'You want to claim asylum? Well, as you can imagine we're a bit busy here at the moment...'

How easy is it to sign yourself over to Ecaudor? Kevin Rawlinson finds out

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The Independent Online

"We're having a little situation here, could you leave your number and we'll call you back?" was the somewhat understated response from the Ecuadorean embassy yesterday when The Independent enquired about the possibility of claiming asylum.

The "situation" was the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the tonne of legal and political bricks his plea for protection has sent crashing down on the small embassy, which sits behind Harrods in west London. Dealing with the delicate situation apparently, and perhaps understandably, means the staff did not have the time to look at any other claims yesterday.

Reporters and photographers from media outlets across the world were outside the red-brick building as Mr Assange was kept under Ecuadorean government protection while his claim was being considered.

Gavin MacFadyen, a friend of Mr Assange, said the WikiLeaks founder was staying in a small, simple room with a bed and a TV. "It is not luxury but I think we have all had worse," he said.

Mr MacFadyen added: "He is fine; he is in very good humour and grateful for the hospitality of the embassy. He is meeting with the lawyers now to discuss all of it. It's a very fluid situation; he is in good humour and the generosity of the embassy is impressive and moving." Mr Assange walked into the embassy on Tuesday and asked for asylum and protection, beginning a process which was then passed to Quito for consideration. It will eventually come back to this bit of west London but its ramifications will be international.

Only a security guard was answering calls at the front door of the embassy yesterday. Initially, there was trouble finding anyone to speak to over the phone about asylum applications.

Eventually, The Independent was told that staff were not able to take any more calls while they dealt with the current request. The process of claiming asylum from Britain to another country is relatively unusual, experts said. More common is foreign nationals seeking leave to stay in Britain.

The relatively small backlog of cases could mean Mr Assange's claim is considered quickly, although anyone else's, it appears, will have to wait a little longer.