Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Tories lay blame for 'asylum crisis'
The backlog of cases is up to 83,000
Conservative Party leader William Hague has stepped up his attack on the government over the record numbers of asylum seekers entering the UK.
Proposing a series of measures to deal with the problem, Mr Hague accused ministers of "dereliction of duty" for failing to reduce the numbers of applicants.
The comments came after Mr Hague held a "crisis summit" with several Tory council leaders including officials from Kent and Essex - two of the areas most affected by asylum seekers this summer.
The backlog of cases awaiting a ruling has also risen to 83,000, up 28,000 on the same time last year.
The issue hit the headlines again at the weekend when Dover District Council imposed a temporary ban on all marches relating to asylum seekers in the area.
The ban followed several eruptions of violence between local residents and asylum seekers in Dover in recent weeks.
"The country has got to stop being a soft touch on asylum seekers, which is what we now are," Mr Hague said.
"The government is not enforcing the rules it should enforce, it is not engaging in the international co-operation it should engage in to reduce this problem and it's a huge burden on local authorities."
He suggested a range of measures including the scrapping of the proposed "amnesty" for 20,000 asylum seekers.
Mr Hague also called for improved international co-operation so that the "scams" bringing illegal immigrants through the Channel Tunnel could be ended.
The processing of asylum claims also needed to be speed up, Mr Hague said.
He has said that the rising number of applicants is part of a "Europe-wide problem" caused by the refugee crisis resulting from the Kosovo war.
Mr Straw has also claimed the government's controversial plans to change the way in which support is provided for asylum seekers would deter bogus applicants.
Under the proposals a large part of benefits for asylum seekers will be provided in vouchers instead of cash.
Local authorities are also unhappy about plans to compel them to accept responsibility for asylum seekers currently house in other parts of the UK.
The aim of this policy is to prevent large concentrations of asylum seekers building up in a handful of areas.
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