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Monday, 14 February, 2000, 16:33 GMT
Pressure on Straw over asylum seekers

Hostages More than 70 asylum seekers are being interviewed

Home Secretary Jack Straw has denied he has prevented the Afghan asylum seekers receiving a fair hearing, but repeated that he would like to see them leave the UK as soon as possible.

Mr Straw revealed to the Commons that 69 asylum applications had been received from the hostages, who are being held at a makeshift immigration centre at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.

They arrived in the UK last week following the hijacking of an Ariana Boeing 727.

Ann Widdecombe: Straw announced "outcome"
Last week, in a Commons' statement, Mr Straw said he "wished to see removed from Britain all those on the plane as soon as reasonably practicable".

But since then he has denied he told Parliament anything that could prejudice the applications for asylum.

On Monday, Mr Straw said: "I've made it quite clear ... that plainly I would be considering the asylum applications on their merit as I always do any other decision which is a quasi-judicial matter before me.

'Clanger or a ploy'

"But what I said remains the case that subject to the compliance to all legal requirements I would wish to see removed from this country all those on the plane as soon as reasonably practical."

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe had asked Mr Straw whether his original statement that he wanted the hostages removed from this country was "a clanger or a ploy".

Jack Straw: Applications on merit
"Can he name any circumstances that a home secretary acting in a quasi-judicial role has announced in advance the outcome he would prefer to see," said Miss Widdecombe.

She questioned whether the home secretary's earlier comments would not lead to a judicial review of the asylum applications.

"He said over the weekend he was interested in searching for third countries which might be willing to accept the asylum seekers on the hijacked plane?" Miss Widdecombe added.

How many asylum seekers had been removed from Britain to a third country, she asked.

Mr Straw said he would give Miss Widdecombe the details in writing but added: "The number of people removed from this country following failed asylum applications was 50% higher last year than in the last year of Tory administration."

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See also:
13 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Afghanistan awaits hijack victims
13 Feb 00 |  UK
Britain moves to deport ex-hostages
10 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Asylum pleas 'will not be met'
14 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
When a hostage becomes a refugee

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