LETTER : Asylum seekers need legal help

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From Mr Richard Dunstan

Sir: The Home Secretary's decision to spend £37m on additional staff for the Home Office's Asylum Division and extra appeals adjudicators ("Howard cuts refugees' right of appeal", 16 February) is all very well, but it will not remove the current bottleneck in the asylum process unless there is a corresponding increase in provision for legal representation.

There is already a shortfall in the number of experienced legal representatives available to deal with the greater numbers of refused asylum applications going to appeal, with the result that more and more rejected asylum-seekers are appearing before appeals adjudicators unrepresented. Not only is this contrary to natural justice, but it is a significant impediment to efficiency: appeals by unrepresented appellants are likely to be adjourned, and then re-listed, or to be subject to challenge in the High Court. Any increase in the decision rate of the Asylum Division must, therefore, be matched by an increase in resources for legal representation.

Mr Howard's claim that greater use of the curtailment powers introduced under the Asylum & Immigration Appeals Act 1993 will save millions of pounds in benefits must be taken with a pinch of salt: intriguingly, the 6,000 appeals against deportation which he implies took place last year evaded the notice of refugee agencies. These agencies cannot fail to notice, however, that the proposed routine use of these powers is a flagrant breach of guarantees given by ministers (including a certain Charles Wardle) in 1993, that these powers would be used exceptionally.

If Mr Howard is serious about wanting to save taxpayers' money, then he should take a wider look at his department's asylum policy. He could, for example, ask why he is spending over £20m per year on detaining hundreds of asylum-seekers, despite the immigration minister, Nicholas Baker, being unable to produce any evidence of the "problem" (asylum seekers absconding) which such detention is supposed to address.

Yours faithfully,

RICHARD DUNSTAN

Refugee Officer

British Section

Amnesty International

London, EC1

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