£23m extra allocated to tackle asylum backlog

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The Independent Online

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has won an extra £23m from the Treasury to tackle the immigration crisis created by the influx of asylum- seekers.

The money, announced yesterday, will pay for more immigration lawyers to advise asylum-seekers and help alleviate the growing backlog which now stands at 100,000 applications. A further £23m in legal aid to needy claimants in mental health, community law issues and actions against the police was also promised.

Lord Irvine admitted that some immigration advisers had a record of incompetence and even "unscrupulousness" which had added to the problem. He said: "They have taken money off vulnerable people without the ability to provide a proper service." The extra cash, said Lord Irvine, would encourage more lawyers qualified to advise in this area to come forward.

Many applicants were genuine and deserved proper advice as they were escaping some of the most "horrific" events seen in Western Europe, he said, adding that some were economic migrants. Good legal advice to claimants would speed up decision-making and help create a "firmer, faster and fairer" immigration system.

The announcement of the extra cash for legal advisers came on the first day of the controversial new support arrangements for asylum- seekers. These include dispersal of applicants to cities outside London and the South-east and the replacement of cash with vouchers.

Oxfam has condemned the voucher system as a "penny pinching" measure and the Refugee Council has insisted that speeding up the decision-making process would be a more effective way of deterring bogus asylum-seekers. Lord Irvine said better legal advice would improve the process and that the extra cash would be spent ensuring both high quality and an effective geographical spread of services.

He said: "We want to encourage quality firms into this area because it's what these applicants deserve and also because it's in the interests of the system. Quality advice to these applicants speeds up the process and that's one of the main purposes."