Right of Reply: Mike O'Brien

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The Home Office minister responds

to an article by

Ken Livingstone

on the Immigration and Asylum Bill

BRITAIN HAS a long tradition of providing safety for those who flee state persecution from abroad. Yet our ability to help genuine refugees is being undermined by those who abuse our system to evade normal immigration rules.

Ken has ignored the facts. From the Second World War until the late 1980s, asylum applications ran at about 4-5,000 a year. Most were accepted as genuine. Today, 45,000 applications are made a year with only 30 per cent given a right to stay of which 17 per cent are granted refugee status.

I can't imagine where Ken gets his figures from, but virtually all asylum applications from some countries - such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq - are successful. Yet from many others - including Poland and China, very few establish a claim to asylum.

Our Bill's simple aim is to make the system fairer, faster and firmer - to bring some order to a system which benefits no one, least of all the genuine asylum-seeker.

Currently, about half receive cash benefits equivalent to 90 per cent of income support. The rest have to rely on local authority help. The burden for supporting this group has fallen on London, including Ken's local council, Brent - I'm surprised he doesn't seem concerned about the pressure on his own borough.

Our new system will provide good quality accommodation and support for all asylum-seekers, particularly families with children.

This Bill will help make the application system swifter. Most cases will take two months for an initial decision, plus four months for appeals - we will fast-track new family claimants from next April. It will also deliver our manifesto commitment to a streamlined right of appeal for visitors, and judicial oversight for those in detention.