Eurostar checks to stop bogus asylum seekers

British immigration officers are to check Eurostar passengers at French railway stations as part of the Government's crackdown on bogus asylum claims, the Home Office announced last night.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said the controls were being introduced under a new Anglo-French agreement designed to deter illegal immigrants from using the 186mph Paris to London rail service.

French officers will operate similar controls at Waterloo station in London and at Ashford station in Kent.

Asylum applications made at Waterloo, London's Eurostar terminal, increased from 3,997 in 1998 to 5,902 in 1999 - a jump of 46 per cent.

The announcement came as seven demonstrators were arrested outside a former RAF base which has been converted into a fast-track holding centre for asylum seekers.

The protesters were held for alleged obstruction at the gates of the centre in Oakington, Cambridgeshire, which will be used to process asylum seekers within a week. It is expected to target those suspected of lodging unfounded claims.

Downing Street yesterday rejected suggestions that the Government was demonising asylum seekers.

Following the Home Office's confirmation that it was considering a fast-track system for dealing with asylum-seekers who are persistent or aggressive beggars, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There is no reason for any asylum seeker to be begging - they are eligible for benefits."

Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister, said such beggars were tarnishing the reputation of other asylum seekers.

He said: "Everybody understands that this tiny minority of asylum seekers who are taking their children on the streets in this way, when they have benefit entitlements and the other normal hospitality offered to them, are actually giving asylum seekers a bad name."

The seven people arrested yesterday were members of a group called Active Resistance to the Roots of War (Arrow) which campaigns on issues such as asylum and immigration.

A spokesman for the group said: "Asylum seekers should be offered compassion and support. Instead, Britain offers swift imprisonment and a swift refusal of asylum claims. This is fundamentally unjust and we are committed to opposing this policy."

The Oakington centre opens at a time when ministers believe they are finally making progress in slashing the backlog of more than 105,000 asylum applications waiting to be processed.

Figures for February will show more than 8,000 cases were processed, outweighing the number of new applications lodged for the first time.

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