Refugees could cripple rural council's budget

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The Independent Online
THE HOME OFFICE insisted yesterday that it would not help areas over-burdened by refugees fleeing to Britain from Europe, despite a plea from a Conservative council in rural Essex.

In the past, London boroughs, particularly Hillingdon, have found themselves bearing the brunt of immigration cases because of their proximity to Heathrow airport.

Now Uttlesford District Council, based in Saffron Walden, with an annual budget of just pounds 5.25m, is facing a tide of refugees arriving by charter flight to Stansted airport. Earlier this month a planeload of 171 passengers from Macedonia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, arrived on a Sunday, and became the responsibility of Uttlesford.

They were temporarily put up in a leisure centre, then they either left for other destinations or were found space by the council in college rooms, bed and breakfasts or private homes.

Robert Chambers, leader of the council, said there was no more available space in Uttlesford: 'This is an international crisis and we need help from the Government urgently.

'It's not good enough to expect Uttlesford to foot the bill and find all the accommodation just because Stansted airport is on our doorstep. Our budget is already desperately stretched. This emergency could cripple the council's finances. Westminster can't be allowed to fudge this problem any longer.'

The Home Office said yesterday in a statement that fewer people were seeking to remain in Britain this year, down from 44,000 in 1991 to 16,000 so far in 1992, so there was no question of extra help being made available.

'There would be obvious difficulties in setting up specific reception facilities when the number of applicants can fluctuate so widely. It is far more sensible to make use of the facilities and expertise already available in the community,' the Home Office said.

'We are acutely aware of the pressures on everyone affected by asylum seekers arriving in Britain,' it added.

'This is a global problem causing a range of difficulties for different authorities all over the western world. The UK's international obligations require us to let asylum seekers stay while their individual claims are considered. The long delays that have developed in that process have exacerbated the difficulties here.'

It said the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill introduced in Parliament this week would speed up the determination of asylum cases, for some within a few days of arrival.

Mr Chambers said he would try to stop the next aircraft from unloading.

A flight due to arrive on Sunday has been cancelled, but more are expected in the future.

(Photograph omitted)