UK resists rising tide of asylum seekers

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

The number of people granted asylum was cut by half to less than 1,000 last year, despite a massive increase in applications.

Figures published yesterday showed that there were 32,800 applications in 1994 - more than 10,000 above the previous year and eight times as many as in 1988. Only 825 people were granted refugee status and 3,700 given leave to remain - a drop of 7,500.

The number of refusals was criticised by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which said refugees with genuine fears about their safety were now being sent back to the countries they had fled.

But the Home Office figures illustrate the Government's determination to reduce entry into the UK in the face of an ever increasing number of claims and a huge backlog in the number of appeals.

In February, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was forced to spend pounds 37m to speed up asylum procedures. In what is seen as a move to deter applications, Mr Howard is expected to announce further clampdowns on asylum and immigration in the next few weeks, which may include reducing access to asylum seeker's benefits.

The UK received the third-largest number of applications in Western Europe last year. Germany and the Netherlands still receive the vast majority of the 300,000 applications made to European governments.

The main increase in UK applications came from Africa, up from 46 per cent to 52 per cent, with people from Nigeria forming the largest single group - 13 per cent of the total.

There was a marked drop in applications from the former Yugoslavia, down from a peak of 5,630 in 1992 to 1,390. The Government's refusal to take more people, particularly from Bosnia, has been strongly criticised, although ministers have taken in 1,000 on a temporary basis.

Iraqis made up the biggest slice of successful applicants (46 per cent), followed by Iranians (12 per cent) and people from Turkey (11 per cent).

The figures were released a day after Amnesty International accused the Home Office of playing an expensive and ineffectual game of "human pinball" with asylum seekers.

The human rights group said the special "fast-track" procedure used to return men and women fleeing from persecution to "safe" third countries they passed through en route to the UK costs the country millions and causes hardship to vulnerable refugees.