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"The government is boosting the number of judges handling appeals"
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The BBC's Robin Oakley
"Everybody wants to help genuine asylum seekers"
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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Asylum cost under fire
National Front demo
National Front: Race demonstrations in Kent
Tory leader William Hague has criticised the government's handling of the asylum-seeker backlog, saying that it is costing 180m in London alone.

His attack came as the government said it was doubling the number of judges handling asylum cases and Home Secretary Jack Straw conceded that one county, Kent, had taken in "more than its share" of applicants.

Claiming that the system was on the point of collapse, Mr Hague said: "It is the absolute duty of my party to point out that Labour's catastrophic mismanagement of the asylum system means that genuine refugees aren't getting the help and support they need.

"It is our duty to show that genuine refugees are being lost in a backlog that now numbers more than 100,000 cases."

According to figures released on Monday, at least 74,490 individuals or families have applied for asylum in the year to the end of February.

Kent County Council alone says that it is currently supporting 8,000 asylum seekers, including around 850 unaccompanied minors.

Announcing extra help for Kent, Mr Straw said that from next week anyone applying for asylum in Kent would be dealt with under a national system and not the county council's own arrangements.

The move effectively means that asylum seekers arriving at English Channel ports will be dealt with by central government.

"This will, I hope, bring considerable relief to the local authorities in Kent," said Mr Straw.

'Populist game'

But Labour MP Diane Abbott accused the home secretary of pandering to the right wing.

Simon Hughes: Complained to the CRE
"I do find it saddening when both my government's ministers and Tory spokesmen seem to be vying with each other to see who can use the harshest language about asylum seekers," she told the BBC.

Ms Abbott said the government was playing a "populist" game with the Tories, to see who could be tougher on refugees.

On Monday, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes complained to the Commission for Racial Equality, asking it to scrutinise what he said were racially inflammatory statements by both Labour and the Conservatives.

The government drive to recruit extra legal staff will lead to 40 more judges, or adjudicators, an additional 56 part-time adjudicators and 35 extra legal experts hearing asylum appeal cases.

Reports suggest that the new measures will cost taxpayers 10m.

Last September the incoming figure peaked at 7,355 applications a month with totals for January and February 2000 estimated at 6,110.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said of the recruitment: "It is being done in response to changes necessary in the light of the Immigration and Asylum Act."

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
06 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Government defends asylum delays
14 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Pressure on Straw over asylum seekers
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Europe toughens asylum policies
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