The Queen's Speech: Immigration - Refugees to be dispersed and given new agency

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF refugees who come to London seeking asylum are to be dispersed to seaside resorts and other towns in England and Wales.

The forced exodus of refugees from London to the coast has already begun, causing tension in several towns where there are negligible immigrant communities and little, or no, support services for refugees. The developments have alarmed groups working with those seeking asylum.

Refugees from Africa and eastern Europe have been placed in bed and breakfast hostels in resorts including Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and Ramsgate in Kent.

The Immigration and Asylum Bill, announced yesterday, will expand the process of dispersing refugees around the country, to reduce the burden on local authorities in London and Dover.

The Government has been forced to take drastic action to try to clear a backlog of 52,000 asylum seekers.

A total of 38,000 asylum applications are expected this year, at a cost to the taxpayer of pounds 500m. The Government believes that by 2001 this could rise to 50,000 seeking asylum at a cost of pounds 800m.

Measures announced yes-terday include a reform of the appeal system and regulation of immigration advisers to weed out those who deliberately exploit vulnerable refugees.

New penalties will be introduced for deception offences, to deter any fraudulent applications.

A new Home Office agency will separate support for asylum seekers from the main social security system, providing vouchers for food, clothes and toiletries for those in need, instead of cash.

Local authorities receive pounds 165-per-week to house asylum seekers. The new agency will require other local authorities, particularly ethnically mixed towns in the the North and Midlands, to take responsibility for a share of the refugees.

Chris Lean, of Dover District Council, said: "At present, we have around 400 asylum seekers, which in a small town like Dover is a lot.

"Our annual bill for accommodating families is pounds 70,000, but the bill to Kent council taxpayers as a whole runs into millions."

But the dispersal policy is already causing great concern among groups working with refugees, who warned that asylum seekers would drift back to London to live on the streets.

Jerry Clore, a London immigration lawyer, claimed that 17-year-old Kosovan refugees were being sent to seaside towns by London councils. He said: "These are single minors who fled a war zone and left their families behind. They are being left stranded without even their communities for support."

Jan Shaw, a refugee officer for the charity Amnesty International, said small towns could offer no specialist legal advice or counselling services for victims of torture.

Nick Hardwick, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "The dispersal system leads to large numbers of young men being dumped in hotels in seaside towns where they are the only non-English people."