Recruit asylum-seekers as special constables, says Yard chief

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard wants a change in the law to allow refugees and asylum-seekers to be recruited as Special Constables, Britain's most senior ethnic minority officer has revealed.

Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur believes such a move would help to boost the number of ethnic minorities in the Metropolitan Police, beleaguered by accusations of institutional racism.

Mr Ghaffur, the first non-white officer to hold the rank ­ equivalent to a chief constable in other forces ­ also suggested setting recruitment "targets" for ethnic communities and disclosed that black and Asian officers regularly complained to him of racism within the force. He said the Met was unlikely to meet the Home Office's ambitious target for recruiting and retaining ethnic minority officers.

Mr Ghaffur, 46, is in charge of operational crime strategy and policy for the Met, and thinks that refugees with useful skills could do a range of civilian police jobs. He wants the law to be changed to allow people without British nationality to become voluntary Special Constables and to help in patrols, particularly in ethnic minority communities. He has sent proposals to relax the current regulation to the Home Office, which is considering them. Anyone working for the Met would have to be vetted first.

"There are some real professionals [among] refugees and asylum-seekers. They could do lots of roles ­ special constables, mediation, break down some of the bureaucracy ... It's the notion of using the community as a reservoir."

Asylum-seekers are allowed to work for six months after applying to remain in Britain, but only people with British nationality status can join the police. More than 500,000 asylum applications have been made since 1989. Fewer than 10 per cent of applicants have been granted asylum, and almost 175,000 are either awaiting appeals or have been granted temporary leave to stay in Britain.

The Met is concerned that proposals to hire refugees or asylum-seekers may be attacked by right-wing newspapers that have stereotyped these groups as "bogus" and "criminals". No one with a criminal record would be employed.