Evacuation of `dumped' refugees

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HUNDREDS OF refugees are to be evacuated from Dover and rehoused in the north of England after a government minister admitted yesterday that they were living in intolerable conditions.

The decision follows a serious outbreak of violence between asylum-seekers and local residents in the Kent town over the weekend, which left 11 people needing treatment for knife wounds.

Urgent talks were being held last night with senior local authority officials in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and other northern cities to take in some of the refugees in order to defuse the tension in Dover.

The Home Office minister Lord Bassam of Brighton said yesterday that asylum-seekers had been "dumped" in the port without adequate support and he admitted that they were in the "wrong place".

"We do accept that entirely and that's why we have got the legislation going through, so that we can take powers to ensure that we get clusters of asylum-seekers more properly dispersed across the country," he said.

Lord Bassam said that the Government was seeking help from other countries in reducing the numbers coming to Britain. "We need to prevent the large numbers of asylum-seekers coming here that have in the past," he said. "We are very conscious of that and we've been working very closely with officials abroad, particularly in France, to try and see the problem off before it actually arrives on these shores."

With Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, on holiday, Ann Widdecombe, the Tory home affairs spokeswoman, seized on the issue and travelled to Dover last night to listen to the concerns of local residents and officials. She said that she wanted to know why it had taken the Government so long to recognise what Kent County Council had been telling it.

The violence followed a warning from the council earlier this month that a "tinderbox" situation was developing in the area because of the growing tension between asylum-seekers and some residents.

Miss Widdecombe said: "We have had to wait for the explosion to take place before the Government has taken action. I'm very saddened but I'm not surprised. I don't defend the behaviour for one moment, whichever side it came from, but it is a result of tension and the Government has known about that tension for a long time."

Violence between the refugees and local youths, which centred on a fairground in Pencester Gardens near the town centre, broke out on Friday night when six people were slashed with knives. A further five were wounded in clashes on Saturday. All those hurt had yesterday been released from hospital.

Kent police said they believe the trouble started after the locals began baiting a group of refugees. Three men - all asylum-seekers - were arrested and bailed pending further inquiries.

Last night, police patrols were increased around the guest houses where the refugees were staying and police were carrying out random stop and search. Local police commander Superintendent Chris Eyre said: "The message that we have to get across is that behaviour that is illegal will not be tolerated."

The Local Government Association (LGA) said around 500 of the asylum- seekers living in Dover would be relocated in the North and North-west. Up to 5,000 were believed to be living on the south Kent coast, with more arriving each week.

Brendan Murphy, a spokesman for the LGA, said: "Kent and Dover have found it very difficult to cope with the amount of asylum-seekers and refugees in the past but this problem has become more acute over the weekend.

"We will be in discussions with local authorities in other parts of the country who we expect to offer to take some of the refugees and support their colleagues in other councils."

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said yesterday that unless the Government thought very carefully about its planned programme of dispersing all asylum-seekers around Britain, the Dover violence would "not be a one-off".

He said: "If we dump people in monocultural areas where there are already difficulties with local industries then these conflicts are hardly surprising. If you do things carefully and put people in sensible places, as happened with the Kosovars, it's quite possible for the refugees and local community to live side by side."