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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
'Army camps' plan for asylum seekers
Romanian asylum seekers
Politicians have been attacked for abusing the asylum debate
Crisis plans to detain asylum seekers in disused army camps under military guard have reportedly been drawn up by the government.

The move, which could be implemented in the event of a sudden surge in asylum applications, would be intended to deter would-be refugees from entering the UK.

Details emerged in a letter from Stephen Boys Smith, director of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, to Home Secretary Jack Straw and immigration minister Barbara Roche, reports The Guardian.

The claims come as Ms Roche met with church leaders who disapprove of how the major parties used the asylum issue in the recent local elections.

Conservative home affairs spokesman David Liddington praised the government for copying the Tory's policies on asylum seekers.

"I'm afraid it's typical that the government is finally making contingency plans at a very late stage in the day.

"If the government moves now to adopt William Hague's programme of common sense measures to deal with the abuse of our asylum system, the Tory frontbench would be absolutely delighted by that, it would be a common sense measure.

"They have been instead denouncing us as racist, as stirring up passions unnecessarily while actually it seems to me they are now recognising the truth and common sense of what we are proposing."

Earlier this week it emerged that ministers were examining plans to increase the number of detention centres used to house asylum seekers.

'Crisis mode'

Mr Boys Smith's letter details a number of options the government has been considering.

He wrote: "We were asked to provide advice on the possibility of taking on, for example, a disused army camp as emergency accommodation should there be a sudden influx of asylum seekers over the summer."

"An increase to 10,000 (asylum applications a month) or more might take us into crisis mode," he added.

"We have also assumed that you might wish to have the ability to detain all or the vast majority while their cases were considered."

The letter details the logistics of accommodating thousands of people in improvised camps, which would need "substantial investment" to bring them up to the necessary standards of security and accommodation.

Asylum cost

It adds: "We would be looking at a few hundred places at around 20 locations, supplemented by Portakabins.

"Perhaps the more serious problem is how to staff the facilities. Most satisfactory for us would be for military personnel to secure the perimeter.

"The MoD are clear they cannot give a commitment always to have sufficient personnel available..."

Finally, Mr Boys Smith points out there would be "numerous legal issues".

He warns: "We should clearly not get into mass detention unless we can see a way through the legal, procedural and practical issues associated with resolving the cases and removing failed applicants."

In 1995-96 about 420m was spent directly on supporting asylum seekers. In 1999-2000 that figure rose to 590m.

A Home Office spokeswoman said it was prudent for the government to examine all options, but there were no plans to implement the proposals.

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See also:

02 May 00 | UK Politics
Ministers plan more asylum places
22 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tory asylum policy warning
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum cost under fire
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Europe toughens asylum policies
14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Government defends race record
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tories deny 'racism' jibe
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