More asylum seekers to come to UK

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BRITAIN WILL have to accept thousands more asylum seekers, following a Court of Appeal ruling yesterday. The judgement represents an embarrassing defeat for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who was found to have acted unlawfully in ordering three asylum seekers to be sent back to France and Germany.

The two countries do not recognise persecution by non-governmental forces, and will therefore refuse asylum to individuals claiming to have been persecuted in their home countries by groups such as neo-nazis, guerrillas, warlords or religious fundamentalists.

Three senior Court of Appeal judges, headed by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, found that neither country could be regarded as safe for refugees who face persecution in their own countries from forces other than the state. The judges said that Britain was consequently obliged to consider their asylum applications.

Britain had previously relied on the Dublin Convention that people applying for asylum within the European Union should have their application heard in the first member state in which they set foot. The Court of Appeal ruling was described as "very important" by Anne Owers, director of the human rights organisation, Justice. She said the Government would have to review its Immigration and Asylum Bill which is based on the assumption that other EU states are safe destinations for asylum seekers, even though those states may have a harsher interpretation of the United Nations convention on refugees.

The Appeal Court ruling was based on three test cases. Sittampalan Subaskaran, a Sri Lankan Tamil, came to Britain last year after a German court ruled that his fears of being persecuted by Tamil Tiger guerrillas did not give him the right to be recognised as a person entitled to political asylum. His application to stay in Britain was refused and he was to have been returned to Germany.

Lul Adan fled from Somalia to Germany in 1997 because her clan was being persecuted by a private warlord who had overthrown the government. When her asylum application was refused by a German court, she came to Britain where her pleas were again rejected. The Home Secretary ordered in February last year that she be returned to Germany as a safe third country.

Hamid Aitseguer, an Algerian citizen, claimed asylum in Britain last year after travelling through France, claiming Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the government had threatened to kill him and his family. Again, the Home Secretary refused his application and certified that he was returnable to France as a safe third country.

Although the Home Secretary agreed in June this year to re-consider the applications of all three, the appeal case went ahead to clarify the law. There are at least 200 other asylum seekers in a similar position and the ruling could be significant for thousands more who come to Britain from France, Germany or Austria, which has a similar interpretation of the refugee convention.

The Home Secretary is expected to appeal to the House of Lords.