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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"The Home Office says it isn't following the Conservative agenda"
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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
UK asylum centres 'to hold thousands'
asylum seeker
More than 2,000 new places will be available
A rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK has prompted the government to consider setting up two new detention centres, the BBC has learned.

Based at Manston, Kent, and Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, the centres would house an extra 2,000 extra asylum seekers, well over the current capacity of 900.

Extra capacity would also be created at existing facilities near Heathrow airport and at Lindholme prison near Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

The move is likely to be interpreted as a government submission to be seen to be tackling what has become a high profile issue.

'We need more space'

Downing Street has said it wants to increase the number of people who are removed or deported as a result of losing their claims.

Immigration Minister Barbara Roche told the BBC the new centres would only be used to house people who sought asylum, had their application turned down and had exhausted the appeal procedure.

"We are making many more decisions, therefore we need to remove many more people, therefore we will need more detention space," said Ms Roche.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe welcomed the Government's proposals.

"But I have to say I do it with a raised eyebrow in as much when we put forward these ideas we were accused of being racist," she said.

She said putting asylum-seekers in secure centres was "a very much more intelligent approach and I just wish the government would come out and say up front `yes, the Conservatives were right and we are going down that route'."

Figures released recently show that while the government is processing a record number of asylum seekers, large numbers are still coming into the UK.

Home Office statistics for March showed that 11,340 decisions were taken by immigration officers - four times the number being dealt with at the end of last year.

Case backlog

But while the backlog of cases fell to 93,365, the number of applications rose by 570 to 6,680 from the previous month.

Of the decisions made, 81% had their applications refused and 19% were either accepted as refugees or given "exceptional leave" to stay in the country.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has revealed that the direct cost to the taxpayer of asylum seekers has risen by 170m over the past five years.

In 1995-96 some 420m was spent directly on supporting asylum figures. By 1999-2000 the figure rose to 590m.

The Lord Chancellor's Department, including the Immigration Appellate Authority, saw its spending nearly double in the same period.

It spent 8.4m on asylum-related matters in 1995-96, but by 1999-2000 that figure had risen to 16.1m.

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