Refugees sent back to London by council

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The Independent Online

The Government's policy of dispersing asylum-seekers around Britain was thrown into disarray yesterday when Glasgow City Council sent 16 families back to London.

The council claimed that the refugees, who had moved ino tower-block flats only last Thursday, were subject to Home Office restrictions and should never have been moved north of the border from Wandsworth, in south-west London.

The bewildered asylum-seekers - part of a group of 24 families mainly from Romania but also from Somalia - were taken from their flats in the Sighthill area of Glasgow and put on buses at lunchtime yesterday for the 400-mile drive back to London.

The move effectively halted "dispersals" to Scotland since the council said that, until the bureaucratic confusion was sorted out, it would not accept any more of the 500 asylum-seekers due to come to Glasgow as part of the government-funded scheme to relieve pressure on services in the South-east of England.

But a spokesman for Wandsworth Council said that the refugees were not subject to any immigration restrictions. He said: "According to our records none of these people have any kind of restrictions. If they had we would have told the Home Office. There's no reason for them to be sent back to London."

The spokesman described the action by Glasgow City Council as "a drastic measure and not particularly constructive".

Those returned to London yesterday included 12 people who were caught begging. A council spokesman said that the asylum-seekers had been found begging at houses in Bishopbriggs, a suburb of Glasgow two miles from the flats they were staying in. "Local people complained and contacted the police. [Those begging] were taken to Maryhill police station in Glasgow, where an interpreter was arranged for them," the spokesman said.

The refugees were given a warning by police that they were not allowed to beg. The council made no suggestion that the incident had influenced the decision to send the families back to London, but the spokesman said it had caused "concern". "Obviously, we are anxious about the well-being of these people, but they are not allowed to beg and were severely warned about it," he said.

Income-support cheques were distributed to the refugees earlier this week and they have all been allocated furnished flats. Meanwhile, the council stressed that the cost of looking after the remaining asylum-seekers during their stay, which could last 18 months, would be borne by the Government and not by local council taxpayers.

Yesterday, Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative spokeswoman on home affairs, called the affair a "shambles" for which the Government was to blame. "What they have utterly failed to do, and lost their grip of completely, is keeping control of the numbers arriving in the first place," she said. "All these other things - vouchers, dispersals, streamlining the appeal system - all that happens after you have got vast quantities coming in. That's what we have to prevent."

Ms Widdecombe said that she did not blame Glasgow for saying it no longer wanted to participate in the scheme. "Why should they participate in a shambles?" she asked. "This is Jack Straw's [the Home Secretary's] problem, and Jack Straw should have got it sorted out."