Amnesty urged for asylum seekers

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The Independent Online
AN AMNESTY for most of the 60,000 asylum seekers in Britain who have been waiting for years to have their claims heard was urged yesterday by a planning group appointed by the Home Office.

But the demand for refugees to be allowed to stay without having their cases examined by the Home Office is unlikely to find favour with the Government. Later this week a tough Asylum Bill is expected to be reintroduced, creating greater restrictions on people claiming refugee status. The Bill is also expected to clamp down on immigrants.

The call for emergency action is contained in a 57-page report by the planning group, whose task was to establish a new organisation to provide legal advice and representation for the growing numbers seeking sanctuary.

Its authors - Usha Prashar, who sits on the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice; Janet Lewis- Jones, a barrister; and Geoffrey Bindman, a solicitor - emphasised that they only undertook the task after receiving assurance from the Government that its much-criticised plans to end legal aid for asylum seekers would not be resurrected.

'We believe it important to draw attention to these deficiencies in the policy of the UK government towards those seeking asylum . . . because they impose severe limitations on what can be achieved by advice and representation, however competent.'

The group was appointed following the break-up of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. The planned new body - the Refugee Legal Centre - could only cope with its day-to-day work of advising on new cases and appeals if it is not swamped by the massive backlog of cases, the group says. If not an amnesty, a specially-funded project should be set up to clear the backlog.

The report, Legal Services for Asylum Seekers, sets out a management and funding structure for the new centre and emphasises the need for advice workers to be available at airports and ports - particularly with the Asylum Bill's proposals for a 'fast-track' appeal system which could end in the swift removal of refugees.

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