Asylum-seekers will end up on the streets

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Some families will literally end up on the streets when the Government's new rules on benefits for asylum-seekers take effect next month. This is the prediction of Julia Ross, director of social services for Hillingdon, the borough that includes Heathrow airport.

Local authorities will have an obligation under the Children Act to make emergency payments to support the children of asylum-seekers, Ms Ross says. "But there is nothing we can do to make payments to the parents - we are not empowered to do that. We don't know what will happen then. We would face the dilemma of whether to take the children into care."

Some authorities have suggested that they will find ways of continuing to support families, but Ms Ross believes that most will not be in a position to do so. Religious groups and charities have talked of opening up church halls, she says, but given the numbers involved, "that simply isn't going to work".

The Commission for Racial Equality has warned that a sudden increase in the numbers of black people on the streets would send "an anti-black and xenophobic message" and could harm race relations. On top of the costs to local authorities, the CRE says there will be increased demand for hospital, health and emergency services.

The sort of people who will be caught by the benefits cuts will be refugees like Mr C, a former lecturer at Tehran University. He fled Iran after months of torture while in prison for non-violent opposition to the government. His collar bone was broken when he was suspended by his arms, and beatings to the head ruptured an eardrum and blinded him in one eye.

His family smuggled him out with forged documents. When he arrived in London he sought help from Amnesty International, and after six days he made an asylum claim. Five months later, he was granted refugee status.

He depended on benefits while awaiting the outcome of his claim. Under the new plans he would not qualify for these because his application was not immediate.

Another example is Mr B, a prominent human rights lawyer who fled to the UK from Sri Lanka in 1990 with his wife and daughter after he claims he became a target for security force "death squads" in his home country. He and his family lived on income support and other benefits for the 26 months they waited until he was granted asylum. He applied for asylum three days after entering the UK - he had sought the help of Amnesty International before lodging his application. Under the new proposals, he and his family would not qualify for benefit.

"It is going to be horrendous," Julia Ross says. "There will be families on the streets because the statutory agencies will not be empowered to help them and the voluntary agencies simply won't have the resources to cope."