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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Minister confirms asylum reform
A child involved in a protest over dawn raids
The reforms come following rising concerns over dawn raids
Two new specialist asylum teams are to be set up in Scotland to deal with cases north of the border, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne has said.

His announcement came ahead of talks in Scotland with the first minister.

Jack McConnell was expected to raise concerns about the use of so-called dawn raids - the majority of which have happened in the west of Scotland.

Mr Byrne said the new system should reduce the need for the enforced removal of failed asylum seekers.

However, critics have said the reform will make little difference unless the rules themselves are changed.

A protest calling for an end to dawn raids has been held at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and outside the city chambers in Glasgow to coincide with Mr Byrne's visit.

Building relationships

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland, Mr Byrne said the key behind the reforms was to make decision-making more rapid.

"Faster decisions are fairer decisions," he said.

"Nobody wants the asylum system to be a soft touch.

"We have to remember that 70% of asylum claims are found to be unfounded and so often decisions do need to be enforced."

However, Mr Byrne said one official would be responsible for taking each case forward and that would make enforced removal less likely.

"You've got a case owner that's able to build up a relationship with the individual and the family," he said.

Changing the system so that applications made in Scotland are decided on by officials here is to be welcomed as it implicitly recognises that the current system is failing
Patrick Harvie MSP
Scottish Greens

Mr Byrne said Scotland had "blazed a trail" on the issue and had prompted a UK-wide review of the deportation of families.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate said the Home Office has been supporting 1,500 families in Scotland, two thirds of whom have seen their applications fail.

In September, a scheme was set up for 40 families to self check and leave voluntarily.

However, out of the 140 individuals involved, only one turned up.

Over the next two weeks every failed asylum seeker family in Glasgow would be offered a 3,000 support package, she said.

If that support is turned down, enforced removal would be considered.

'Refusing refuge'

Campaigners have said the proposals do not go far enough as the decision-making process would not be altered.

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said: "Until the system is based on fairness rather than on refusing asylum to as many as possible regardless of circumstances, asylum seekers will continue to face injustice in their claim for refuge in the UK."

The Scottish Green Party welcomed the move but called for an end to dawn raids.

Patrick Harvie MSP said: "Changing the system so that applications made in Scotland are decided on by officials here is to be welcomed as it implicitly recognises that the current system is failing some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.

"However, until the system is based on fairness rather than on refusing refuge to as many as possible regardless of circumstances, injustice will continue to be inflicted on those who come here in search of refuge."

'A sham'

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, said: "Simply establishing a branch office will be a sham unless it is met with devolved powers and implemented in accordance with Scottish values.

"Our economic needs and social wants are different and distinct to the rest of the UK."

However, Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP, said that laws covering asylum should be enforced in the same way throughout the UK.

She welcomed "any measure which would speed up the decision-making process".

She added: "Crucially however, there should be no difference between how asylum seekers are dealt with in Scotland as opposed to the rest of the UK."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Jack McConnell meets Liam Byrne



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