Asylum seekers 'under threat' of starving

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

Refusing asylum seekers benefits while they appeal against a decision to grant them refugee status is the equivalent of "starving them out of the country", the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said yesterday.

People would be left without funds to pursue their appeal, and required to "live on air" when appeals were taking months to process, the council told the House of Commons Social Security Committee.

Its attack came as two local authorities, including the Tory-controlled Westminster Council, plan today to seek an injunction forcing a further deferment of the Government's plans to cut benefits to asylum seekers, and as Peter Brooke, the Tory MP for Westminster South and a former Cabinet minister, added his opposition to the proposals.

Ministers have promised a Commons debate in the New Year before the new regulations take effect, but yesterday the joint council told MPs that the "draconian" and "shocking" proposals should be dropped.

Claude Moraes, the JCWI's director, said the clear aim of the policy was "to rush people to the nearest airport" once their original application was refused.

However, he said, people should be allowed to appeal against an administrative decision. "It is tantamount to pre-empting the result of the appeal if people are to be refused the means of support while they are contesting a decision and are therefore unable to live while doing so."

In effect, ministers were pre-judging the appeals by making it impossible for individuals to support themselves and prepare their cases and if that was the case, ministers might as well dismantle the appeals system, he said. MPs were told that a faster appeals system rather than benefit cuts should be the way to save public money.

Both Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham councils were yesterday hoping for an injunction preventing the Government from introducing the regulations until their effect across housing and social security legislation has been fully assessed.

While up to 13,000 asylum seekers and their dependants will lose the right to housing benefit under the changes, councils will retain a duty to them under homelessness legislation until the new Asylum and Immigration Bill becomes law in the summer.