Voucher system fails to halt rise inasylum applicants deter asylum-seekers Iraqi asylum

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The Independent Online

The arrival of more than 1,000 Iraqi refugees last month has embarrassed the Government by driving up asylum application figures to their highest level since last year.

The arrival of more than 1,000 Iraqi refugees last month has embarrassed the Government by driving up asylum application figures to their highest level since last year.

The increase in total applications of more than 8 per cent on September will come as a great disappointment to immigration officials after a range of measures were introduced to deter asylum-seekers from heading for the United Kingdom. October's total of 6,970 applications was 535 more thanthe previous month and the highest monthly figure since December 1999.

A decade after the Gulf War, the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Britain from Iraq is at its highest, with 1,175 applications lodged last month.

A Home Office spokesman said it was "difficult to speculate" as to why so many were now fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime. But officials noted that an average of 1,000 applications a month had been received from Iraqis duringthe August to October period, many more than from any other country.

Large numbers of asylum- seekers continue to come to Britain from Sri Lanka, with an average of 470 applicants a month since August, rising to 550 in October.

The overall increase in applications comes in spite ofthe introduction earlier this year of a dispersal system that moved asylum-seekers out of the South-east to other areas of Britain and restricted them to benefit payments in voucher form. Ministers hoped the new system would discouraging economic migrants.

The Government also opened its new immigration detention centre at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, in March, with the hope that its fast-track system for dealing with asylum applications would prove a deterrent to those without justified claims. The following month, the Government introduced a system of fining lorry drivers carrying illegal immigrants.

Despite the rise in applications disclosed in the new figures, the Home Office said yesterday that the deterrent measures would be effective. A spokesman said that asylum applications from central and eastern Europe in the April to September period fell by about one-third from the number of claims in the same period last year. He said: "Measures introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 are now beginning to be implemented and it will take time for the deterrent effect to work through into the system."

The Government has invested £600m in the immigration system in an attempt to prevent the asylum issue becoming a political embarrassment. Extra case workers have been recruited to speed decision making.

Although quick decisions have cut the case backlog from 100,000 to 72,000, the number of appeals last month reached a record 8,085, a 60 per cent increase on the previous month.

Refugee support groups fear officials are adopting a cursory approach to claims as a way of driving down the backlog. Only 8 per cent of last month's applicants were given refugee status and a further 3 per cent were given exceptional leave to remain in Britain.

Last week Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, admitted that it was proving "very difficult" to remove failed applicants.

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