction in the scope for appeal has also caused controversy, with asylum help groups saying the quality of the initial decisions simply is not good enough.

Lawyers crackdown

A Home Office spokesman said the plans reduce the opportunity for people to "exploit the system by lodging multiple appeals in order to delay their removal from the UK".

It complemented new measures to withdraw access to legal aid to asylum seekers, he said.

The Immigration Services Commissioner will also get new powers under the new bill.

These will include the power to raid the offices and homes of unqualified legal advisers.

And there will be a new criminal offence of offering immigration advice without the right qualifications.

The BBC's Jo Coburn
"Home Secretary David Blunkett says further reform of the asylum system is necessary"


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